Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Washington State Charter Commission - Meeting Two

The second Charter Commission meeting took place on April 30th at the Bellevue Art Museum where Commission member Larry Wright is the Executive Director.  (I'm going to review the meeting  in two threads as it was a long meeting.) 

Here are the two presentations from speakers.  One was Robin Lake from CRPE (I missed that) and William Haft of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (a group looking to make some money off the Charter Commission work.)  I haven't had the chance to look at Ms. Lake's and I will talk about Mr. Haft's in the second thread.

One rant.  It was fine to have it at the Bellevue Art Museum except that the room was large and the members were not miked.  It made it very difficult to hear the members (some who are very softspoken like Cindi and Dave Quall).  As well, there were some audience members (and Lisa Macfarlane, I'm looking at you) who repeatedly had side conversations.  (I finally decided to e-mail the Governor's aide who organizes the meetings to ask her if next time, the members could be miked.  She then read it aloud - without my name - and members did try to speak up but some members of the audience were talking even during this announcement.  Very frustrating.)

Highlights:

  • turns out the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation can't get into the mix fast enough.  They are both giving money to districts who want to be authorizers to help them with that work.  (It is unclear if money would continue to flow to districts after they became authorizers.)
  • they decided on three positions for their Executive Committee; Chair, Vice-Chair and Member-at-Large.  Steve Sundquist was unopposed for Chair with Larry Wright for Vice-Chair and Dorren Cato for Member-at-Large.
  • hiring an Executive Director - this was an interesting discussion that I'll write in Part Two.
  • fees for authorizers - both School Boards and the Commission - to do their work.  The limit set by 1240 is 4% of each charter's state funding.  It can go down if a charter has been doing well (probably to around 3%).  But one oddity is that it can go down if a particular charter group has multiple schools but, as was pointed out, the authorizer still has the same amount of work.  Member Dave Quall said they might have to go to the Legislature for money if the fees dropped too low.  Steve Sundquist said that they didn't want to "tax" schools when the money could go to the classroom.  Well, sorry but that's the tradeoff of being a charter - you get less money because you get more freedom and then, in turn have to be held accountable.  Getting that accountability - via authorizers - costs time and money.
  • The basic funding per student each charter will get via the state was also discussed.  The baseline is around $5,153 per student but charters don't know how much they will have to operate because, naturally, they don't know how many students will enroll.  (It was stated that Special Ed dollars have to stay attached to the student in question but we've seen in SPS some fudging on that so I wouldn't be surprised if that happens in charter schools.)
  • Quall also pointed out that if a charter is authorized by a school district, it could get levy dollars as well (which is true but only if they come on-board and then there's a levy election).  
  • They also worried about the requirement for a public "meeting" or "hearing" as part of the application process for charters submitted to them.  (I note that the actual wording in 1240 is "public forum."  My understanding of "public hearing" is that it has specific guidelines so I have submitted a query on it.)  The Commission was trying to figure out if there has to be a separate meeting for each charter applicant and if the entire Commission has to attend.  (That would be a lot of meetings in various parts of the state.)  The AG rep said two things.  One, they could have one meeting for multiple charter applicants in one area and that two, the entire Commission doesn't have to attend every meeting. 
Then it got interesting because, once again, the scheduling appears to be problematic.  With their timeline, these meetings could be over holiday times which would be difficult for many all around.  Then the AG rep said something like, "well, you could ask for a letter of intent from charter applicants so then you would know how many are coming down the pipeline."

This, of course, is a great idea for both kinds of authrorizers so they can better plan their time and help charter applicants.  However, of course, I suspect that many charter applicants would NOT like a provision like this so that the numbers of charter applicants AND who they are would not be public for awhile.

They then started sussing through applications and what concerns they have.

Doreen Cato, bless her, said she was worried that out-of-state charters, with experience in filling out applications (and all the parameters around them) would ace the process more than in-state applicants with no experience (even though they are more likely to know the community they want to serve).
She wondered if they have to move this fast and maybe their need for "infrastructure" for the Commission work is more important.

Larry Wright said the public wanted them "to get something done" and if they alter their path, it could be September of 2015 rather than September of 2014 for any charters to open.  You'd think if you were really about quality, you would want to get it right.

Sundquist chimed in that they could hire "contractors" to do some work.  And, as well, it was noted that charters, if they are approved but don't feel ready, can defer their opening a year.

Already there is discussion of spending money on consultants and I think for the Charter Commission at least, they will need lots of help.

1 comment:

Charlie Mas said...

It sounds like these appointed members of the commission are going to delegate all of the work (and authority) to staff and contractors.

That's how Steve Sundquist ran the Seattle School Board.