Charter Pulse

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WASHINGTON: Tacoma School Board to hold off on charter start-ups

washingtonThe Tacoma School Board opted out of the charter school business Thursday night — at least for now.

Board members, who voted 4-0 with one member absent, said they might reconsider their decision in the fall. But they said there are too many unknowns for them to meet the July 1 deadline established by the state Board of Education for school districts to apply to become charter authorizers.

Meeting that deadline would put a burden on school district staff, board member Karen Vialle said.

“I have many questions,” Board President Debbie Winskill said. “And I don’t think we have enough time to answer all those questions by July 1.”

Under the state’s new charter school law, the publicly funded, privately run charter schools can be granted authority to operate either by a local school board or by a newly established statewide charter commission. Only nonprofit, nonreligious organizations can operate charters.

Earlier this year, both the Tacoma School Board and the Gig Harbor-area Peninsula School Board were among a dozen school boards statewide that indicated preliminary interest in becoming charter authorizers.

Charter schools also were on the agenda Thursday for the Peninsula School Board. Peninsula officials could not be reached Thursday night before the News Tribune’s print deadline to share the outcome of that discussion.

In the audience Thursday in Tacoma was a Gig Harbor-area mom, Calyn Holdaway. A mother of three special-needs kids, she founded a nonprofit, the Ducere Group, which wants to open a charter school in Tacoma. Holdaway said she will still pursue that goal, but she will now have to apply with the state commission

“We’re waiting for (the state) to give us direction and say, ‘This is the application, this is the timeline,’” Holdaway said.

She said she was neither disappointed nor surprised by the Tacoma board’s vote. She said board members are wise to make sure they understand the pros and cons of becoming a charter authorizer.

She said she would still like to work with Tacoma Public Schools, if the board is open to that. She said the Ducere Group wants to locate in Tacoma because of its reputation for trying new things and because “it offers more of the demographics that the school we are creating, the Village Academy, is intended to serve.”

Tacoma board member Catherine Ushka argued that public schools should be afforded the same flexibility as charters to help high-poverty, inner-city students succeed. If there are obstacles in the way, she said, Tacoma should ask the Legislature to remove them.

Board member Scott Heinze pointed out that Tacoma has already been designated by the state as an innovative school district, and that it has the ability to create new kinds of schools without invoking the charter law.

Tacoma board member Vialle campaigned against the charter school initiative that was approved by state voters in November. And the entire Tacoma School Board adopted a resolution opposing that measure.

But since voters narrowly approved it, they say they felt an obligation to explore the concept.

Vialle said she wants any charters that start up in Tacoma to follow benchmarks the board is setting for academic achievement.

“We are not going to create ‘boutique’ charter schools,” she said.

The state’s new charter law grants permission for up to 40 charter schools to open within the next five years. They could be start-ups or existing public schools where either a majority of teachers or majority of parents asks to convert to charter status.

Source: Bellingham Herald – by Debbie Cafazzo

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This entry was posted on May 29, 2013 by in Authorization, Charter Schools, Washington and tagged .

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