Tuesday, September 23, 2014

As if Seattle Schools Didn't Have Enough on the Plate...

...both mandated and non-mandated, along comes charter schools.

Yes, some mysterious Board member (I'm taking bets but remember I will win) asked staff about the district becoming a charter authorizer.

Now when some Board members ask staff for analysis, staff waffles, balks or just ignores their requests.  Or, Charles Wright, Deputy Superintendent, will call them out in public for making "too many requests."

That's if they don't like the topic asked about and/or the volume of work it might take to get answers.

But ask about charter schools and well, staff has lots of time.

The timeline on all this is a bit confusing but somewhere during the summer (while Banda was still here?) some Board member asked for info on the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a charter authorizer.

So staff, at least from this memo of August 7, 2014 , sprung into action.  Because:

As you are aware, staff has been asked to understand and communicate the implications of charter schools on Seattle Public Schools. We have formed a cross- departmental working group to better understand the implications for the district. The working group includes representatives from Budget, Enrollment, Facilities, Legal, DoTS, Policy and Strategic Planning. Staff is not a making recommendation in this memo, but is simply outlining the information and current understandings. 
But to review:
  • The district cannot get capacity management under their control.
  • The district does not have the funds to maintain their buildings (although they just crossed their fingers and told the State that they did).  
  • The district is likely to NOT be fully ready to give the Smarter Balanced assessments because of the technology needed to be bought and installed.
  • The district does not even have a head of Enrollment currently.
  • The district pushed back and back and back against the Bell Times work.
And yet, at least seven people at SPS did this work on charter schools.  

Priorities, kids, priorities.  (Or, what memo did the Gates Foundation send this week?)
Most of the memo is accurate.  I don't think it's as well explained as it could be (especially around levy money) but it is accurate.

There is mention of the lawsuit challenging the charter school law but not the implications of the outcomes of that lawsuit.  The basic issue is are charter schools "common schools" under the Washington State Constitution as all need to be to receive state funding dollars.
Basically, I see two things depending on the ruling:

1) if the plaintiffs prevail that means charter schools are NOT "common schools" and may be eligible for zero funding or part of the state funding.  That would be for the lawyers to duke out (or maybe the Supremes will help us out there).

2) if the plaintiffs lose, meaning charter schools ARE "common schools," then that means, under the law, that they are eligible for state funds BUT also under the jurisdiction of the Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction (at least in some manner if they get those dollars).  I note that Superintendent Randy Dorn has recently softened his stance against charters.

One item I find confused/troubling is this:
We are still researching all of the implications charter schools will have on the Department of Technology Services, but we have recently been asked by the Director of OSPI to provide data/internet access to a new charter school opening this fall. We are still investigating the district’s capacity, as well as the fiscal impact of this request.
I have an inquiry into what charter is asking for our help (but since only one opened this fall, it's probably First Place).   I suspect that First Place wants to come to an SPS location to test its students under Smarter Balanced.
Why OSPI is asking the district for help, I don't know.  As well, I have no idea if the district would do this for free or charge for such help. 

Note: the timeline in this memo is now void.  The Board of Education did make some rule changes.  More on that in a minute.
But to the central questions:

Why would SPS want to become a charter school authorizer?
Becoming a charter school authorizer affords the School Board the opportunity to have more influence over the management of the enrollment planning process. For instance, the Spokane Public Schools RFP process outlines the types of schools and the locations where they find the greatest need. Charter school applications that best meet these criteria would be prioritized during the charter school application process. 

Analysis: I don't think so. I found nothing in the law that says a charter has to coordinate its enrollment timeline or process with its authorizer, be it the Charter Commission or a district.  A district authorizer can "prioritize" locations all they want but that doesn't mean a charter could not be authorized anywhere in the district.  I think the first district authorizer that tries to control where charters are located would get their hand slapped by the Board of Education.
Charter schools have the potential to contribute to the overall portfolio of options SPS offers families.

o Traditional
o Creative Approach 
o Option
o Charter 
Analysis: Of all the reasons to become an authorizer, this is not one of them.  Seattle has one of the most diverse groups of schools in the nation.  I have heard this first-hand from people in other states who do not have the plethora of types of schools already created by this district.

Becoming an authorizer allows us to ensure there is systems alignment with respect to enrollment, student information systems, student data etc.

Analysis: I don't even understand what they are saying there.  They don't even have their systems aligned with the schools they have.
Seattle Public Schools would have oversight over the academic progress, operational and financial stability of each charter school within our boundaries. 

Analysis: with what staff?  You'd HAVE to hire more people for this work.  And it's not like SPS does a stellar job itself.

What are some reasons SPS might not want to become a charter school authorizer?

