Monday, January 27, 2014

Washington State Charters; Six to Be Recommended for Approval by Charter Commission

 Updates:

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).  
Several of the applications were just dismal and the evaluations showed it.  The only one I got wrong - Out of the Box - got some encouraging words and could reapply.  Coral Academy, the Gulen charter applicant, was also denied but there were also encouraging words for them.

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.  
One item to note, Excel's application had this notation about a facility on page 82:

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. 

26 comments:

I 240 is constitutional said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

@ I 240 [sic] is constitutional in 1:

You don't have five votes.

I think the best you can hope for is for it to be declared constitutional, except for how charters are funded. I only count two guaranteed votes on the current court that would leave the law as is, and I'm not really sure about one of those. I think they're going to look at the fact pattern in this, look at the opinion of the Bryan case in 1909 and say, "close enough".

But, IANAL, so perhaps I'm wrong.

Or perhaps not.

--FremontDad

Anonymous said...

Is this the official, final list? Do you have a link?
OBLS hopeful

FactCheck said...

Just a few corrections -

1. You said that you only got Out of the Box wrong, but you also said Village Academy.

"That said, I think Excel, First Place, Green Dot, Out of the Box Learning Studio, Summit (both), and Village Academy will be approved."

2. You said that four of the six are coming from out-of-state operators, but that is also not true.

Excel is founded by Adel S., who has been running a college-prep non-profit in the Puget Sound.

http://stepaheadwashington.org/staff/leadership-team/

Pride Prep is founded by Brenda M., a local Spokane person who has been a principal there.

There are only two out-of-state providers: Summit and Green Dot. Summit has been recommended for approval for two schools, leading to three out-of-state operators.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Fact Check, well, you got me there.
I missed another one.

Also, Excel is also an out-of-state group. Sure, there's a local person but the group is out of state.

I didn't mention Prep Pride because yes, I was talking about the Charter Commission.

OBLS, I'll provide a link but it would help to read the thread. It is the list from the evaluators. The Charter Commission will announce their final picks on Thursday.

Lynn said...

The evaluation of OBLS's application says While this application has educational merit and a dedicated governing board, as well as an enthusiastic leader, the application needs a more detailed, systematic educational and financial plan. The program lacks the necessary details to make a compelling case for approval.

FactCheck said...

Correcting: (again)

re: Excel

The Excel application and the recommendation do not have any affiliation with out-of-state operators. It's a common enough name that it could look like it is connected, but it isn't.

link

You'll see on page 6 that they are not an existing operator.

re: 4 of 6

You say "I didn't mention Prep Pride because yes, I was talking about the Charter Commission."

However, in the following paragraph your discussion was about the entire state:

"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)."

Everything here is at the state level "... there will be only seven charters." The following sentence clarifies where the seven come from.

It might seem that I am being obnoxious. But I think it's really important as someone who is sharing information with the public that you get the facts correct. Even the small ones. Even when you are quoting yourself. From the day before.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So Face Check, I got Excel confused with Summit. So congrats on that eagle eye.

Get as picky as you'd like. Again, at least I admit my mistakes (unlike many other blogs or readers).

Or even start your own blog - there's another thought.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I note that the Times has said nothing on this even as the AP has reported it. That's odd given their love of charters. Wonder if they are disappointed.

mirmac1 said...

Fact Check,

You are coming across as obnoxious. We're all sharing information with the "public" on this blog. Anyone is free to attend these meetings, take notes and write up a "factual" report.

Frankly, your nitpicks have added zero to my understanding of recent charter goings-on. Perhaps you can post a link to your ChartersRUs blog or set one up at the Washington Charter Association.

Eric B said...

Oddly enough, I find this process somewhat comforting. The CC didn't feel the need to push through all 8 charters that could be approved this year. That indicates that they care about getting good schools as well as promoting charters.

There will be more schools after the lawsuit is settled one way or the other. The money men don't want to put effort into a charter that may not be around long enough to pay off.

I'd sure like to have a $4M+ fund for public school facilities.

Fact Checker said...

Did the Charter Commission do background checks on ALL charter board members? Did anything show-up?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Interesting phone meeting this morning for the Charter Commission.

1) It seems there are a couple of members who have conflicts (undefined)with some applicants and will likely not be voting on their application. The applicants are Green Dot, Summit and Pioneer.

2) It is likely to be a very careful meeting as it seems it is entirely possible that one or more Commission members could advocate for an applicant who the evaluators rated "deny." There were no specifics but it is a possibility. President Sundquist pointed out that they are voted mostly in unison up to this point but this is where the metal meets the road.

