Non profit organization clears matter regarding school privatization

By Wallice J. de la Vega

SABANA GRANDE -- The non-profit organization that has requested taking charge of this town's only high school cleared -- and corrected -- comments made by a school official. The matter involves Luis Negron Lopez High School, which, according to the Department of Education, has 664 students. The school appears on the DE's list for possible conversion to charter schools.

"It would be about selecting students by lottery", said school principal Amilcar Ruiz while interviewed by a regional TV station. He added the school's teachers "would not have a secured post here",  "they would have to move to another school", and it is uncertain "where the students will study free of charge". The principal referred to "a company" named SACED as the entity interested in taking charge of the school.

The four facts Ruiz informed are wrong.

The named entity, SACED, is not a company, but the Sabana Grande Community and Economic Development Corporation, a federally registered 501c3 non-profit. Its proven charitable path has been proven locally, nationally, and internationally since 2005. SACED benefits other charities, like Circulo Fraternal Sabaneno, the local Little League annual tournaments, the Coalition for the Prevention of Substance Abuse among the young, and others. Currently, SACED leads FEMA's Disaster Case Management Program, covering five southwestern counties in the repair of homes damaged by Hurricane Maria.

SACED is led by Jose Pietri Martinez, who happens to have taught at the Negron Lopez school for 15 years under Ruiz's direction.

"We are not a company", said Pietri. "We are a non-profit organization, and as such our finances are open to scrutiny". He confirmed to be true that SACED already submitted a required intention letter with a proposal to take charge of the operation of "a school that has a current D evaluation" -- equivalent to 20 on a 100 points scale. His proposal is for administration to beginning at school year 2020-21.

"It seems Mr. Ruiz doesn´t understand how a charter school's procedure works", said Pietri. "These are public schools, with government paid education because it costs less to do it that way. Which means that students continue without paying".  

About the matter of admission by lottery, Pietri said: "What (Ruiz) said about student selection by lottery is partially true, but he didn´t explain that every student residing in Sabana Grande will have a free and guaranteed seat, that it doesn't change at all". Pietri explained that in charter schools, if there are available spaces left open at the start of the academic year, they would be filled by lottery among applicants from other counties. This would happen only if the demand exceeds the number of spaces approved by the DE, he said.    

Going into his projections for a future where SACED administers the Negron Lopez school, Pietri showed a complete plan -- which he preferred not to divulge yet -- in which all funds received would be invested only on the school, even with the possibility of increasing them locally.

About the school's future curriculum, the plan shows technology at a prominent level. "With a well-administered budget we would even provide each student with a computer or tablet, including all electronic licenses and books", he said. "The library's digital systems would be updated and expanded, but without leaving aside the printed literature, which promotes reading among middle-aged and older people -- something non-existing now at the community's meager public library due to lacking infrastructure".   

Pietri mentioned that the school could also house an evening vocational training center, free of charge for Sabana Grande residents, taught by contracted instructors. "It's a plan that empowers the community to extend itself further than a quality education towards an encompassing community, labor, and economic development", he said.    

"As years go by, the infrastructure would be improved while physical plant investment needs decrease", Pietri said. "At such pace we could start our teachers at $45,000 a year, attracting the very best teachers on their individual subjects. All this could be done by strictly maintaining ourselves within the budget". 

According to Pietri, most commercial entities operating charter schools depend, almost exclusively, on government funds. However, his position is that government should be the propeller, but not the total sustainer of this type of schools.

“Luis Negron Lopez Charter Scholl would be incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit entity, which would qualify us for programs supporting safety, technology, substance prevention, teacher training, etc.", he said. "My vision is to create a local group of  "21st Century Community Learning Centers," where the school remains open for education and use not only for the students, but for the whole community".

Pietri said that, although this educational program already exists in Puerto Rico under that name, in other countries they are wider in scope by forming alliances with other community programs to offer a wide range of free services and events, and have become the center of the whole community. On that subject he mentioned Sabana Grande's long-disappeared music, art, sports and other programs.  

"Negron Lopez Charter School could easily be Sabana Grande's strong growth focal point, empowering  the local community while stimulating and helping other regional communities to do the same", said Pietri. "All this can be accomplished with our enthusiastic and committed team. All we need is the opportunity".    

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For more information about SACED, visit saced.org

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