Managing this process will require additional resources. The District does not currently have capacity to manage charter schools. Spokane opted to implement a new department with a dedicated “lead” and administrative support.

No kidding more resources. 
The timeline for making this decision (for authorizing schools to open fall 2016) is quickly approaching. The deadline to submit a letter of intent is October 1st, 2014.

This has since changed.
Public perception may view us as being a “supporter of charter schools”. Given the contentious nature of this topic, we would need to have a robust communication plan to mitigate this negative perception.

Robust isn't exactly the word for it.  

Then there was the Friday Memo, dated September 12, 2014, from Superintendent Nyland to the Board. 

He references the morning's Executive Committee meeting which is wrong because that meeting was the Wednesday before.

He reports that the Board of Ed changed the timeline for submitting Letters of Intent and then applications to be a charter authorizer.

The deadline of Oct. 1, 2014 is true for this year.  ( So unless someone in the district has gotten their act together, I don't believe there will be an SPS letter of intent.) 
But starting next year, districts can submit a LoI by June 15, 2015 and an application by October 15, 2015.  If approved, they would be sent an approval letter by Feb. 1, 2016.  That would then set up any new district authorizers to start work for the 2017-2018 school year.  

The BOE made these changes based on their experience and feedback from districts.  

There are many things I could say at this point but I'll leave it to you to make comments. 
 I'll just say why do we worry about the City taking over the district?  It appears that (senior) staff already has.


mirmac1 said...

Lessee, what sub-sub-goal of the Strategic Plan does THIS initiative fall under? Is there a sub-goal for BS?

Melissa, thanks for this info.

Micromanager said...

Carr or Blanford?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Micromanager, are we taking bets?
(I honestly don't know at this point.)

Anonymous said...

No, not Carr. Blanford or Martin-Morris. Probably Blanford. Martin-Morris is too busy parlaying his board position into trips to DC to schmooze.


Po3 said...

Blandford. hands down.

Anonymous said...

Yep - I think Blanford as well.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Director Peters says, at the Stranger Slog, that she has no idea which director asked for this info. That seems weird but again, it should be possible to find out. Still waiting for an answer.

I will have a thread on each director soon - I think that there is some shifting about but some may perceive outside power will help them on the Board.

Wayne Au said...

The most aggravating thing to me is that OSPI is directing SPS to help with the tech. SPS is not their authorizer, and so the tech is not SPS's problem. Charters can't be built on autonomy AND then turn to SPS for help like that because they aren't a part of SPS. Charters are essentially supposed to be their own tiny districts. That's how they are structured. That's the deal. This is very clearly illustrating one way charters potentially suck funds from the regular public schools.

Anonymous said...

I don't see that a board member asked for this report. It says it was requested, perhaps by Mr. Banda. It was then submitted to all board members on Aug 7.
So the timeline is a request sometime last school year and completion and submission of the report in august. The board has had it since then. Correct?


Anonymous said...

It also takes pains to say that the district does not advocate charters but would be able to have control if an authorizer. It looks very reasonable to me if read in it's entirety.


Dora said...

Good point Wayne.

Dora said...

It looks like SPS is to provide the infrastructure for charter schools.

This sets a very bad precedence.

Anonymous said...

Have you read the memo? It's merely a request by the OSPI to test the students at First Place Scholars which is the only charter in Seattle this as it was already a school. It serves homeless and kids with multiple traumas. The memo states the district is studying the financial impact. I still say it looks reasonable.



Lynn said...

OSPI can administer tests to First Place Scholars if it's so important to test those students.

Ms. Codd made one error in the memo. Beginning at bottom of page two she says For instance, First Place Scholars Charter School is an existing school that newly became a charter school, whose focus is youth and families suffering from homelessness and multiple traumas. This specific focus, and the fact they have an existing student population, will limit the number of new students they will be able to enroll. She's correct in her message that a conversion charter must continue to provide a space for every interested student who was enrolled prior to the conversion. By definition, a conversion charter must have been a public school prior to conversion. Any private school that converts must assign seats by lottery if there are more applicants than available space. Existing private school students do not automatically retain their seats.

dorainseattle said...

Why did First Place become a charter?

dorainseattle said...

Reading the comments, on face value, it doesn't make sense.

mirmac1 said...

I thought the board's "governance" principles required TWO members to request something of staff....

Eric B said...

I think it's likely that a charter authorizer could do some steering towards certain areas. They'd have to not call it dealing with enrollment, but I believe that "demonstrated demand" is one of the criteria for charter schools. Demonstrated demand could certainly be "hey, we have way too many kids in this area and we need another school."

