Charter schools are public schools freed from many state and local regulations. Organized to maximize their autonomy, charter schools have greater control over on-site administrative and classroom operations. "The idea under charter schools is to try to give people an opportunity to act more boldly, more creatively, and to have greater flexibility and less bureaucracy," says Senator Gary Hart (D), author of California's charter-school legislation. As of June 1994, eleven states have passed charter-school legislation, although the degree of autonomy and authority granted varies widely among them. In some states, however, charter schools have the option of going outside the district for services and supplies.
CASE STUDY #7: Vaughn Street Charter School Eliminates the Middleman
As part of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the Vaughn Street Charter School used to rely on the district for support services such as transportation. Even though the LAUSD contracts with private vendors for 43 percent of its bus transportation operations, the district's own bureaucracy was so inefficient that the cost of bus service was inflated beyond market levels by the time the service reached the Vaughn Street School.
After receiving its charter, the Vaughn Street School contracted directly for extracurricular bus service with the same private bus company used by the LAUSD. Instead of paying $225 a day, as was the case when Vaughn had to go through the district, the charter school now pays just $140. By eliminating the district middleman, the Vaughn charter school cut extracurricular busing costs by 40 percent.
Contracting directly with the provider also gives the school more flexibility in scheduling, a big improvement over the former arrangement. Says principal Yvonne Chan, "You name the date and you name the time. It's exact. No ifs, ands, or buts."