Breidablik parents consider charter school an option to closure

Breidablik Elementary School students head to class after being dropped off by the bus. Parents are considering starting a charter school in the wake of the school board’s decision to close Breidablik.     - Kipp Robertson / 2012
Breidablik Elementary School students head to class after being dropped off by the bus. Parents are considering starting a charter school in the wake of the school board’s decision to close Breidablik.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson / 2012

POULSBO — When residents of the Breidablik community found out they would not have an elementary school for 2013-14, some parents began weighing their options.

One of those options is a charter school, the topic of a community meeting Wednesday night at Breidablik Elementary.

Jim Spady, president of the Washington Charter School Resource Center, discussed charter schools in Washington and explained related laws to about 30 local residents and parents. Spady was contacted by Breidablik parent Robin Francom.

Francom, whose children will attend Vinland Elementary following the attendance boundary changes, said charter schools are “definitely talked about amongst Breidablik parents.” Though Vinland is a nice, friendly school, Francom said Vinland looked full when she toured it. Though Vinland has capacity for more than 150 additional students, Francom worries students being transferred to Vinland will be placed in portables.

Charter schools must be authorized by a local school board or the Washington Charter School Commission. In order for a local school board to become an authorizer, the board must have approval from the state board of education. The deadline for school boards to submit a letter of intent to become an authorizer is April 1, Spady said.

Five districts have become charter school authorizers: Battle Ground, Eastmont, Highline, Spokane and Sunnyside, Spady said. The Tacoma School Board was to decide Thursday whether to become an authorizer, he said.

According to Initiative 1240, which passed in Kitsap County with 51.97 of the vote, a charter school applicant must be a nonprofit corporation that has submitted an application to an authorizer. The corporation must be either a public benefit nonprofit corporation, or a nonprofit corporation that has applied for tax-exempt status. The nonprofit cannot be a sectarian or religious organization and must meet all requirements for a public benefit nonprofit corporation before receiving any state education funding.

The initiative allows up to 40 charter schools to be created over a five-year period in Washington, or an average of eight per year.

There are no limits on how many students a charter school may have.

All charter schools will be defined as public, common schools under state law.

The schools must provide basic education and participate in statewide student assessment.

Charter schools do not have district boundaries.

Funding for charter schools is the same as other public schools, which includes reporting enrollment to receive state and federal funding.

If an existing public school converts to a charter school, it would continue to receive the same share of local levy funding, but not be required to pay rent to the local school district, according to the initiative. A new public school opening as a charter would not receive current local levy funding.

The North Kitsap School Board officially opposed Initiative 1240 during the Oct. 25 board meeting. North Kitsap School District Superintendent Patty Page believes parents should have an option of where their children go to school. She said every parent should be able to decide what’s best for their children. However, she said there is no financial benefit to the district in authorizing a charter school.

State Reps. Sherry Appleton and Drew Hanson, and Sen. Christine Rolfes opposed the charter schools initiative.

If a charter school was established in the district and authorized by the North Kitsap School Board, district administrators would be required to evaluate the school. The charter school would be required to provide 4 percent of its funding to the district to cover the cost of evaluations. However, Page said 4 percent would not be enough to cover those costs.

Though the Wednesday meeting was informational, Francom said she is interested in a charter school that would focus more on specific areas of study — arts or science, for example. She feels a charter school would allow teachers to have more freedom in how they teach.

Francom said more meetings could be scheduled for the future.

Cris Shardelman, a Poulsbo resident, attended the meeting and is concerned she would be paying tax dollars for a school that her elected government would have no oversight or authority over.

“I’m fighting to improve the schools, not to set them loose,” Shardelman said.

Breidablik PTA president Stacy Pike said she thinks the district should reserve the ability to authorize a charter school, but is unsure if a charter school would work here. She is supportive of the type of programs a charter school would be able to offer, because many of North Kitsap’s programs are scattered among the many schools.

“I just think it’s good to have options,” she said.

Some parents were supportive of establishing a charter school.

Jeanine Sugimoto has a son in third-grade at Breidablik and participates in the school’s Multiage Education program, which she calls a “phenomenal class.” She is not happy with the school district because of Breidablik’s impending closure; the Multiage Education program is moving to Pearson Elementary, while the majority of Breidablik students — including her son — are transferring to Vinland.

She said she has a “sense of helplessness” in deciding her son’s eduction.

Sugimoto voted for the charter school initiative and is willing to get involved and participate in the application process.

She and Francom feel there is momentum in a parent-driven charter school application because of the negative feelings in the district right now.

Framcom said she will wait to see if the district sends a letter of intent to become an authorizer, but will continue if it doesn’t.

“We can still come together and we can still submit an application,” she said. “I don’t think this is going to die.”

— Reporter Megan Stephenson contributed to this story.

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