That said, if the charter school doesn't like whatever pushback they get from their local authorizer, they can always go to the statewide charter commission. If charters prevail in court, I think you will definitely see jurisdiction shopping more in the future.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"It also takes pains to say that the district does not advocate charters but would be able to have control if an authorizer."

C'mon,if you go to all the work to be an authorizer AND hire staff (Spokane has a whole new dept for this), you DO advocate for charters.

Confused, where did you see First Place in that memo? I said I assumed it was them but I could be wrong and I'm waiting to hear the answer.

Why did First Place become a charter? Chasing dollars as a non-profit school is exhausting probably (that and they can probably serve more students). I think they have 90 students this year.

I have no quarrel with First Place and, in fact, they are exactly the kind of small, innovative school a charter should be. But those kinds of charters are extremely rare.

Eric, remember you can only apply to the Charter Commission or a district authorizer (and your charter has to be in the boundaries of that district). But you can't apply to both at the same time. So they would have to apply in the district, get rejected and then try again with the Charter Commission.

I expect to have more news as the morning goes on.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, public school districts have been providing state testing environments for students who live within their boundaries but not enrolled in the district but some other public school environment, (i.e., online schools) for years.

It's not apples to apples, I know. With that said, I would expect brick and mortar charter schools without the technology infrastructure to test students to remedy that issue as part of their charter. Maybe this is something that should be taken to the commission to be discussed as a condition of receiving their charter and/or retaining their charter.

It's not really feasible for OSPI to test students. I think you know this and were just blowing off steam, but I point it out nonetheless.

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, points made.

BUT, First Place would have to pay. This district is struggling to get the tech and space ready for their OWN students. First Place would have to pay for the costs and go to the end of the timetable.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Or maybe they could go test at the Gates Foundation.

Eric B said...

That's true, Melissa, but a charter with a local district authorizer would be foolish not to go talk with the district informally before they sent in their application. Just knowing what is really important to the district ahead of time will make everybody's lives easier. If the district made a big deal about where to locate the school in those preliminary meetings, you'd then go to the state. On the other hand, if your goals and the district's needs mesh up fairly well, then you'd surely stick with the district authorizer.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. It makes perfect sense for First Place to be a charter. And if they don't have the tech they need, it makes perfect sense for them to contract out for the testing. The new funding stream comes with some additional requirements, and they knew this up front. It may be cheaper for FP to get things in place and do their own testing eventually, but during this expansion period paying for outside help seems reasonable.

And re: Lynn's point re: the inability to guarantee spots to "current" students after becoming a charter, I'm guessing FP did in fact guarantee spots--that is, if applications exceeded capacity. Given the population they serve and the wraparound services they provide, it would make sense to hold on to the families they have. Those relationships take time to develop, and throwing that away would be harmful to participating kids and families, and also likely hurt FP's reputation--and thus effectiveness--with the target community. With the doubling of their student population this year they already have a lot of new families to work with (with services way beyond just school), so already a tough road ahead in terms of ramping up intakes and service provision. I'm usually a stickler for playing by the rules, but in this case I think if would be counterproductive. There may even be some McKinney-Vento act provisions that require them to provide that sort of stability and not "lotterize" everyone.


Anonymous said...

Melissa, good idea re: testing at the Gates Foundation. The state could send the demographic data on each of these students to the foundation in order to enroll students in the state testing program. Hell, the foundation probably has these students' data anyway.

The foundation probably has better technology and data security infrastructure than the district does in place to manage those students' private data.

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, (with a smile), agreed.

Unknown said...

I disagree that somehow it is okay to suggest that the data for homeless students should be made available to any entities that we would not find suitable our own children. Perhaps swk and MW are making these remarks in jest?

Anonymous said...

It looks like a plan to get in front of Charters and have substantial control over any in Seattle. Read the paragraphs on conversion schools. Do we want one of these without any district control? They're here and there's more on the way. Let's be realistic and use them to the advantage of students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Tom, NO district - unless they had ample space - would want a charter to take over a school.

One, it would likely be a hostile takeover, not one with the district's blessing. If it was done by teachers, clearly there would be a labor problem. If it was done by parents, you have a customer problem.

Two, the district loses ALL control of the building. That school that occupies a conversion school would have to leave, staff and all. (Students would have the option to stay on if their parents wanted.)

The district would be on the hook for all major maintenance costs. That means a school/building they do not control - in any way - they have to pay for.

Charter authorizers don't have some vast range of powers. They have to follow the steps as they are. I'm amused people think school districts would control their destiny in any way with charters. (That said, a joint partnership would be a good thing and a few districts in the country are working towards that but it is not the norm.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tom that this looks less like a sneaky way to get Charters into Seattle and more a way to determine the best path forward - leave it to the state or try to handle things locally - now that they're here. Asking staff to reasearch the topic isn't the arrival of Satan. It may just be the advance planning we all kvetch never happens downtown.

