A lesson learned about how to improve schools - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

A lesson learned about how to improve schools

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Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2007 3:36 am | Updated: 7:48 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If it isn’t already, your child’s public school is likely to be an example of cooperation between the public and private sectors that not too long ago was separated by a clear line at the edge of each campus.

Read Mark Scarp’s Scarpsdale blog

It shouldn’t be a surprise. For years many school districts have set up what are often called “public-private partnerships” in which local corporate entities provide funding for a special academic program or “magnet” school and offer their employees as volunteers.

The charter school movement has created schools that, while publicly funded, are run by entrepreneurs who are not government workers.

And last year the Tribune reported that the Scottsdale Unified School District food service department was to make a foray into catering private functions held at schools. And we all know how long fast-food chains have been selling their products on campuses.

Today’s school districts hire contract labor for functions formerly handled by their own employees.

The latest form of contract worker is at the front of the classroom itself. As the Tribune’s Amanda Keim reported Thursday, the Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Chandler and Gilbert unified school districts are among those using the services of private firms that hire teachers and administrators who recently retired from district service and are receiving state retirement benefits, but would like to continue teaching.

Arizona’s population growth often outpaces the number of teachers available. By turning to the private sector, schools can get the benefit of veteran educators in classrooms at a cost that is less than that of regular employees. A Scottsdale district official told Keim that contracting with the Tempe-based firm smartschoolsplus will save taxpayers between $100,000 and $150,000 during the coming year.

The phenomenon fills a gap created by the Arizona State Retirement System. Keim reported that retired educators receiving benefits through the system are forbidden from returning to public school classrooms for one year. Such educators go to work for private entities and their services are provided to districts as from an independent contractor, which the rules apparently do not cover.

Whether this was what the system’s rulemakers intended is worthy of debate, but, as Keim reported, since under the rules teachers could return as district employees after one year anyway, it seems the state is not very restrictive about it. Besides, the numbers of contract teachers are few, about 600, a system spokesman told Keim.

While taxpayers and parents should applaud districts’ frugality, districts should

ensure that the quality of the education is indistinguishable, regardless of who is in front of those classrooms. They may well be the same teachers who were there last year.

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