It seems there are three Charter Commission members with conflict of interest issues with charter applicants. Two seem simple and one is quite problematic.
Trish Millines Dziko is in a leadership program with the founder of Summit. That one is a big of a tough call to make because the relationship could be either just professional or just collegial but if not financial, I think she could vote. On the other hand, if she's in their their program, she probably supports how they operate.
Chris Martin has some personal friendship with the founder of Pioneer. I would say straight-up, no voting on that one.
The last one is that Larry Wright has taken a position with a non-profit funded by the Gates Foundation. Not only do I think he would have to recuse himself on several applications, he probably should step down as a Commissioner. Why?
1) Bill Gates funded most of I-1240.
2) The Gates Foundation is the primary funder of the Washington State Charter School Association who gave recommendations to the Commission.
3) The Washington State Charter School Association also gave money to three applicants ($100k each probably from the Gates foundation) - SOAR, Rainier Prep and PRIDE Prep (which is not part of the Charter Commission group).
4) The Gates Foundation is helping to create a capital fund group for charter schools.
5) The Gates Foundation is giving $4M to the Summit applicants.
That's a lot of connection to one group that is funding the organization that Mr. Wright will work for.
End of Update.
The evaluations of charter school applicants are into the Charter Commission and there are six recommended charters. They are:
- Excel - A high school to be located in Kent. It met standards. There is an issue with their financing as they wanted to get a line of capital credit that is not allowed by the law. Apparently they are okay with not getting the line of credit and can find money elsewhere.
- First Place - An existing non-profit K-5 school in Seattle for children with families in crisis. They met standards. A big thumbs up from me as I have seen this school in action and THIS is what a charter is for, not just to have more schools.
- Green Dot - A middle school to be located in Tacoma. It exceeded standards in some areas and got high marks because of the existing Green Dot structure in California. (They do mean to come into our area in a big way and, as I previously reported, they have no problem with conversions.)
- Rainier Prep - A middle school (grades 5-8) in Highline/South King County. They met standards.
- Summit - Two high schools - both applications approved - one in Tacoma (Olympus) and one in South Seattle (Sierra). Like Green Dot, a lot of approval because of their existing background in California. Plus they have $4M of money muscle from the Gates Foundation (with more promised).
There were some disturbing items in some evaluations.
- Pioneer School's evaluation stated that they did not seem to understand or comply with the existing charter law.
- Soar Academy's evaluation noted that by year five, they expected to have six administrative positions costing almost half a million dollars and their CEO would make $125,000. All this for a 300-student school.
- Sports in Schools' evaluation noted that they had little for Special Ed or ELL students.
- Yakima Academy's evaluation noted that the governing board would be "off-site" and mostly out of Texas.
Broker Support: Excel has worked with Mr. Matt Wickens from Wickens LLC to better understand the charter facility process and to develop the attached timeline. Mr. Wickens is currently consulting for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the Washington State Charter School Facility Fund. Excel will strongly consider Mr. Wickens to serve as the school’s broker and developer. Please see Appendix 20: Facilities Documents for a description of the Facility Acquisition Timeline.
It would appear that there will only be one non-Puget Sound charter and that is Pride Prep over in the Spokane School district. Seattle will have two, Tacoma two, South King County two. That is a total of seven so unless the Charter Commission decides to override a recommendation, there will only be seven charters. Four are coming from out-of-state charter operators and two are home-grown (First Place and Rainier Prep).
All thoese great innovative charters out there in 40 other states and Washington State could only muster seven worthy applications? Interesting. Maybe some were scared off by the challenge to the law.