Connecting the Dots on Green Dot

 Editor's Note: I erred in my description about the timing of Congresswoman Jayapal's involvement.  This occurred when she was a state rep, not since she was elected to Congress.

End of update

The reason the development of the Green Dot high school in the Rainier Valley may have come to a halt is that former Board President Peters became aware of it in November.  She let the General Counsel's office know and mentioned the possible ramifications to Rainier Beach High School, Aki Kurose Middle School as well as Franklin HS and Cleveland HS.

The district had a land-use attorney look into it and yes, it was discovered that it appeared that departures are only legally allowed for SPS schools.  As well,  SPS must be represented on the committee that was deciding these matters, and yet had not been included.

SPS General Counsel then sent a letter to the City, referencing the laws and codes and voicing SPS opposition.

Given that one departure got thru in July, it would seem that those City employees who oversee this work need to have a legal update training because either someone was looking the other way or was trying to decide on their own what the ordinance means.  Lawyers hate that. 

Personally, I think it was not ignorance; I think someone (or someones) was hoping it would go thru unnoticed until maybe AFTER the building was erected. Whoops!

So it's not even just the ordinance's reference to a "public school"; it's also that the City ignored who should have been on the committee.

I'll just note - again - as I did to the City Council that yes, Green Dot is a public school.  But that's not how the Supreme Court ruled on charters,  given our state's constitution.  They are not what the constitution defines as "common schools" and not funded as common schools.  As well, the ordinance says "local governance" for public schools and the City officials generously included the Governor and the Board of Education and the Washington State Charter Commission in that.  I'll go out on a limb here - none of those are locally elected offices.  Some of them aren't even elected.

Also to note, about Green Dot being "a public school" - they don't say how to file a public disclosure request which is something that any citizen should be able to find at any "public school" district's website. 

End of update

On Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, the Seattle School Board passed a resolution asking the City of Seattle to not approve changing the ordinance for school zoning departures in order to accommodate Green Dot charter schools.  Green Dot hopes to open a charter high school,  the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy High School, which would compete with Franklin HS, Cleveland HS and Rainier Beach High School.  It would be located nearest to RBHS.
The resolution states a point I made in public testimony on Wednesday night - how does the City explain wanting to be a partner - and recently signing an MOU with specific points on what that looks like - and then undermine that partnership by changing the regulations for charter schools which are not - under the definition of schools in the state constitution - "common schools"?

Previously, the Board has made its opposition to charter schools very clear; the BAR includes two Board resolutions from 2012 and 2015 to that point.

Also in public testimony on Wednesday night, the head of the Washington Charter Schools Association, Patrick D'Amelio said that this project had been in the works for eight years (I can't find evidence of that) and if the charter school didn't get the zoning departures, it would endanger the whole project.  I don't think anyone on the dais was buying that statement.

A larger issue is that Green Dot's high school - the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy High School -  is to be part of a large development project near the Othello light rail station called the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center.  

But there is far, far more to this story than just a simple change to a zoning ordinance for a school to be in project in an underserved area.  I've unraveled some of it and hope to flesh it out even further.  Basically, I believe that there were people - not sure who - who were trying to hide the fact from elected officials that the school in the project was to be a charter school.

I do have to thank a savvy reader who really helped me realize the scope of the issue by sending me a link to an article at Sightline.  My readers are so valuable to this blog both in their specific knowledge and expertise in areas as well as being able to alert me to issues/news.  There is so much happening out there, covering so many issues, that as one person, there is no way I could cover it on my own.

Here's what I told the Seattle City Council in an e-mail (the red highlights are details I wanted to call you your attention).

I contacted your office recently to alert you to a situation that is happening that would impact the City's relationship with Seattle Public Schools in regard to the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center being developed near the Othello light rail station.

Here is a link to an article in Sightline in April 2017 that includes a link to the letter that the Council members signed in support of the Seattle Housing Authority selling land for the project. Included in the SECOC is a high school that would be operated by Green Dot charter schools.

