Selected readings on US charter schools
When the Santa Clara County Board of Education approved 20 new Rocketship charter schools 13 months ago, the trustees knew it would transform public education in Silicon Valley. They knew, too, that locating schools would be controversial and that they would need to stand behind the plan to better educate thousands of Silicon Valley’s low-income and mostly Latino kids.
The first big test of the board’s commitment comes Wednesday night when it will vote on a zoning exemption allowing Rocketship to build a school near the Tamien light-rail station. The plan, in discussion for more than three years, has been approved by the San Jose planning commission and the city council. It will benefit the hundreds of kids on Rocketship’s waiting list, help the county close its racial achievement gap and bring a long-promised park to the area. But it has drawn strong opposition from some neighbors and from school districts, which believe the zoning decision oversteps the county board’s authority.
It does not. The board should approve the exemption and allow the school to be built in time to open this fall.
This issue first came before the board last summer and has been put off since then to allow city officials and the community to weigh in. It is an unusual request: Individual school districts, not the county board, generally provide these kinds of zoning exemptions.
But as Rocketship transforms public education with its rapid expansion and distinctive learning model, it will also require adaptations in school governance. Rocketship’s charters were granted by the county office of education, not a local school district. Multiple legal experts including the county counsel have concluded that the county board is the proper authority in this case. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has asked for it as well.
If the trustees turn down the exemption, Rocketship would have to ask the city of San Jose for a zoning change, a process that could take months or even years. Asking Rocketship to wait for the city planning process would defy the spirit of the law that gives school districts the ability to grant zoning exemptions for school buildings.
The educational mission of public schools, charter or traditional, shouldn’t be hindered by interagency politics. And if the county board didn’t want to be responsible for the steps that will be necessary to open the 20 schools, it shouldn’t have granted the charters.
It’s a shame that this school has become controversial. We hope it’s just because the process is so new. But the zoning issue is sure to come up again, and neither the county board nor Rocketship can withstand 19 more brutal, months-long battles.
The school and park will be good for the neighborhood and for children who struggle in conventional schools. The board should approve the exemption. And before the next zoning request comes forward, trustees need to approve a plan for Rocketship and local school districts to avoid so much discord. It’s a needless distraction from the essential work they all do to educate kids.
Source: Silicon Valley Mercury News – Editorial
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