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Schools' job starts with what's best for the kids

The charter school movement in the United States started more than 10 years ago but continues to be misunderstood by the general public and even by those that find themselves leading the decision-making processes surrounding them.

The Gwinnett County School Board and administration is no exception, and the misguided approach and posture taken toward Ivy Prep Academy exemplifies their lack of understanding as well as their maligned intentions.

I don't claim to be a neutral party to this discussion. However, my bias, I believe, is well-guided by the question I ask myself concerning all education issues, for my children and others: What is best for the children involved?

There is no other intention that education systems and their administrators should have other than what is best for the children that are put in their care for education and growth on a daily basis.

To be clear, the posture described in the newspaper accounts of the Gwinnett system's lawsuit doesn't appear to me to meet this requirement.

The school board needs to get with the 21st century and understand that charter schools aren't here to compete with, denigrate or hurt the public school system, but are an important piece of the overall education equation. They assure that parents are given the absolute best opportunities to have their children educated in a school that excels rather than just merely exists nearby.

Simply telling parents that their school choices are already made for them based upon local geographical proximity to their house is something that traps parents into sending their kids, in too many cases, to schools that are not ideal or in their children's best interests.

I'm proud of the administrators, teachers and students at Ivy Prep. I have personally spent several hours at the school observing the operations and curriculum - something that I'll bet the five members of the Gwinnett County school board and superintendent couldn't say collectively.

The statement by the superintendent that the money going to Ivy Prep "is the equivalent of the salaries of 20 to 25 teachers" shows that the school board hasn't really thought this through. The fact is the money IS paying for 20 to 25 teachers - those teachers, and the money, just aren't under their control.

The entire financial argument by the system simply doesn't hold water. Ivy Prep is receiving 0.000447 percent of the Gwinnett school system's total budget while educating 0.001912 percent of the student population. If Ivy Prep were to be considered "outsourcing," this would be the equivalent of a 75 percent increased profit for the school system. When it comes to deciding what to spend money on, maybe the superintendent should spend money on students or hiring teachers rather than attorneys.

To put it another way: the fact that the system spends about $8,338 per student suggests Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks should be happy that such a bargain is being provided by Ivy Prep Academy at only $4,000 per student. It seems to me that Gwinnett Schools should be studying Ivy Prep with an eye toward being more efficient.

The statements made that intimate that other charter schools in Gwinnett receive about $1,200 less per student from the county do not suggest to me that Ivy Prep should have their $4,000 allocation reduced. Quite the opposite. The other two charter schools referenced should have their allocations increased!

I can state unequivocally that the Georgia Charter School Association and I fully support the success and continuing operation of Ivy Prep Academy. As a Gwinnett County resident myself, I will say this school and the charter school concept is one whose time has come in Gwinnett.

B.J. Van Gundy is the board chairman of the Georgia Charter School Association that represents the interests of 120-plus charter schools across Georgia.