January 30, 2008
If the charter school movement has learned anything in the last fifteen-plus years, it's that passionate folks with good intentions often underestimate the challenges of starting and leading a school. A recent Salt Lake Tribune article drives this lesson home. It describes how overzealous charter-founders in Utah have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars above market value for their school buildings. Larissa Powell, who was part of a group that paid $500,000 above the appraised price for Lincoln Academy in Pleasant Grove, Utah, said, "Our mistake was we didn't have signed papers saying, before we started... how much it's going to cost." Critics are now wagging their fingers at developers and calling for the state government to step in and regulate. Stephanie Colson, a founder of Eagle Mountain's The Ranches Academy, said, "I wish the state could find a way not to put us at the mercy of the charter developers." Or--instead of asking for government to stick its nose in charter-school business--founders could follow one simple rule: Don't start a school if you don't yet understand facilities and management. Putting up a multi-million-dollar building is no joke. Neither, for that matter, is coordinating food services, hiring employees, or paying bills. The charter movement will take a huge leap forward when charter-starters--and charter school authorizers--recognize this.
"Charter schools in Utah: Building schools, at what price?" by Julia Lyon, Salt Lake Tribune, January 27, 2008