Washington News

Mah 9, 2013

District ends pursuit of managing charter schools

by Matthew Nash

Sequim School District won't pursue managing any potential incoming charter schools this year.

Superintendent Kelly Shea made the recommendation and school board members agreed Wednesday, May 8, that the district didn't have the time or resources to devote to becoming an authorizer.

Sequim was one of 12 school districts to notify the State Board of Education by April 1 that it might or might not apply to manage any possible charter school next year. If the school board did choose to do so, it would need to apply by July 1 to become an authorizer.

Shea said there already was a process in place for anyone interested in opening a charter school through the Charter School Commission, Washington State.

When you look at the application and what they (State Board of Education) are looking for in an authorizer, we don't have the background, knowledge or experience to complete an application,” he said. 

“But this is not a one-and-done opportunity. It will be an annual opportunity if they (the school board) plan to look at it again.”

School board president Virginia O'Neil said the cons outweighed the pros.

“The district doesn't have any surplus funds to designate a staff member to manage becoming an authorizer,” she said. “It would not be prudent for us to take resources we're already responsible for to jump on the bandwagon of authorization of charter schools without knowing what that means.”

Shea said he found the rules are being created as they go and the application would be time-consuming.

Also, if a charter school wanted to open in Sequim, organizers would need to apply through the Charter School Commission.

We'd be spending time and money to do the same thing as an agency that's already doing this,” he said. 

If the commission were to approve a school here, the school district likely would work with the school anyway, Shea said.

School district business manager Brian Lewis said the new charter school would be entitled to a portion of the district's operating and levy dollars and any qualifying state dollars.

Students who go to the school likely would come from Sequim schools already or from home-schooled students, Lewis said.

Authorizing entities and the commission can approve up to eight charter schools per year, Shea said. 

If the Sequim School District were to be an authorizer and deny a new school, he said, that school could apply next year to the charter commission.

Maybe next year? 

Shea said it's unlikely the Sequim school board will notify the board of education next school year to possibly become an authorizer because the deadline is pushed up to Oct. 1.

“We'll be looking at other school districts who do it and see how they do it,” he said. “I don't think there's any major benefit to the Sequim school board being an authorizer right now.”

O'Neil said it made sense to do the research on the process.

“I feel good about that, but I also feel good about the decision not to be an authorizer this year,” she said.

Shea said the board's decision not to pursue authorization neither advocates nor opposes charter schools.

Many people were perceiving Sequim wanted to open a charter school but that's not the case,” he said. 

In a previous interview, Shea said he's not necessarily opposed to charter schools if it allows the district to find alternatives for children who may need a different learning style.

The charter school decision stems from a November 2012 vote to allow up to 40 new charter schools in Washington over five years. Voters approved the schools to be “independently managed public schools operated only by qualified nonprofit organizations approved by the state."

Statewide approval for initiative 1240 saw voters in favor by 1.5 million (50.7 percent) to 1.484 million (49.3 percent) opposed. Clallam County voters also favored the initiative by 19,856 yes (53.8 percent) votes to 17,024 no (46.2 percent) votes with Sequim's precincts mostly in favor.

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