However, in the letter that Council members signed, there is no mention of a high school. What is mentioned are "secondary classes" and "a STEM/tech program" for youth in the Rainier Valley. Those organizing this project did know at the time of the Council's letter that Green Dot would be there.

I note that the article explains that President Harrell and Rep. Pramila Jayapal are mentioned as having helped to find money for a study of the project. I was surprised because Jayapal ran as being firmly against charter schools. When I tweeted last week to Rep Jayapal about the issue, she said she had no idea about that. I spoke to her office and it seems clear that she didn't know about the charter school when she lent her support to the project and that she continues to not approve of charter schools.  Jayapal continues to not be in favor or support of charter schools.

Meanwhile Green Dot, to build needs three zoning departures for the building and applied for them. However, it was discovered that the City's ordinance only covers Seattle Public Schools (Green Dot is not a part of SPS). The hearing was then cancelled and my understanding is that within the omnibus bill you will consider in Feb/March, this is addressed.

I note that somehow, in July 2017, Green Dot did get a zoning departure for height for this project. 
How that happened is unclear given the present situation. (Editor's note: credit goes to district watchdog Chris Jackins who told the Board this at Wednesday's Board meeting.)

(As well, the ordinance states that for this kind of departure, someone from Seattle Public Schools should be on the committee for this departure. There was no one on the Committee from SPS. (MUP #3025697)
Editor's note: I have a call into the district to ask if the district was told about this committee and asked for a staff member to be on it.

I note that Green Dot has advocated that because it is a public school, it should be allowed to apply for departures. From the May 2017 City report on their request for a height departure:
The School is not affiliated with the Seattle School District. The land use code does not define what constitutes a “public school.” Therefore, the phrase has been interpreted by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) consistently with its common meaning as “a free tax-supported school controlled by a local government authority.” Further, it is authorized by the Charter School Commission, which is overseen by the State Board of Education, a governmental authority. The charter school statute also defines charter schools as public schools.
As someone who knows this issue well, allow me to clarify.

Our state constitution calls public schools "common schools" and there are certain requirements to be common schools including how they are funded. The Washington State Supreme Court, in reviewing the law passed by initiative in 2012, said that charter schools are NOT common schools as they were not oversee by local government and are not eligible to be funded from state education funds. They are funded from an entirely different pot of money.

The City might consider using the Court's interpretation; the State already is. The members of the Washington State Charter Commission are appointed by the Governor who is not a locally elected official.

At Wednesday night's Seattle School Board meeting (1/3/2018), the Board unanimously passed a resolution against the City Council changing the ordinance to include charter schools. They cite the competition it will create against three high schools in the area (primarily Rainier Beach High School). Those three high schools - RBHS, Franklin and Cleveland - are majority-minority schools are making great strides in closing the opportunity gap. RBHS has an IB program and is near a 90% graduation rate (Cleveland is over 90%).

These are not failing schools but, because of their populations, do have challenges. What the Board seems to suggest in its resolution is that a charter school would make that work harder.

As well, the district and the City just signed an MOU around Seattle Center and Memorial Stadium (the district owns the 9 acres of land that Memorial Stadium sits on) and the Board noted in its resolution that the City had agreed to work with the district on just these kinds of issues.

Jayapal didn't seem to know it was a charter school when she signed onto the project and the letter the Council signed had no mention of any school (save pre-K). (I also note that Green Dot is not advertising the school - which they are currently soliciting students for - as a STEM or tech school despite what the article in Sightline said about the school.)

I am wondering if the CMs were aware that it was a charter school to be part of this project ? My calls to the offices of CMs indicate confusion on this point.

I urge the City Council to carefully consider what changing the ordinance might mean to their relationship with Seattle Public Schools who serve the overwhelming majority of Seattle's school-aged children and the optics of what supporting charter schools might mean, given that the voters in Seattle, by a good measure, rejected them in the initiative vote.

As well, I believe if the Council does allow this ordinance change, the next change will be to add charter schools as being eligible for Family and Education Levy dollars which could endanger the levy and further strain the relationship between the City and the district.

I have many calls out to try to flesh this situation out.  As I said, don't make calls on a Friday.  We'll see what Monday brings.

