Sequim says no to charter schools; Port Townsend mulls them
By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Sequim School Board members issued a directive, without a vote, Wednesday night to Superintendent Kelly Shea to drop the district out of the state application process to become a charter school authorizer.
Two school districts on the North Olympic Peninsula — Sequim and Port Townsend — submitted letters of intent in early April to become charter school authorizers.
Only 14 districts of 295 in the state elected to submit a letter of intent, and one already had dropped out by Wednesday, Shea said.
Officials in both districts said at the time that the letters didn’t mean they would actually file applications to authorize charter schools by the July 1 deadline.
The letters were place-holders to allow them to consider the ramifications.
The Port Townsend School Board plans to conduct a work session on charter school authorization at 6 p.m. Monday at 1610 Blaine St., said Port Townsend Superintendent David Engle.
No other board for a public school district on the Peninsula submitted a letter of interest.
That included the Port Angeles School Board, which oversees the largest district on the Peninsula, which did not submit a letter of intent because of a lack of interest, said Tina Smith-O’Hara, district spokeswoman.
Shea led Wednesday’s work session in Sequim with an overview of how charter schools will be granted under Initiative 1240, approved by voters in November.
Under Initiative 1240, as many as 40 charter schools can be authorized statewide: up to eight new schools per year for five years.
Charter schools are independent public schools funded by the state and operated by a panel of parents and teachers.
They can be approved either by an authorizing school board within their own district or by the Washington Charter School Commission.
Authorizing school boards must be approved by the state. They will be able to authorize charter schools only within their own district boundaries and must establish a charter school application process and a set of standards for the school to meet.
If a school board approves a charter school under those preset standards, the district is entitled to collect 4 percent of the school’s funding to offset the cost of administration, Shea explained.
However, if the same charter school receives its charter from the state commission, it keeps the 4 percent, is not required to go through the district where it will be located and can be located anywhere in the state, he said.
Sequim board members said they saw no incentive for getting involved in the process, since officials would get little control over charter schools within the district and receive little financial compensation for the work.
“I don’t see why we’d want to do this,” said board member John Bridge.
Under the law, the School Board — not the district — would be the authorizing authority, and board members questioned the use of the school district employee time and taxpayer money to complete the application process.
However, they noted that without Shea’s expertise, completing the application process might not be possible.
“We’re a smart group, but I’m not sure we could do this,” said Virginia O’Neil, board president.
They told Shea to cease work on the application at this time.
Shea said he didn’t expect to see many charter schools in small districts such as Sequim because there aren’t enough students to cover the basic costs of running a school.
With only eight new schools added each year, with a maximum of 40 statewide, there will be competition for those schools.
He said he thought most charter schools will be located in more heavily populated areas.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: May 09. 2013 5:37PM