Local Wisc. School Superintendent Wants Charter School for His District

Published May 1, 2007

When Ken Bates became superintendent of the Green Lake School District in central Wisconsin last July, he inherited a huge problem–a financially struggling school system with little state aid and steadily declining enrollment.

Fortunately, Bates also had an idea for a solution: Add at least one charter school to the district.

“Charter schools are flexible, and they would have freedom from state regulations,” Bates said. “It would also give staff the opportunity to think creatively” about curriculum design.

The Green Lake school board was scheduled to begin formal discussions about implementing charter schools in April. A final proposal will be completed this summer, and the charter may start in the 2008 school year. Other details have yet to be determined.

Good Option

The charter school, which may include grades 7-12, will focus on environment studies, Bates said.

“We want to use the lake as a classroom and give the students hands-on experience,” Bates said.

Senn Brown, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Charter School Association, a statewide charter school advocacy group in Madison, said charter schools are proving to be great alternatives for parents and children, as well as a good way to increase enrollment and funding in school districts.

“The interaction between charter and state schools allows children to take part in an open-enrollment charter school policy,” Brown said. “Charter programs attract families from neighboring districts and the funding follows the child to whichever school they attend.”

Union Concerns

John Horn, director of Three Rivers United Educators, a teachers union based in Madison, said teachers are open to any renovation of the district that will provide quality education to students and has positive outcomes for parents and teachers.

But in general, teachers unions oppose charter schools, and at press time Three Rivers union members were vigilantly attending meetings, participating in discussions, and asking many questions about the logistics of the Green Lake program, such as how a charter would work in a school district with only 353 students.

“It is our understanding that this is the superintendent’s response to state revenue controls,” Horn said. “We are willing to work with the district to get rid of revenue controls.”

Horn said the district has been very good at working with the teachers and answering most of their questions.

“It is our understanding that the school district will run with current staff and the teachers will continue to be represented by the union,” Horn said.

Daschell M. Phillips ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.