Enough of us don't want the dang things in the city proper that I'm not worried staff will 'sneak' one in or parents will 'convert' one under the radar.


Anonymous said...

Nope -- I was down at Stanford this morning and there he was -- Satan -- standing in the lobby with a couple of imps, big long cape, red smoke swirling around -- forked tail swishing. I wondered at the time what he'd taken time out of his busy schedule to show up for -- now I know.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Optimist, any conversion will be something of a sneak. Charter applicants DO (because I pressed the point to the Charter Commission - probably others as well but it wasn't in the law) have to say if they are to be a new or conversion charter.

BUT they don't have to name the school or if the petition will be teachers or parents. I'm sure the first time in the first district this happens to that many will worry and look around and wonder if it is their school.

WiserNow, I get confused sometimes about what he wears. Thought I saw him today in a suit coming out of City Hall. But I wasn't wearing my glasses.

Gads said...

It is important to note that homelessness is rising amongst all children.


Why has OSPI gotten involved with First Place Charter School?

Anonymous said...

Many of us feel that charters done right can be good for students. Why wouldn't we want the district involved as much as possible to ensure positive outcomes? The memo makes a good case for authorizing as it will give the district considerable leverage. Perhaps we could set a good model for charters everywhere here in Seattle. There's one charter school here already and more on the way, let's build bridges and work with them and not put up walls .


Melissa Westbrook said...

Hmm, it seems some charter supporters/workers have come to visit. Look, go to LEV or the Washington Charter Association and tell them these thoughts.

I'd have to go back and count but no, there's one charter in SPS and the next round didn't bring another.

I'll have more on the issue of OSPI and charters/testing later.

Lynn said...

The law does not allow First Place Scholars to guarantee continued enrollment for students who had been attending the former private school. If applications (and former students of the private school must apply) exceed capacity, all seats must be assigned via lottery. Three of last year's charter applications involved 'conversion' of private schools to public charters. First Place was approved and the other two were denied. Evaluations of the failed applicants noted that the organizers did not seem to understand that they would not be allowed to automatically enroll or provide an enrollment preference to current students attending their private schools.

It's unfortunate that First Place is the first charter school to open in Seattle. Because we admire them and their mission, we are less likely to be concerned about whether they're following the rules. We think the district should help them out by providing testing services. We think their enrollment processes shouldn't have to follow the law. We don't care if they made information about the enrollment process available to the public. We didn't notice that the district was required (and failed to) provide information to parents and the general public about charter schools located within the district as an enrollment option for students.

Is this going to be acceptable next fall when Rainier Prep and Summit Public Schools Washington - Sierra open their doors?

Anonymous said...

So, you worked at First Place, Melissa?


How do they not have to open their enrollment as Lynn states?


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Clover Codd is good buds with Bree the Charter Queen (since she left Seattle).

Relationships a.k.a. nepotism has been the governing principle at SPS for years.

Connect the dots. By the way, didn't Blanford's wife just retire this crowd?

--enough already

Charlie Mas said...

Seriously though, doesn't BP1620 require TWO board directors for a request like this?

Anonymous said...

Gads, OSPI is involved with First Place School because it is a public charter school. Public Charter Schools are required, like all other public schools, to administer the state assessments.

--- swk

Melissa Westbrook said...

Rice, did you read the article? I tutored there, I did not work there.

They do have to open their enrollment (where did I say they didn't?) They have to have open enrollment to anyone but given their mission, it's unlikely they would have kids enroll who don't fit that criteria.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I asked OSPI about what the issue was for First Place and assessments. Here was the reply:

"Charters schools are eligible to connect to our K-20 Network. Requests for that connectivity come through OSPI.

"First Place will be connecting on its own directly to the K-20 network, not through Seattle’s network.

The annual fee (a copay) by the school will be $2,400.

I don’t know where FP students will attend; that’s a question for the district. And the request that came from OSPI was merely to see which option to connect to the K-20 network was more efficient."

I'm still a bit confused if FP is "connecting on its own" to the network why they need an SPS location.

As long as it does not cost SPS in time or space (meaning FP would need to pay for any costs to SPS and SPS would determine the location that best fits SPS' schedule), it doesn't matter to me if FP students test in an SPS building.

NonSupporter said...

"Many of us feel that charters done right can be good for students. Why wouldn't we want the district involved as much as possible to ensure positive outcomes?"

First Place has 100 homeless students. Seattle Public Schools serves 8000 homeless students. Why would anyone want to support charter schools that take funds away from public education?

Anonymous said...

8000 homeless students almost 10% what has happened to this country?

How depressing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that's 15%

More depressing