Facilities Conditions Now – Shifting Our Mindset from Tenant to Landlord

Greetings CharterFolk,

I’m driving a U-Haul from Sacramento to San Diego this weekend to help my daughter move into a new apartment. Time being limited, I’ll make this one shorter. Let’s get straight to it.

Worse than Dogs

Last month, I wrote about school districts having buildings to burn.

The fires …

… continue.

After I wrote the piece in December, a friend directed my attention to the number of old school buildings that are going to the dogs.

Literally.

School districts are converting old school buildings into dog parks.

In Ventura, they’re actually referring to the new dog park as “a campus.”

Meanwhile, as facilities burn and dog parks spread, The 74 published this great story this week …

… showing that thousands of schools across the United States are under-enrolled, meaning thousands more school facilities are going underused.

Of those districts with more than 100,000 students, the districts with the highest percentage of underused facilities are Philadelphia, which hasn’t approved a new charter school in over five years …

… and Los Angeles, which is now attempting to kick charter school students out of district facilities.

Yes, CharterFolk, it’s sad but true.

LA Unified treats charter school students worse than dogs.

Facilities Conditions Now

Now the district is beginning to plan for school closures.

Apparently their plan is to take back facilities from charter schools so they’ll have even more campuses to close.

School districts preparing for school closures is starting to get more attention across the country.

We know what’s coming next.

More fires and dog parks, yes.

But more than that, school districts wanting to sell their school buildings to shore up finances as Covid money runs out.

Shifting Our Mindset From Tenant to Landlord

It points to another aspect of our advocacy efforts that needs a change to reflect that we have moved into an “Era Beyond the Beginning.”

It, starts, as I wrote in that post …

… with a shift in mindset.

A recognition that the world has changed.

Along with a recognition that we ourselves have changed, too.

To wit:

In recent weeks, I’ve been part of multiple conversations where I’ve heard CharterFolk say it isn’t even worth trying to get charter schools access to closed campuses because they’re often located in parts of town where there aren’t enough students to support a whole new school, and/or the buildings have been allowed to fall into such states of dilapidation that they’re hardly usable anyway. So what’s the point in putting any advocacy effort toward them at all?

It reflects the mind shift that needs to happen.

Because it’s not always access to buildings that should be our focus, but sometimes the value that’s within them.

We advocate for charter schools getting an equitable share of public education resources on all other fronts. Why not this one? Why not push for laws saying that the proceeds from the sale of any public school facility will be shared proportionately between the district and the charter schools that serve students in that district?

It’s the kind of proposal that would demonstrate that we are leaving behind the notion that CharterFolk approach school districts as supplicants seeking leases, to one presuming that we are part owners who should be treated, not like tenants, but like landlords.

Presuming we are co-owners of public education assets puts us in the position to ask a whole new set of questions about public school buildings, such as:

  • What facilities do school districts actually own, anyway?
  • How many kids did school districts say each of their buildings would serve when voters approved bonds allowing for the construction of those facilities?
  • How many kids are districts serving in those schools?
  • How has enrollment at each school facility changed over time?
  • What is a level of underuse that should require school districts to make them available to charter schools or to dispose of them providing an equitable share of proceeds to charter schools?
  • What level of maintenance, if any, have school districts been putting into the facilities they own?
  • What level of accountability should there be for school districts that have refused to maintain the school buildings that have been entrusted to them?
  • How much money went into the development of districts’ school buildings when they were first built? How many years ago was that? What is a reasonable amortization schedule such that fair prices for charter schools to purchase district facilities can be easily systematized?
  • And if school districts have been falling short in their landlord responsibilities related to public school facilities, what other party should be entrusted to take them on?

Generally, we have found it so difficult to secure charter schools access to district facilities that we haven’t made it that high of an advocacy priority relative to making new facilities funding streams for charter schools.

But that was during an era when there weren’t nearly the number of underused facilities as we have today. And it was when we hadn’t developed yet the high leverage facilities advocacy proposals that are coming into focus now, nor had we the caliber of advocacy organizations we have today to go after them.

So, it’s time, CharterFolk, to take another run at this.

Putting an end to the days of charter school students being treated worse than dogs.

As we step into the new mindset:

CharterFolk are not tenants.

Having to pay rent to secure our place in public education.

But landlords.

Owners entitled to an equitable share of everything in public education, including all the assets that have been dedicated to it.