Parents, school leaders and community members in Monroe County are divided when it comes to whether or not a proposed charter school would benefit their neighborhood.
The proposed charter, Seven Oaks Classical School, touts a mission “to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous classical education in the liberal arts and sciences.” The K-12 school would join either the Monroe County Community School Corporation or the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, with the ability to support close to 500 students in its first year.
If approved, the school would open in 2015 in either Bloomington or Ellettsville.
At a forum hosted Monday night, multiple community members spoke up in support of as well as in opposition to the school. Mary Keck of The Herald-Times reports Indiana Charter School Board representatives heard over two hours of public comment from more than 50 people:
Many who opposed the charter expressed concern that its founders may have a conservative agenda, based on the proposed school’s connection to Hillsdale College and the Barney Charter School Initiative. Some felt the lack of transportation and the charter’s inability to provide lunch and cafeteria services to students made it inadequate to serve students.
Funding challenges mean the school will lack some basic offerings, such as lunch and bus service. Seven Oaks is not alone in this regard – federal, state and private groups struggle to keep up with demand when financing for charter schools, according to a recent report by the nonprofit group Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
Additionally, voters in Monroe County passed a school referendum in 2010 that increased funds for MCCSC – funds that many of those in opposition to Seven Oaks say they’re not willing to give up. Keck continues:
Seven Oaks supporters pushed back, stating taxpayer dollars would stay within Monroe County, because they would follow the child to the charter school. They argued that competition between schools would force them all to improve, that the school did not have a religious or political ideology and offered a rigorous classical education. Many emphasized that Seven Oaks would offer a choice, because their children were restricted to the school in the neighborhood where they lived and paying for a private education is too expensive.
Terry English, member of the Seven Oaks School Board, says the arguments he heard Monday from those in opposition to the school were of the variety that he expected.
“The argument is that if we take monies by way of vouchers from the existing school corporations then we hurt their programs. We don’t believe that that’s the case because [vouchers are] tax monies and they travel with the students,” English explains. “We are a charter school, which is a public school. And to the extent that students want to enroll in our school system, their enrollment will be funded by a voucher.”
Finances aside, Dr. Mike Wilcox, Superintendent of the Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, says he’s opposed to Seven Oaks because the community seems content. He points to recent successes in his district – including an uptick in recent enrollment, two school board members running unopposed in November, and a budget that passed without opposition – as signs that they are doing just fine as they are.
“We look at those things as very strong evidence that our community and our families are very happy with our school corporation and the direction that we are headed, and that we as a community do not have an interest in a charter school,” Wilcox says. “We feel like we offer an outstanding product.”
Terry English agrees – but, he adds, the county’s educational offerings can always be better.
“We have two fine school corporations within Monroe County, but those school corporations don’t always meet the needs of the children of the community,” English says. “[Seven Oaks] injects an element of competition into the system that we don’t have right now,” English explains. “We’re not going to compel any students to come to our school. We’re going to compete for children. If they’re not satisfied in their current setting then they’re welcome to come and grow along with us.”
Seven Oaks leaders are working with the Barney Charter School Initiative out of Hillsdale College in Michigan to create and implement the school’s academic programs, as well as Indiana Charters to work out contract services for various office and administrative needs.
“Going through the charter school process is probably the easy part,” English says. “Once we get the charter then the difficult process begins, because then we have to locate facilities, we have to figure out teaching loads and administration and such things like that.”
The Indiana Charter School Board has until October 14 to approve or deny Seven Oaks’ charter request. English says should they be denied, the Seven Oaks board will likely pursue another authorizer.