State panel to start selecting first charter schools

SEATTLE — Washington’s new Charter School Commission elected a former Seattle School Board president as its chairman.

The group also has started to solidify its plans for hiring a staff and choosing the state’s first charter schools. The group held its second meeting Tuesday in Bellevue.

Steve Sundquist, who served on the Seattle School Board from 2007 to 2011, including one year as president and two years as vice president, said Wednesday that the new charter school law and the State Board of Education have set an ambitious agenda for the group.

The group is tentatively scheduled to start accepting applications for charter schools by Sept. 22. The State Board of Education has proposed a fast turnaround on those applications, calling for decisions by the end of January.

“It’s all fast, very fast,” Sundquist said. His group plans to ask the state board for a little more time, at least for the first year.

Voters in November approved an initiative that would bring charter schools to Washington. The first schools are expected to open in fall 2014.

Two parallel processes are being set up to start up to 40 of the new public schools in five years: the Charter School Commission and local school boards that apply to be authorizers through the State Board of Education.

The State Board of Education is also setting general rules for both groups, including how to make sure the number of schools approved does not exceed the limits set by the new law.

For example, the proposed rules state that if more than the allowed number of schools are authorized, a lottery will be held to determine which schools get to open first.

The Charter School Commission also chose a vice chairman, Larry Wright, managing director of the Bellevue Arts Museum.

The commission is preparing to hire some staff and will post a job description for an executive director within the next few weeks, Sundquist said.

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