The financial impact of charter and cyber schools, and questions about their academic quality, were front and center at Monday night’s Wilson Area School District board meeting.
As the area readies for the possible opening of a business and entrepreneurship-themed charter school in West Easton next fall, the district is examining the financial cost to the district of Wilson ASD students educated in charter, cyber and special education classes, according to Superintendent Doug Wagner.
All in all, such instruction costs Wilson $682,078 annually, Wagner estimated.
“It’s quite a hole we have to plug with money we currently have,” he told board members. “It's a concern.”
Some 33 Wilson students attend charters such as Lehigh Valley Academy to Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts; another 30 go to various online distance education programs.
Later in the meeting, school officials questioned the quality of online academics.
“We feel that bricks and mortar is the best option,” said Avona Elementary Principal Kevin Steidle, while outlining cyber-related district goals for 2012-13. “We do try to keep kids in our buildings.”
The district wants to bring online students attending schools outside the district back to Wilson, and is planning a pilot cyber program of its own this year.
When asked by board member Charles Marsteller what prompted Wilson students to enroll in cyber education, Steidle said “issues” at school, medical problems and truancy were common factors.
The topic of charter school quality also came up.
Board member Judith Herbstreith, citing a recent Morning Call analysis, expressed concern that the commonwealth’s Department of Education is essentially massaging PSSA data to exaggerate charter schools’ achievements.
“Parents may think a charter school is performing better than a neighborhood school,” said Herbstreith, “but that may not be the case.”
Herbstreith also called attention to several controversies involving charter education that were emerging in state legislative battles.
Wilson's discussion comes weeks after the Easton Area School Board began looking at setting up its own district-based cyber school.