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Charlene Mendoza: Public charter schools do a lot, deserve respect

Posted On: 2017-09-28 11:45 AM

By Charlene Mendoza Special to the Arizona Daily Star

When I first caught wind of another report written by another organization whose main purpose is to malign charter schools, I internally rolled my eyes, took deep breaths and thought, here we go again. More headlines designed to create visual soundbites that overlook the complexities and undervalue the contributions made by public charter school teachers and leaders.

With two decades of experience serving Tucson students as a charter school teacher and principal, I know there is not a single school or district fitting all. We're privileged to have the ability to make the choice we consider best for our children.

As a lifelong Tucsonan, I know we believe in local decision-making. This is true for the great majority of Southern Arizona charters also. We are mostly single site campuses serving students who are often marginalized in other schools and districts. The assertion that those of us working every day for students in our community are making choices benefiting adults and profits over students is absurd. This mischaracterization is simply untrue!

I come from a family of educators. We strive daily to ensure students at our school have the ability to thrive after graduation. The paper neglects to mention the positive impact public charter schools are making on student achievement.

At my school, approximately 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. We are recognized as one of the most diverse schools in Southern Arizona by Our graduation rate is 98 percent. Of those, 85 percent go on to post-secondary education. This is not because I earn a high salary or any of the other unfounded claims in this report; but, rather that I work with extremely dedicated staff at a school that puts the majority of our resources into the classroom and student experiences with a small population of students in an inclusive and diverse environment.

The paper, published by a former educator with no accounting experience, uses anti-charter rhetoric to exaggerate statistical claims and mislead. Public charter schools are held to strict financial accountability by our authorizer, including annual independent audits and IRS reporting requirements.

If a charter school fails to meet those standards it can and probably should be closed. The following excerpt was circulated: "administrator salaries for some charters was much higher than their district counter-parts, and one-third of for-profit charter schools pay excessive dividends, including many which were issued even when the school was not profitable."

As we have recently seen in the Tucson Unified School District, the issue of salaries for administrators is always challenging and often problematic. Some charters (and districts) may pay higher administrative salaries; others do not. Our board has chosen to pay our administrators the same salaries as teachers.

The only difference is being compensated over the summer months because as charter school administrators, there is no summer break. Also, there are only 29 for-profit charters in Arizona. So, one third of those is approximately 10. That is 10 out of 423, or not many at all!

We need to focus on all schools and all people in them who are dedicated, talented and service-minded, working incredibly hard in challenging circumstances for the benefit of our children and community. I love Tucson. I love being a teacher. I work for my own school, preschools, other schools and bigger districts. I advocate at local, state and federal levels for education. Period!

If our community is truly stronger together, it is time to get rid of hateful rhetoric, look beyond and past what divides us and recognize we all benefit from choices available, including charters.

Charlene Mendoza graduated from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona. She is part of the Arizona Charter Schools Association Leadership Council.

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