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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Charter Commission Meeting Wrap-Up

This particular thread will probably end up being quite long as there is both news to report from the actual meeting as well as the upshot of what we are going to end up getting for charter schools.

The meeting was held in a conference room off the Governor's office.  There was a high wooden conference table with chairs that had low seats but high backs.  (I found this both funny and irritating because it had the effect of a bunch of kids sitting at an adults' table but you also could not see almost anyone's face as they spoke because the chairbacks block all views.)

Not surprisingly, Steve Sundquist "volunteered" to chair the meeting (and, as I tweeted, I suspect he will end up chair of the commission).  To his credit, he's very good at chairing meetings.  I did not recognize anyone else not on the Commission except for long-time charter supporter, Jim Spady.  (He left the meeting quite frequently to confer with various people.)  I was seated next to a gentleman who wants to open a college-prep elementary charter school in Tacoma.

Sundquist had everyone go around the table and say something that wasn't on their bio.  Almost to a person, they all said they wanted parents to have "opportunities" or "options" or "choices."  Neither Sundquist nor Kevin Jacka addressed the issue of their flipped views on charters (both flipped from not supporting them to supporting them in a matter of a few months).

The good news is that the Commission is NOT made up solely of charter cheerleaders.  There are some more objective folks on the Commission and I am happy that, from this meeting at least, it seems they will be speaking up.   The most pro-charter folks are Cindi Williams (she is involved with Stand for Children), former legislator Dave Quall, and Larry Wright.

They then had a lawyer from the Attorney General's office walk through an overview of the law.

The attorney, Aileen Miller, was somewhat specific and somewhat vague.  The vagueness was likely because (1) there is no way she could possibly go over every detail and (2) the law is so vague that the SBE and the Attorney General's office are still figuring it all out.

She made clear (as did the reps from the SBE) that for a school district to become an authorizer, it will be a "heavy lift."  An authorizer application (still to be written by the SBE) will have many parts and all are important.  And, as well, any school district authorizer and the Charter Commission both have to:
  • ensure the highest standards of accountability and oversight
  • manage, supervise and enforce charter contracts
Clearly, for school districts that means some kind of staffing to do this work, both to manage charter applications AND to oversee any charters in their district.

You might only know Ms Miller was vague if you didn't know the law.   I'm not naming names but it is clear to me that at least a couple of the members of the Commission either didn't read the law, only read a news article about the law or did a cursory look at the law.  I was a bit taken aback by some of their questions.

The number one item of confusion?  (and it had to be stated several times in several ways to the group) - school districts CANNOT open charter schools.  I have no idea why the members did not get this, given that Ms. Miller said a charter can only be opened by a non-profit.  But it got asked again and again.

Several members also did not seem to get that school districts, whether they are an authorizer or not, have no real power over a charter school in their district.  If they are the charter authorizer, they can make sure the charter school is following what was set out in their charter but they can't say boo to anything else.

Another member asked if the Charter Commission authorized a charter school in the district, could the school board there override it?  The answer is no.  And, it was pointed out that the charter school, in terms of data, is responsible to OSPI, not the superintendent of the district where their school is.

One member also asked about all these authorizers and how different they may be in what they focus on/put emphasis to.  The answer was yes, every charter authorizer might have a different grading process for how they select charter applications.  It was pointed out that the Commission could reach out to any or all authorizers and talk about working together with a common sense of purpose but no authorizer has to work with any other authorizer.

It was also pointed out (and this may be major later on) that a charter authorizer could have a broad focus or a narrow one.  It would seem that the Charter Commission might be the authorizer with the broadest vision since they can okay a charter for anywhere in the state.  However, if a school district only wanted certain things in a charter school for their district, they might have a narrower focus.

One interesting thing that came up was that in filing the letter of intent (and 12 districts did this by April 1) to become a charter authorizer was that no school board had to okay the letter.  In fact, you could have a superintendent just send the letter.  (I would think a school board would be very unhappy if this happened without consultation of them but it is possible.)  

In reviewing applications all authorizers should be following NACSA standards (a national group for charter authorizers who do make money off what they do), in-person interviews with non-profit group leaders and a public forum to inform stakeholders and receive input from the public.  (I believe the forum is the charter applicant's job but the authorizer has to make sure it happens.)

