Although votes are still being counted on Washington’s charter school initiative, Spokane Public Schools officials have already decided the district will apply to have one if it passes.
“If we are trying to do some innovative programs, we should have a good shot,” said Superintendent Shelley Redinger, who helped set up a charter school as a superintendent in Oregon. “Part of it is if we don’t have one to offer our community and someone else does, I’m afraid the students will go elsewhere.”
Initiative 1240, which in Thursday night vote totals was leading with 51 percent approval, allows for as many as 40 charter schools – eight per year, set up over the next five years. They would be established either by public school districts or by nonprofit organizations.
Charter schools are nontraditional specialty schools operating under a contract that outlines powers, responsibilities and performance expectations replacing many state statutes governing public schools. The schools would still be public, governed by a special board in some cases, and tend to focus on a particular study area or learning method.
Teachers unions across Washington opposed the initiative from day one, saying it diverts money from the traditional schools, the schools lack a consistently high success rate for students and the measure allows out-of-state operators to run schools within the public school system and without traditional oversight.
“I’m disappointed that it passed, but it is what it is,” said Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president. “Our goal is to make sure our schools get the money that they need. We need to support our kids and make sure they get what they need.”
She added that charter schools are “not a public school. They aren’t going to serve special-ed kids.”
Redinger’s goal is to have as many options as possible for students within the district’s boundaries.
“I really don’t want the parents to feel like they need to go elsewhere for their children to have opportunities,” she said.
Already, the district has had lots of input about what type of charter school would be a good fit.
“We are also doing more exit surveys to find out why students are leaving,” Redinger said. “A lot of students are going from the Montessori program to go to the (project-based West Valley) City School, so we are trying to figure how we could replicate that.”
Some have suggested a middle school with a science, technology, engineering and mathematics focus. Another possibility is a type of International Baccalaureate program for kindergarten through eighth grade, offering a liberal arts focus.
If the district creates a charter school, it would be located within one of the current facilities, Redinger said. The school would be run by Spokane Public Schools and governed by the current board under a special contract.
“If we are really successful, I could see this evolving as we go,” Redinger said. Depending on success, the district could apply for another one, Redinger said.
Other regional school district leaders were not as certain as Redinger about applying for a charter school.
“We’ve been looking at this and toying with this since the initiative was proposed,” said John Glenewinkle, East Valley School District superintendent. “We just don’t know enough yet, and what the greatest need is in the area. My sense is that it will be extremely difficult for us to get a charter school in the first year because of the demographics of the state and the limits of schools per year.”
Mead School District Superintendent Tom Rockefeller said officials there had not discussed the possibility of a charter school.
Central Valley School District also had not discussed the possibility yet, said spokeswoman Melanie Rose. If the initiative passes, the district “will take the opportunity to discuss the measure and determine the direction most appropriate for our community,” she said.