Mich. District Chief Proposes Making All Five Schools Charters

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If charter schools are competition to most public school officials, Randy Bos has decided to throw in the towel.

The superintendent of the 1,200-student Montabella school district in Edmore, Mich., said he will recommend next weekJan. 15 that each of the district's five schools become charter schools.

Mr. Bos said embracing the Michigan charter school law would bring site-based management and increased accountability to the rural school system roughly 50 miles northwest of Lansing.

"All the research that I've been able to dig into in the last 20 years shows that it works if you can give schools true authority rather than token authority," he said.

If the school board approves the plan, Mr. Bos said, Montabella could become the first school district in the nation to undergo a whole-scale conversion to the charter approach.

Michigan is among the states that recently have enacted laws to encourage the creation of charter schools, independently designed and run schools supported with public funds. The concept has attracted many teachers, parents, and politicians, who see it as a way to reinvigorate the public schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

Giving Up Control

But the idea of someone else running a local school is not generally an easy one for superintendents to swallow.

"It's difficult to give up control," the superintendent said. "But we're responsible for way too many decisions that we shouldn't be making."

Mr. Bos said that he would recommend to the school board Jan. 15 that it pass the charter proposal.

Individual schools then would have to write their charters by June for consideration by the board. All five schools could be running independently by next fall.

If the charters are approved, all of the district's per-pupil money--$4,815 a student--would go to the individual schools.

Each school would then pay the district for administrative services, transportation, and the superintendent's work, for example. The school board would still exist as a fiscal agent with the authority to revoke a school's charter.

But Mr. Bos said he was not sure if all five schools would decide to convert.

"Principals are very, very excited," Mr. Bos said, but he added that the Michigan Education Association had been making teachers fearful of the idea.

David Marston, the principal of the district's 265-student Blanchard Elementary School, said that the plan would enable his staff to make decisions more efficiently.

'Something New'

Mr. Marston said teachers had been concerned about their job security but recently had been assured that their bargaining agreements would stay in place under the charters.

"It's something new, and it's not completely understood by any of us, so many questions can't be answered," Mr. Marston said last week.

"We're certainly not filling anyone with any ideas yet," said Julius Maddox, the president of the state teachers' union.

"We will be working to seek more information about the proposal, and the local members will decide what position they want to take," he said.

William Coats, the president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Partnership for New Education, which promotes the creation of charter schools in the state, said the proposal would make the Montabella schools more sensitive and responsive to students' needs.

"It could be the ultimate in site-based decisionmaking," Mr. Coats said.

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