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February 13, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Charter commission head: More questions could have been asked

A classroom at First Place Charter School in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times 2014.

A classroom at First Place Charter School in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times 2014.

The state board governing charter schools heard an update Thursday on First Place Scholars, the state’s first charter school, which has run into a string of problems since opening in the fall.

Under a new probe launched last week, First Place has until Feb. 17 to supply a long list of documents assuring the state it has enough money to keep its doors open for the rest of the school year and that it is following the educational program it promised when applying for public money. If First Place can’t do so, the commission may close the school.

Steve Sundquist, the commission’s chairman, talked Thursday about First Place and the process the commission uses to vet charters, which are publicly funded, independently run public schools.

While Sundquist said he feels good about how the commission has selected which charter applicants to approve, he also said the commission could have looked closer at First Place, which previously operated as a private school in Seattle for 25 years. The commission did not ask for detailed financial records from the nonprofit backing the school.

“Could there have been some additional questions asked? Clearly,” Sundquist said.

But Sundquist said his commission is trying to maintain a “balancing act” between oversight and hand-holding.

“We’re not trying to impose more stuff,” Sundquist said. “The basic construct of a charter school is we’re going to allow you a little more autonomy, particularly over your educational program, and in (exchange) we are looking for better student outcomes. We have to be careful not to get so overarching.”

He also said he’s not ready to close First Place.

“We’re not there yet,” Sundquist said. “If there comes a point at which the commission loses confidence that the school is serving students well, or will not serve students well, then that’s the point at which you (consider revoking a charter).”

Under the charter agreement, First Place was slated to receive about $1 million in state money this school year.

 

Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, First Place Scholars Charter School

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