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School with ‘toxic’ culture shows need for school choice

As the Review-Journal’s Amelia Pak-Harvey reported last week, some staff members and parents are upset with Decker Elementary School principal Alice Roybal-Benson. They accuse her of targeting teachers who aren’t in her clique or who question her.

“Overall, Roybal-Benson has cultivated the most toxic and hostile work environment in which I have ever had the displeasure of working,” one teacher wrote in a resignation letter. “Favoritism and preferential treatment runs rampant and there is constant fear and a feeling of uncertainty among those who are not within her inner circle.”

Kelly Mercer, who once taught fourth grade at Decker, said Ms. Roybal-Benson targeted him after he questioned the amount of time spent on math each day. He now works at Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus, a charter school.

Mr. Mercer is far from the only employee who has left Decker. Staff turnover has been high during Ms. Roybal-Benson’s tenure. Data from the Clark County School District shows that two-thirds of the school’s staff left in 2015-16, 36 percent in 2016-17 and 62 percent in 2017-18. That could mean there are issues with Ms. Roybal-Benson’s job performance. Or perhaps it means she’s doing exactly what every principal at a two-star school, such as Decker, should do — demanding improvement and even moving out ineffective teachers. Grousing would be the expected response in either scenario.

Regardless, the dispute highlights the importance of offering more educational options. Decker parents who are unhappy with Ms. Roybal-Benson have few real alternatives. In the private sector, customers are free to go elsewhere with their business. Not so for most of those trapped in a dysfunctional public school system. While rich parents have the financial means to move or send their children to private schools, many parents with children at Decker don’t.

The controversy at Decker could be resolved quickly if parents had access to Education Savings Accounts or other school choice options. If they didn’t like what was happening at their neighborhood school, they could use ESAs to help pay for private school tuition or avail themselves of other options.

School choice programs have many benefits. One of the biggest is that public schools tend to improve when they have to attract students. Just look at what’s happening at Decker to see why.

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