9 named to charter schools commission

OLYMPIA — Washington’s first charter schools are not expected to open until 2014, but we now know who may have a hand in deciding where they will go and how they will be run.

An ex-lawmaker, a school superintendent and a university expert on curriculum are among the nine people named Wednesday to the state commission tasked with approving the publicly funded, privately run schools in Washington.

The five men and four women will serve on the Washington Charter School Commission created by voters with the passage of Initiative 1240 in November.

That law allows for up to 40 charters to be issued in the next five years. Only the commission or a local school board, with permission from the State Board of Education, will be allowed to authorize them.

If no school boards seek to become authorizers, the responsibility of reviewing, approving, monitoring and even shutting down charter schools will fall on the shoulders of the unelected commissioners chosen by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

“Creating a new system for charter schools is a heavy lift, and maintaining a high level of accountability and transparency is key,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement accompanying release of the names.

“These are people who understand what our students need to succeed, and how to manage people and resources to meet the needs of a diverse student population,” he added.

I-1240 spelled out a rigorous process for establishing and operating charter schools. The state Board of Education is crafting the rules that will guide the process, including what school boards must do to become an authorizer.

It will be several months before everything is in place, which is why no charter school is expected to open before the fall of 2014.

“There’s a lot to figure out,” said Shannon Campion, executive director of Stand for Children and a spokeswoman for the I-1240 campaign.

The new law also prescribes eligibility requirements for commissioners. For example, appointees must demonstrate support of charter schools and possess experience in governing nonprofits, public school law, assessment, curriculum and instruction.

Commissioners are not paid, though they can be reimbursed for some expenses. Their terms are four years. However, terms will be staggered for the first batch of appointees, with some serving only one or two years.

No more than five of the nine members can be from the same political party and at least one must be the parent of a Washington public school student. Four described themselves as Democrats, three as independents and two as Republicans, according to the governor’s office. Three commissioners have children in public schools.

Those named Wednesday were:

  • Doreen Cato of Ocean Shores, executive director of the United Way of Grays Harbor and former executive director of First Place, a nonprofit school for at-risk elementary students.
  • Chris Martin of Spokane, executive director of Prodigy Northwest, which develops academic programs for gifted youth.
  • Steve Sundquist of Seattle, a member of the Our Schools Coalition and former elected trustee of the Seattle School Board.
  • Kevin Jacka of Springdale, superintendent of the Mary Walker School District in Springdale.
  • Cindi Williams of Bellevue, who worked on education policy for the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Larry Wright of Sammamish, managing director of the Bellevue Arts Museum, former executive director of Washington State Mentors and marketing director of the College Success Foundation.
  • Trish Millines Dziko of Vashon, co-chair of the Committee for Excellence in the Seattle School District and founder of the Technology Access Foundation, a nonprofit that helps students of color engage in science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Dr. Margrit McGuire of Seattle, director of teacher education at Seattle University and a specialist in curriculum development and social studies education.
  • Dave Quall of Mount Vernon, a retired public school teacher and former Democratic state representative who served as chair of the House Education Committee for eight years.

“We’re really excited by these folks. It definitely looks like they are all passionate about children and education,” Campion said.

None of the nine people played a visible role in passing the measure.

“It’s best that none of the campaign folks are on it,” said Chris Korsmo, chief executive officer of the League of Education Voters which backed the initiative. “This is about the work. It is not about politics.”

Meanwhile, a legal challenge to the law looms.

Opponents contend it is unconstitutional and last week asked Attorney General Bob Ferguson to pursue it, but he declined.

“We’ll be moving forward with a lawsuit against some of the unconstitutional provisions of the act,” said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, which is leading the charge.

Campion called the legal pursuit a “distraction.”

“The voters have approved charter schools and I think voters would like to see the commission continue moving forward,” she said.

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