With charter schools on the horizon in Washington, the Sequim School District faces a July 1 decision on whether or not it plans to be an authorizer of these possible schools in the area.
At the beginning of spring break on March 29, Superintendent Kelly Shea directed Business Manager Brian Lewis to notify the State Board of Education by April 1 that Sequim may or may not apply to manage any possible charter school next year.
School board members said they are unsure of whether or not they will pursue the application.
Shea said they don't know enough now to decide but if they chose not to submit a notice, then the district couldn't apply to be an authorizer for another year.
“Until we learn more, and all of the impact, we leave the door open,” he said.
“We'll have a workshop prior to the July 1 deadline to submit the full application. It'll take a lot of staff time to help determine if we want to submit. I want us to make an informed decision. We want all the pros and cons.”
Sequim School District was one of 12 districts to notify the board of education, including Port Townsend School District, Battle Ground, Bellevue, Eastmont, Highline, Kent, Naselle, Peninsula, Spokane, Sunnyside and Tacoma.
Shea said he has no idea why only 12 of 295 districts submitted an intent to apply.
School board members were supportive of the decision despite a quick turnaround time for a decision.
Shea said he learned of the April 1 deadline on March 20, so he communicated the issue to the board over e-mail and with Lewis.
Board President Virginia O'Neil said it was proactive of the superintendent to give them an opportunity to make a decision later.
“I said go for it because we had nothing to lose at this point,” she said.
Sarah Bedinger, a board member, said not submitting a notice would in itself have been making a decision.
“We didn't see any obligation to the district one way or the other at this point,” Shea said.
Pro or con
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%) to 1.484 million (49.3%) opposed. Clallam County voters also favored the initiative by 19,856 yes (53.8%) votes to 17,024 no (46.2%) votes with Sequim's precincts mostly in favor.
In November, the school board passed a resolution to oppose the initiative, but Shea said the board isn't opposed to charter schools, rather to specifics in the initiative.
O'Neil said there's a lot of anecdotal information out about charter schools and she wanted more details.
She said the initiative is distracting from the McCleary Decision, in which the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of school districts pursuing a lawsuit against Washington for the state's lack of funding for education.
Shea doesn't seem outrightly opposed to the schools either.
“I'm not necessarily opposed to charter schools if it allows us to find alternatives for kids that might need it,” he said.
“The initiative passed so we move forward. If we choose not to (apply), then the board made an informed decision.”
The State Board of Education on Feb. 26 approved rules for the charter school application that include an in-depth analysis of how an entity would manage a charter school in various facets.
Shea's biggest concern is an out-of-state entity coming into the community to operate a school and take away funds from the district.
“Based on what I read, Sequim School District would have to provide certain services for them, such as maintenance,” he said. “Once they are established here, they have access to our revenue and levy dollars.”
Lewis said the decision to pursue becoming an authorizer isn't meant to be controversial.
“We want the ability to guide the process and not have it guided by an outside entity,” he said.
As for what a charter school could look like, Shea said it could look and operate similarly to Five Acre School or the district's Olympic Peninsula Academy.
Shea said the board will make a decision long before July 1 to apply or not to be an authorizer.
“It may not be feasible for us to go forward,” he said. “We want to fully understand what it means to be an authorizer.”
The board workshop on the authorizer application is to be determined.
Tonight, Wednesday, April 10, the district hosts an informational meeting from 6-8 p.m. in the school board chambers for a facilities planning committee to help define a vision for the community's school facilities. For more information, contact Marilyn Walsh at 582-3262 or email@example.com.