Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 28, 2013

Charter school proposal doesn't add up

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

I attended the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education public forum on Thursday, Nov. 21, and was impressed to see so many people there to provide opinion on the STEAM Studio High School charter application.

However, I was taken aback by the speakers who showed support for STEAM Studio saying, “The budget will work itself out” and expressing dismay that a decision could come down to “a choice between opportunity and budget.” This is a naïve and troubling way to evaluate the impact of STEAM Studio’s potential charter.

It may be unfortunate, but the finances of Andover and its public schools provide confines in which our “opportunities” must operate, just as finances do within our own households.

Parents in Andover have received financial analysis from various groups, including the School Committee and STEAM Studio leads. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that operating STEAM Studio will cost Andover on the order of $5 million a year once it is fully up and running in steady-state.

I’ve heard the argument that to fund the new charter high school, per-student costs would simply be “reallocated” from Andover High to STEAM Studio. But these per-student calculations oversimplify reality.

My first-grader isn’t given $15,000 a year to dole out only to the teachers, programs or physical space he uses, and the per-student metric doesn’t consider the real truth in education that some students are more expensive to teach than others.

Andover’s education budget is spent in aggregate and should be considered as such. Per-student calculations drive unrealistic and irresponsible conclusions.

I’m also skeptical that, as STEAM Studio proponents claim, removing the proposed 315 kids from Andover High would provide a reduction of $5 million annual cost, even if the ongoing space study ultimately agrees with STEAM Studio’s thus far completely unvetted $20 million expansion proposal for the existing high school building. If there’s space in Andover for STEAM Studio, is there not space Andover High could use?

Further, it strikes me that Andover gets about $8.4 million this year in state (Chapter 70) funds, yet we are in a situation where the state, through DESE, has an opportunity to dictate that $5 million of these funds would be directed to a school that is proposed to support only 315 of Andover’s 6,100 public school students. That’s 60 percent of our state funding for 5 percent of our kids.

I’m an engineer by education and career, taught in Massachusetts public schools and the Ivy League. I have a strong and personal perspective that studying advanced math and science are hugely important for our kids. Nonetheless, I do not support the proposed STEAM charter high school because it is an inefficient way to enhance technology curriculum in Andover, and it does so for only a small subset of students.

As you are forming your opinion on the charter school proposal, I urge you to consider how this — widely acknowledged and agreed upon — $5 million annual allocation to STEAM Studio would impact the ability to deliver science and math education to the 95 percent of Andover pubic school students who are not part of the charter school. I’m having trouble seeing how that “works itself out” in any productive way.

Shannon Scully

School Street