Washington News

Skagit Valley Herald
June 10, 2004

Mount Vernon gets first charter school request


The Mount Vernon School District has its first charter school request. A group calling itself the Mount Vernon Charter School Corporation has proposed running a school for 80 to 100 students in kindergarten through third-grade.

Melissa and Steinar Kristoffersen, who run a home school support organization in Mount Vernon, have teamed up with Joe Fuiten, who runs a number of private Christian schools in King, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, to apply for the charter school sponsorship. Mount Vernon School Board members discussed the application Wednesday night.

The Legislature passed a charter school law during the last session that allows for the creation of five schools in the entire state next year, and a total of up to 45 charter schools over six years.

But the new law is likely to be referred to voters in November, as a result of a petition drive backed by the state teachers union, which opposes charter schools. Washington voters have twice rejected charter school initiatives.

If the matter is placed on the ballot, the new charter school law would be suspended until after the general election, said Mount Vernon School District Superintendent Mack Armstrong. Charter schools are publicly financed. They must have a contract with a local school board, but operate independently.

Fuiten told the board that his group wants to be the first in the door with its application. He asked the board to schedule a public hearing on the matter despite the potential for a referendum. If the referendum is rejected in November, then the charter school would be in place and ready to go to open in the fall of 2005, he said. "The new charter school law is targeted to disadvantaged students. We want to work with you to better serve the students of this district. A charter school in Mount Vernon would give parents options," Fuiten said.

School board members questioned the Kristoffersens and Fuiten about separation of church and state issues. They were assured that the charter school would not be religious in nature. Board member Rob Johnson criticized a draft proposal of the charter school application, saying that, except for a mission statement, it did not specifically address how the charter school would meet the needs of disadvantaged or challenged students.

What are charter schools?

Charter schools are public schools, freed from some state regulations so they can innovate. By law, their focus is for disadvantaged students. Charter schools still have to comply with health, safety and civil rights regulations, and students are still required to take state assessment tests. Students apply to the school on a voluntary basis. The school is required to enroll all students until capacity is met. The charter school receives state money dependent on the number of students it attracts. Charter schools must be included in any local school levies held after the schools' creation.

Gale Fiege can be reached at 360-416-2148 or by e-mail at gfiege@skagitvalleyherald.com

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