What will the authorizers look for?

- competence in criteria
- liklihood of success to open AND operate
- documented evidence of facility, operations, etc.
- transparency in policies and practices
- no conflicts of interest (or, if there might be, how would person recuse or disclose)
- approval can be conditional (if a charter authorizer needs clarification on an issue) and if said item can be remedied within a timeframe

There was a question about giving preference to "at-risk" students.  Ms. Miller said the proposal would define the parameters of that from the law which gives no particular percentage.  However, the authorizers, in their RFPs, certainly could add a percentage.

One member said that she knew that some districts give "free services" to private schools and could a district do that for a charter school in their district?  Ms Miller didn't know about this and could not provide an answer.  I was wondering what services she could be talking about.

Some members asked about looking at what other states and their authorizers had created as a framework for applicants.  Steve suggested getting a consultant from NSCA.

They also had another attorney from the AG's office, Dave Stolier, explain some of the finer points of public disclosure.  He was asked about the lawsuit over the charter law and he said the Charter Commission should just continue on with their work and the AG's office would handle it.

One member asked a curious question about if they could have a meeting by phone and link in members of the public who might want to listen (given it would be an open meeting).  She asked if they could find out the names of everyone who was listening.  I wondered why she would ask such a question given no one who was listening in person to this meeting was asked to give their names.  (We did sign in but it was not required.)

Then, the SBE rep, Jack Archer, stepped in to talk about what the SBE was doing.  He stated that they had identified eight sections of the law that require rule-making by the SBE.  

Because of this work, they have created two timelines.  One is for 2013 applications only and the other is for all application from 2014 onward.  Again, it is clear there will be no charter schools opened for 2013-2014 because of the needs of the law and the short window of time to fulfill those needs.

The charter application has two deadlines.  One is the date by which each authorizer must issue and publicize their RFP.  Two is the last date by which authorizers must report action to approve or deny charter applications.  They are trying to provide time to charter applicants that is adequate between their approval and the opening of the school

I am going to end here because there are two issues that came up that were discussed in depth and this thread is already quite long.

One is the funding for the Charter Commission work.

The other?  Well, that's the rabbit hole that we have now dropped down into by passing 1240.  Not being a lawyer, even I, who have read this thing over and over, did not realize what a certain passage meant.  

It's the timing for how the SBE decides when a charter application gets counted. 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

wait a minute ... the top 10 contributors contributed what % of the pro-1240 money? what about the top 20 contributors?

they don't give a rip ... the camel's nose in the tent. In 10 years all their friends and family who couldn't get hired by Goldman or AHIP will be making 6 figures plus a year peddling Charter oil and "managing" schools with cowed, beaten down, poorly paid, disposable staffs.

TheyreBack

Catherine said...

oh do share... what's the rabbit hole?

mirmac1 said...

Usually, I would do my own homework and get these answers but... I know that these folks are bound by ethics rules for state employees/appointees, and by the Public Records Act. Did they get oriented re: the Open Public Meetings Act. Namely, no discussions among subgroups via email or conference calls without public notice?

I've found that groups like you describe here, who don't bother to read the law or do their own research, will be led by the nose by staff. So the commission's "handlers" are key. Are they cheerleaders (ala Jennifer Wallace at the PESB) or do they possess a professional arms-length relationship with charter proponents and ed reformers.

Hmmm said...

Hard to believe that a Commission member would even think to ask if they would be aware of individuals listening in on phone conferences.

Our school board meetings are televised and the district hasn't a clue who is watching.

mirmac1 said...

Guess I'll have to invest in voice-changing technology.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mirmac, yes, the group was oriented on ethics, public disclosure and open meetings act.

Time will tell if these rules are followed.

Hmmm said...

It is unrealistic for citizens to get to Olympia for these meetings. The meetings should be televised, or atleast filmed and stored on tape.

mirmac1 said...

I can't imagine how the benighted members will get to speed but through "offline" communications.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know about video, but there should definitely be meeting minutes.

Charlie Mas said...

The commission doesn't appear to have a web site yet.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I think that will come when they have the Ex Director. You can find some info at the Governor's website. My take on the vibe at the Governor's office is that they want this off their plate (although they will be housing the Charter Commission's staff in that office).