The charter school initiative, if approved, would create a time bomb that would seriously threaten Seattle Public Schools.
The threat doesn't come from the possibility of a charter school organization creating a school in Seattle - at least not if they get their own building. The threat comes from the possibility of a conversion.
A conversion occurs when a majority (50% plus 1) of either the teachers or the families at a school request conversion to a charter. If that were to happen at an attendance area school, then the school would become, essentially, an option school. The attendance area boundaries all around the school would have to change to cover the converted school's attendance area so that every student had an attendance area school.
There is no school in Seattle that has any excess capacity to speak of. Any addition to the attendance area of any school - particularly one of this scale - would result in the instant overcrowding of the school to something like 130-150% of capacity. And that's at a school in an area with just ordinary capacity management headaches. In the crowded parts of town it would be MUCH worse. Imagine if View Ridge converted and every one of those students had to be granted guaranteed assignment to a different attendance area school in the northeast.
And don't presume that the students would be distributed roughly the same. Charter schools don't have geo-zones. Any student from anywhere in the District has an equal chance at assignment. The students who enroll at the converted charter would not necessarily come from the same area as the school's former attendance area. They would come from all over the district.
Even the conversion of an option school could represent a capacity management nightmare for the District. As a charter, Thornton Creek could set their own maximum enrollment.
How likely is a conversion? If I were a charter school management organization it would be my preferred path. If the charter management company can engineer a conversion, then they don't have to find space for a a school or pay any rent for it. That's a HUGE savings right there. Also, if they do a conversion, they can expect to retain a lot of the school's current students. That's a lot easier than recruiting from scratch. Particularly at the upper grades when students aren't as quick to change schools.
How could they engineer a conversion? I see two methods.
1) Start a campaign within a school among either the teachers or the families or both to convince them to sign the conversion petition. The conversion side will be well-organized and well-resourced. The opposition will not be.
2) Recruit families for the school and then target an undersubscribed school. If you could find 300 families ready to subscribe to your charter high school, you could have them all enroll their kids at Rainier Beach and carry an election. There were less than 400 students enrolled at RBHS this year. Similarly, Madrona K-8 had about 330 students, so a charter that could gather about 300 K-8 student subscribers could take over that school as easily.
If Rainier Beach were converted to a charter, the District would have only Franklin and Garfield as attendance area high schools for all of Seattle south of downtown and east of the Duwamish. There's not enough room in these schools for all of those students.