ALA Founder Responds To Recent Article
By Glenn L Way
Charter schools have been under attack in local media outlets all summer. They have attacked me personally and ALA as a whole. We have diligently answered every question we’ve been asked, but the media has taken those responses and twisted them to serve their anti-charter agenda.
One example of this bias is that it is customary for the target of a newspaper article to be given the opportunity to respond to the article in print. Unfortunately, the news outlet has denied our response and even asked that we edit portions of it. Rather than limit our response to say only what they want us to say, we decided we’d send you the entire message (see below). I care about you, our stakeholders. I want you to have this information.
Despite all of this negative attention, ALA is having its biggest and best year ever. We are excited to welcome back your family and continue to provide what you came for: the best educational experience in a moral and wholesome environment.
We truly appreciate your support of ALA. Below is my response that the Arizona Republic refused to run.
Like many of you, my family and I came to Arizona from someplace else.
We chose to make Arizona our home because this is where we wanted to raise our children. In 2009, after being unable to enroll our children in our chosen public charter school due to its high demand, we decided to start our own charter school here in Arizona. I wanted my children to attend a school that not only offered rigorous academics and comprehensive extracurricular activities, but that did so in a moral and wholesome environment – a combination I felt was missing in traditional district schools.
Almost a decade later, that single American Leadership Academy serving 200 students has grown into a thriving network of public charter schools. Today, ALA educate more than 10,000 students across a dozen ALA schools throughout the Southeast Valley.
Ironically, The Arizona Republic has characterized our proudest professional accomplishment in the most negative of terms (“Arizona charter school founder makes millions building his own schools”). Before I dispel some of The Republic’s outright falsehoods, I’ll note what somehow eluded nearly any mention within the 3,100 words of this report: the quality of ALA schools.
The Best of Both Worlds
American Leadership Academy is exceptional. We pride ourselves on providing families an individualized charter experience within campuses that have academic, athletic, performing arts and intramural offerings to match those of much larger district schools.
ALA’s fine arts program is nationally-recognized, and our students have won multiple national titles in ballroom dance. Within the last three years alone, our athletic teams have won state championships in football, baseball, softball, volleyball, wrestling and more.
ALA excels in academics. All of our schools are designated by the state as either “Excellent,” “Highly Performing” or “ Performing,” and our students significantly outpace the state average on the AzMERIT assessment. ALA high school students have their pick of 17 AP courses, and our graduates this spring have been accepted to prestigious institutions of higher learning such as MIT, Stanford, the Air Force Academy and more.
Meanwhile, our student body is socio-economically diverse. Five ALA schools are designated “Title 1” based on their high number of students who qualify for assistance via the National School Lunch Program.
Of course, you read hardly a word of that in The Republic’s reporting.
The Truth about ALA – My Role
Until June 30, 2017, I served as President of the Board of Directors at ALA. In that role, I led daily school operations and functioned similarly to a school superintendent. My average annual salary was $45,770.
Separately, I am a minority owner in Schoolhouse Development, a development company that has contracted with ALA and other charter operators to build school facilities. My partners and I have developed and financed more than 50 schools for charter operators across the Intermountain West, including eight ALA schools.
Remember, unlike district schools, charters don’t receive state dollars for facilities and must seek private financing. I personally guaranteed every loan for the construction of ALA schools. Neither ALA nor Arizona taxpayers were ever at risk. Via Schoolhouse Development, we competitively bid every ALA project, and I’m proud to have worked with some of the state’s most reputable contractors to bring world-class facilities to ALA students– at no expense to Arizona taxpayers! This arrangement, in the words of The Republic, “is allowed by law.”
Yes, I have made money – but not nearly as much as The Republic claimed. To purchase the schools built by Schoolhouse Development, ALA paid a combined $13.2 million less than the properties’ independently-appraised value.
I’m so confident ALA has received the best value in school facilities, I’ll make this challenge: I’m willing to beat the lowest construction bid given to any school district by 5%, take all of the risk, and wait 5 years to be paid. I’d still make more money than I have for any charter school I’ve ever built.
Simply put: the charter model is the best deal for taxpayers.
Why the Critics Really Hate Us
ALA isn’t perfect and neither am I. For example, we’re making significant progress in the area of teacher pay – including a 13 percent increase approved for every teacher in the coming year – but we need to continue making strides. In 2018-19, base pay for ALA teachers will average $41,641, with the opportunity for an additional $4,000 in performance pay. This dollar amount doesn’t include health benefits and a 401k retirement program, which are also provided.
Likewise, readers should not be naïve about the true motivations underlying this newfound scrutiny of ALA. The Republic gives up the game in noting of our most recent, 1,300-student campus in north Gilbert: “Gilbert Public School officials complained that a new kindergarten through 12th-grade charter school would poach their students.”
And there it is. Within this single sentence is captured both the fear of school district officials that we may provide a competitive option to “their” students, as well as The Republic’s continuing bias in referring to Arizona students and families as something a charter school could “ poach.”
So much for a family’s free will to select the best school for their child, I guess.
What terrifies ALA opponents is that we offer a better educational product and provide it more cost-effectively than government schools. It’s no coincidence this pushback comes as ALA enrollment has never been higher, and we have waitlists at our Gilbert North campus and several others.
The reason is simple: American Leadership Academy offers Arizona families something they just can’t find anyplace else.
Editors Note: If you would like to read the original article on AZ Central’s website you can do so here.