Andover School Committee Position Statement on STEAM Studio Charter
For many communities across the country, charter schools can provide a valuable alternative to local public school systems, and the Andover School Committee is not opposed to them. However, we do not support the STEAM Studio charter proposal because we do not believe the programming it promises to offer students enhances or builds upon our offerings enough to justify the very large share of state funding it will divert from Andover's existing schools and programs, nor will it eliminate the need to address educational space issues at Andover High.
Existing Programs at Andover High School
Andover has a high-performing high school which is currently experiencing tremendous growth in the area of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) programming.
A few examples:
- We are among the first public school districts in the country to have written STEAM goals into our district-wide Strategic Plan. Some of our STEAM efforts are featured in a case study on the national stemtosteam.org website sponsored by the Rhode Island School of Design.
- Our Strategic Plan is being implemented: in the last year alone, student enrollment has tripled in both our engineering and computer science classes. We have also started a new graphic design lab program, as well as a technology integration class that includes app development. We are actively planning for continued growth and expansion in these areas.
- Last year Andover High became the first public high school in the country to partner with EdX--the Harvard-MIT online course program--to allow our students to take college-level courses for AHS credit, at no cost.
- In 2012, Andover High was one of three national finalists for the Intel School of Distinction in High School Mathematics award--recognized for creating dual pathways that allow a high number of students to reach the BC calculus level.
- Our ninth grade STEAM program, "Geometry through the Lens of Art," was adopted as a professional development offering by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- Our new Environmental Science Internship Class matches students with business and community mentors to work on projects addressing specific, real-world problems.
- Last year, students in Andover High's robotics program placed among the top Massachusetts teams in state-wide competition, as did our science competition teams.
- This fall, multiple school districts--most recently Lexington--have requested visits to Andover High School, specifically to observe and learn about applying STEAM ideals to the art classroom.
- Andover High has a broad array of highly successful sports, arts, and club programs that we consider to be an extension of our academic curriculum and an essential part of the student experience. It is unlikely that a charter school can replicate this scale of co-curricular programming.
Thanks to the community's recent $2.5 million dollar investment in town-wide technology infrastructure and the digitization of all classrooms, we are now seeing a rapid acceleration in our capacity to provide innovative programming, and we have dedicated substantial professional development money toward supporting these initiatives. We believe now is the time to continue expanding and enhancing these opportunities for ALL students, and not the time to divert funding to a charter school that will only serve a small number.
Budget Impact of the Charter School
Charter schools work well in some school districts, but virtually every Massachusetts community with a charter school receives a far greater share of Chapter 70 education money than Andover. For example, Lawrence receives 96% of its per pupil costs from the state, while Andover only receives 14%. Since charter schools are funded through the Chapter 70 program, this creates a severely disproportionate impact (see spreadsheet for detail):
- Andover receives $1,386 per student in Chapter 70 aid to schools.
- The STEAM Studio charter tuition is estimated at $15,871 per student--12 times what Andover currently receives.
- For each student from Andover who attends STEAM Studio, Andover Public Schools will lose the Chapter 70 funding of 12 students.
- If--as STEAM Studio proponents predict--the charter school attracts Andover students who currently attend private schools, the number of students now educated through public tax dollars will actually rise, increasing the cost to the Town of Andover.
- The STEAM Studio charter team assumes 70% of its students will come from Andover. This would result in a total impact of $5 million per year after the initial reimbursement period ends--offset by only modest decreases to our expenses.
The budgetary effects on our schools will be significant, and will be felt at all levels of the system. As School Committee member David Birnbach--who is also the lead proponent of the STEAM Studio proposal--said at the November 8th School Committee meeting, "There is a major impact. There's no way around that." (audio tape, Nov. 8th Andover School Committee meeting).
The STEAM Studio charter application asserts that if its charter is approved, student overcrowding at Andover High will be reduced--meaning "residents will likely not have to fund an expansion" (charter application, page 12).
- The STEAM Studio application assumes 70% of its students will be from Andover--in other words, 315 out of its total of 450. Even if all 315 of these students do come from Andover High, the high school will remain virtually at full capacity based on recent enrollment experience
- Each year, a number of Andover students choose to attend private high school. School Committee member and lead STEAM Studio proponent David Birnbach noted at the November 8th School Committee meeting that he expects some of these students to choose the charter school instead. This will have no effect on overcrowding at Andover High -- because these are students who do not or would not attend Andover High anyway.
- Last year, Annual Town Meeting approved a $130,000 warrant article to fund a space needs feasibility study at Andover High School. The intent of this study is not only address the need for additional classroom space; it is also designed to investigate possibilities for reconfiguring and repurposing existing space--such as the media center-to better meet the needs of students and teachers. Whether or not a charter school is approved, educational space issues exist at the high school. The warrant article was unanimously supported by all members of the School Committee, including lead charter school proponent David Birnbach.
The School Committee believes that funds available for education should be invested wisely in our existing schools in order to move Andover's Strategic Plan forward. This plan is embedded with the principles of STEAM and project-based learning, and designed so that ALL Andover students can benefit. Our tax dollars already support two excellent high school programs--Andover High and the Greater Lawrence Technical School--which provide an outstanding range of programming and services for our students. To divert a substantial amount of money to a third high school designed for a very small percentage of students will have a severe impact on the overall funds available to the town, and would be an unnecessary gamble with taxpayer dollars given that there is no guarantee a charter school will succeed.