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Parents group begins charter school campaign

A group of parents dissatisfied with the school district have begun a campaign to open a charter school in Bremerton as early as 2006.

Although the Washington Legislature recently passed a law allowing charter schools, it has been met with fierce opposition from the teachers’ union.

On June 9 the Washington Education Association (WEA) submitted the more than 100,000 signatures required for the law to go to a vote Nov. 2. The measure has failed in two past elections.

Despite the obstacles the Bremerton parents remain optimistic. They point out voters rejected charter schools by a close margin. In the November 2000 election 48 percent of voters approved of charter schools. Now they hope to educate voters on the virtues of charter schools.

“If people understood what charter schools were about they would embrace them,” said Jackie McVay, one of the organizers of the campaign.

She and other Olympic View parents began exploring the idea of starting a charter school when they learned the district was considering and would later shut the school down.

The group is working with Oregon-based Charter Starters to organize the Bremerton charter school. They also met with Jim Spady who with his wife Fawn founded the Washington Charter Schools Resource Center in Seattle.

”Charter schools are for square peg kids who don’t fit in the round hole of public school education,” Spady said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Charter schools offer students a custom fit education and hold students and parents accountable for academic success McVay said.

“Charter schools are about the children, whereas traditional schools are about the administration and teachers,” said McVay, one of about seven parents in the grassroots group.

About 3,000 charter schools have been opened in 39 states. They are loosely affiliated with the school district in their area and operate using the same money as public schools.

So far about 20 groups are expected to submit their application. The Bremerton group is developing its mission statement and hopes to submit an application before the election.

The WEA calls policy supporting charter schools “bad legislation” because it would divert money from an already taxed system. But charter schools supporters say it would not take away from traditional schools because the students most likely to enroll in a charter school are ones that have already left the system.

Private school and home schooled students could return to public education. McVay, whose son Andy, 9, will go to Armin Jahr next year, is considering enrolling him in a private school. Burkett is considering home schooling her son Dalton, 6.

If the charter school is approved by voters, it would operate within some of the same guidelines of traditional schools.

Certificated teachers would instruct classes and would not be required to join a union. Class size would be about 15 students per teacher and initially the school would serve elementary students.

Charter schools must also give standardized tests such as the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and cannot be religious. Each school has its own board of directors and administrator to guide operations. Teachers at the school decide whether to join a labor union.

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