What's interesting is that in the minutes for this project, from August 2016, it says this (in walking thru different parts of the project - this under Education & Early Learning):

Who runs the charter school?  To be aware that charter schools take funding away from publics (sic) schools.  Very selective in what they offer. 

If the charter school serves the needs of the community and offers transparency, an option to consider.

If the community is interested in an alternative to SPS then it deserves serious consideration.

In November 2016:
At the education table, the discussion revolved around hosting programs that help local schools improve retention rates and increase parent participation by allocating more time and resources where needed. Right now, the population in Southeast Seattle is changing and the average household wealth is increasing. There is a stigma that north Seattle public schools are well-off than south Seattle schools in relation to student demographics and funding. To get more parents involved, immigrant parents must have access to resources in their home language and materials that are culturally competent. The community should have access to alternative forms to education such as a charter school and more funding should be provided to youth programs that support current public school students in the neighborhood. Attention should be granted to strengthening existing programs before wasting resources on implementing new ones. On top of after-school programs, SE Seattle has a need for college prep and mentoring programs for youth transitioning to college. In order to support the needs of students and parents in this community, programs that promote equity and serve under-represented groups through enrichment oriented services should be given precedence.
In both sets of minutes, it was clear that participants were aware of issues with charter schools and how "local schools" might fare.  

There were three more meetings - in Jan 2017, March 2017 and April 2017 (the latter stated as "final presentation of SEOC program design here").

There are no minutes from those first two meetings in 2017. Might just be an oversight but somehow that leap from considering a charter to having a charter onboard happened in that timeframe.  Hmm.

I look forward to hearing what City Council members say and do.  Because this is what I say at the end of the email:

I urge the City Council to carefully consider what changing the ordinance might mean to their relationship with Seattle Public Schools who serve the overwhelming majority of Seattle's school-aged children and the optics of what supporting charter schools might mean, given that the voters in Seattle, by a good measure, rejected them in the initiative vote.

As well, I believe if the Council does allow this ordinance change, the next change will be to add charter schools as being eligible for Family and Education Levy dollars which could endanger the levy and further strain the relationship between the City and the district.


NO 1240 said…
The city of Seattle's Department of Neighborhood and Department of Construction and Inspection are actively breaking the law, and working to put charter schools into the city that will drain existing funding. Partners?

Under SMC 23.79, DON has no authority to convene such an advisory committee

Yet, in addition to the proposed Green Dot high school, the Department of Neighborhood is breaking the law in an attempt to create a middle school for Green Dot.

I have to wonder if the city turned a blind eye to zoning departures to build Summit.
Anonymous said…
thanks MW.

NO 1240 said…

Here is a document related to charter school departures. Please see page 3. I find it interesting that the city document states: "Specific DISTRICT Requests". Seattle Public School District was not involved with this project.

This entire thing does not make the city look very good.
Anonymous said…
Definitely some shady things happening here. Makes me wonder - who is married to/partnered with/friends with - whom? The neoliberal governing of Seattle is alive & well.

Readers, there is still more to come as I have unraveled more of this. This appears to be orchestrated within and out of the city government.
Anonymous said…
Lovely. Both dreading & looking forward to more info. The charter industry is like a nasty infestation - hard to know just what & where they've managed to invade.

NO 1240 said…
I hope those involved in the lawsuit ask the Supreme Court for an expedited hearing:

Here is a timeline and a few thoughts:

-The Supreme Court will hear the latest charter law within the next couple of months.

- The next legislative session is about to begin. It is unlikely the Supreme Court will issue a ruling while the legislature is in session. Most likely, there will be insufficient time for the legislature to address a Supreme Court ruling.

- It may take the Supreme Court months to decide. It is best if the Supreme Court rules in advance of September when school starts. Best if ruling is obtained before students are in classrooms.

Green Dot is trying to build a high school for 600 students and a middle school. IMO, Green Dot has no business building two schools until the court rules.

Clearly, Green Dot is trying to get a "foot hold".
Dora Taylor said…
Thanks Melissa for staying on top of this.

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