by Rick Steigmeyer
EAST WENATCHEE — Eastmont School District will not review charter schools that could apply for operation within the district. School board members unanimously voted to put the decision off at least for another year at a board meeting Monday night.
“I think this isn’t the time,” said Steve Piccirillo.
“We don’t have the time, staff or money,” said Annette Eggers. Both are members of the five person school board.
Eastmont was one of 12 school districts in the state to submit a letter of intent to be an authorizer of charter schools last month. Eastmont was the only district in North Central Washington to submit a letter of intent.
A complicated formal application must be completed by July 1 before a district can be approved as an authorizer. As an authorizer, the district would have power of approval and input over a charter school application and could determine how it would fit into the district’s education goals.
Superintendent Garn Christensen said the district wasn’t advocating a charter school as much as wanting to have the option of involvement in any plans to start a local charter school.
“We wanted to keep the door unlocked if this is something we want to pursue. We want to be involved in the review,” Christensen said.
But operators of such a school would have the option of bypassing the district and asking for approval of a statewide commission, he said. And the extensive application would take up a lot of staff time to complete before the July 1 deadline.
No local group has so far expressed interest in starting such a school, he said, but it may only be a matter of time. “I think charter schools are here to stay,” Christensen added.
“It seems like an awful lot of work to become an authorizer when they have the option not to go to us. If we were more in control of our destiny, I would support it,” said board member Chris Gibbs.
Piccirillo said the board originally approved submitting a letter of intent as a natural extension of the district’s responsibilities of good governance. It was never meant to be an endorsement of charter schools, he said.
Initiative 1240, narrowly approved by state voters last fall, made Washington the 42nd state in the nation to allow charter schools. Operators must be nonreligious, nonprofit organizations. The schools must win approval by a local school board that applies to be an authorizer or from the statewide charter commission, recently appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee. If approved, the schools could start operation in the fall of 2014.
Charter schools are nontraditional schools that usually focus on a specific area of study or learning method. They are still public schools operating under a contract with the state that specifies how the school will be operated and what it is expected to achieve.
Critics of charter schools — which include many teachers who feel charter schools take money away from traditional schools — point out that the schools have generally not fared well in education ratings and have a higher cost per student than traditional schools.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151