School Board buys three months to consider becoming a charter school authorizer

3/29/2013 | TACOMA, Washington

The Tacoma School Board voted 4-1 Thursday night to file a “letter of intent to become a charter school authorizer” with the State Board of Education before the April 1 deadline.

The decision does not commit Tacoma Public Schools or the School Board to becoming an authorizer of charter schools in Tacoma. However, it buys the board several more months to consider it as an option. If the board failed to file a letter of intent, it could not later decide to become an authorizer of charter schools.

The State Board of Education set the April 1 deadline for any school district to file a letter of intent if that district’s board of directors thought it may want to govern how charter schools operate in their communities.

Initiative 1240, narrowly approved by voters in November, allowed charter schools to operate throughout Washington. The state board is writing rules and procedures for how charters would operate – as earlier as the 2014-2015 school year.

Based on the Initiative 1240 language, a nonreligious, nonprofit organization that wants to open a charter school must get approval from either an appointed statewide charter commission or a local school board that applies for and wins state board approval as a charter authorizer.

Holly Ferguson, an attorney and charter school consultant to the Puget Sound Educational Services District, told board members during a recent study session that being a charter authorizer has pros and cons. Many of the rules for establishing and evaluating charters have yet to be written by the state board, she said.

Tacoma’s School Board formally voted to oppose Initiative 1240, and vote counts within Tacoma showed that local voters opposed charters.

“We firmly believe that Tacoma Public Schools has proven that it has and can create effective, innovative schools that offer the children of Tacoma a host of options,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno. “Now, however, that the initiative has passed, we need to take as much time as we possibly can to evaluate what is best for our district and the students of Tacoma.”

Board President Debbie Winskill cast the only vote against filing the letter of intent.