For example, if a Commission member felt strongly and offered that an applicant could meet some "conditions", the rest might consider voting for said applicant. These votes could likely come for Coral or Out of the Box who seemed (to me) to have the most borderline applications (but still problematic).

There was also some discussion of a couple of bills in the legislature that could affect charter teachers and any unprofessional behavior investigations against a teacher.

Fact Checker, I would have thought you would know this. They asked about background checks (but did not do new ones) on all people on the application. This would not, of course, be everyone on their boards but they, too, would have to get one.

Melissa Westbrook said...

There is also one other issue that is STILL very unclear. It's how anyone decides who are the first 7 approved applications and who come in 8th place (and therefore, according to the last info I had) would be in the lottery.

I have been asking about this issue and am awaiting a clear answer. The law - this great law - is unclear on how this works and apparently it is not quite ironed out.

Spokane has not yet filed their approved charter with the State Board of Ed and so there are no filled places on the 8-charter roster yet.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, no Commissioner recused themself from Green Dot. Dr. Doreen Cato recused herself from First Place. I hope that's not too nit-picky, as it is material to the voting on Thursday.

- Simply clarifying

mirmac1 said...

Simply clarifying, thank you for the information.

I see Melissa used "seems" and "likely" so it is great that you could provide the definitive info.

I appreciate that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Interesting, because Cato was not mentioned at all.

Simply, as I said, at the meeting this morning, there mention of one member with an issue with Green Dot and that is because of the association with the Gates Foundation. Were you listening in on the same meeting and heard something different?

We'll just have to see how it plays out on Thursday.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Cato was the executive director of First Place School from 2007 until 2012 and has written a book about the school. It was not specified in the call, but I would guess this is the reason that she recused herself.

I did not hear the same thing you did - which is why I appreciate that minutes are always posted. It's amazing how even with careful note taking we can make mistakes.

- Simply clarifying

Trish Millines Dziko said...

I had the conflict with Summit because the founder/ED is a Fellow with me at the Aspen Institute. I recused myself because I'm too close to the work.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Technology Access Foundation also directly funded by the Gates Foundation? Do you suggest Trish Dziko also give up her post on the commission?

- double standard?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Double, I don't believe so.

Gates is not listed as part of the TAF Alliance.
http://www.techaccess.org/current-taf-alliance-members/

As well, I recall that Dziko started TAF on mostly her own dime but I can ask her.

I'm sure that the Gates Foundation has given them grants at various points but as a funder, I don't think so.

TechyMom said...

You will likely find some large donations from Microsoft to TAF, because many Microsoft employees donate to it, and Microsoft matches those donations. You'll find similar for PTAs near the bridges. Don't read too much into it ;)

Anonymous said...

Gates granted TAF $500,000 in 2013 for operating expenses over 2 years. That seems significant - but I'm not sure I understand how you differentiate between grantors and funders.

- double standard?

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Greetings TechyMom, I can answer your question(s).

The Gates Foundation has been a funder of TAF since 1998 when they were still the William H. Gates Foundation. As you probably know the Gates Foundation funds a good portion of the nonprofits in our area.

Microsoft has funded TAF since 1997 through both their corporate giving and through their annual employee giving campaign (which Microsoft provides matches for employees that give to nonprofits).

Having ongoing support from these two does not make me or anyone from TAF beholden to them. Just like we do with any granting agency, we apply describing what we would do with the money and how it impacts the community we serve, then each year we have to report on our progress.

At no time has ANY grantor told us what to do an how. In fact, we have a value that states we will not chase money (i.e. change who we are to fit a grant) and we will do what's best for our students and community.

So, to answer the ultimate question, no I personally do not have a conflict of interest being on the Commission.

Melissa Westbrook said...

You don't see/understand the difference between grants and funding?

If my job is dependent on one (majority) funder, I'd say there's a conflict.

If my company enjoys help from a grant (that may be one among many and/or not on-going and/or does not fund the majority of work), that's not a real conflict.

Double standard, I'm thinking your challenge is aimed at me. I know Trish and if I thought she had a real conflict, I'd say so. That's the kind of relationship we have. You know, being honest and upfront.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses. I was not issuing any sort of challenge, but wanted to understand why one connection to the Gates Foundation was more or less worrisome than another. Trish made a good point, the Gates Foundation funds a lot of local nonprofits and that doesn't mean they or their employees are beholden.

- double standard?