Vail schools may convert to charters

2013-06-06T00:00:00Z Vail schools may convert to chartersJamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Vail School District is considering converting some of its schools to charter schools in a move to bring in more state funding.

Charter schools can receive at least $1,000 more per student than other public schools, prompting the district to look at converting Old Vail and Rincon Vista middle schools and Desert Willow Elementary School. If conversion is done, curriculum or structure changes would be determined by the schools' site councils and principals.

The schools would join four other charter schools operated by the district - Civano Community School, Vail Academy and High School, and Mesquite and Acacia elementary schools.

The Tucson and Tanque Verde unified school districts are also either considering or planning to open charter schools.

As charter schools, the district would receive about $5,500 per student for children attending, said Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker.

The extra money can help improve a school's academics, enhance special programs and provide more of a "market-driven" education tailored to school choice for parents and students, Baker said.

"That's what a charter school is. Unlike traditional schools, you cannot set up a boundary," he said. "The incentive to move to a market-driven school has increased."

Civano uses its extra money to promote project-based learning that teaches students about the environment.

Vail Academy, which serves kindergarten through 12th grade, focuses on stringent academics and small class sizes.

Mesquite and Acacia provide all-day kindergarten, he said.

Despite school district claims, Arizona Department of Education officials say traditional public schools receive more money overall because of property tax overrides, bond elections and money allocated for textbooks, school buses and other equipment.

However, charter schools that are not sponsored by school districts and have fewer than 600 students can receive more funds through small-school funding, according to the Department of Education.

The trend of districts changing traditional schools to charters has gained the attention of state lawmakers.

Some lawmakers have proposed including moratoriums in the upcoming state budget to prevent districts from changing a traditional school to a charter.

One such measure failed last month in the state Senate, but the House of Representatives is considering a similar measure in its budget discussions.

"It's been part of the discussion," said Republican state Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson.

Orr said parents and board members from Tanque Verde have contacted him, urging support for school district charters.

Vail will wait for the outcome of the Legislature's budget discussions before deciding whether to move forward, Baker said.

If there are no moratoriums, the school district's governing board will likely vote at the end of this month, he said.

The schools would become charters at the beginning of Vail's school year in July.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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