West Seattle charter school Summit Atlas on hold for at least a year

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The organization that was planning to open West Seattle’s first charter school in the former Freedom Church space at 35th and Roxbury is putting the plan on hold for at least a year.

That announcement comes amid uncertainty about the fate of charter schools in our state, after the state Supreme Court ruled that they weren’t entitled to “common” state funds, and refused to revisit the ruling.

A West Seattle parent just forwarded us this e-mail announcement sent last night by the Summit employee hired to lead the West Seattle school, Summit AtlasGreg Ponikvar:

Dear West Seattle families,

I want to thank you all for your ongoing support of Summit Public Schools. I have been so impressed with the passion you have shown for ensuring your children and all students in Washington have the choice of attending a public charter school.

Unfortunately, with the state Supreme Court ruling public charter schools “unconstitutional,” we have had to make some difficult decisions. While we are still deeply committed to opening a middle/high school in West Seattle, we have decided to delay opening Summit Atlas until the 2017‐18 school year as we work toward a legislative fix that will ensure public charter schools have a secure future in the state of Washington.

I know this is incredibly disappointing to our families and students in West Seattle who are eager to enroll their students next fall. I want to encourage those of you with incoming 9th and 10th graders to consider Summit Sierra.

I hope you will also continue to be a voice of support for public charter schools so that we are able to open Summit Atlas in 2017. The state legislature meets again in January, and we need our state legislators to hear from parents and students about the importance of school choice and the need to move forward with a Summit Public School in West Seattle. If you would like to contact your state representatives to make your voice heard, you can find them here.

While we have delayed the opening, we will continue working hard on our plans in West Seattle. An additional year will allow us to continue building community support for the school which will ultimately make our school’s foundation even stronger. Please join me for coffee on Tuesday, December 15 anytime between 8 and 11 am at Dubsea Coffee in White Center to ask questions and share ideas.

Thank you again for your ongoing support and partnership. We will continue to keep you updated with important events and announcements as we approach the upcoming legislative session.

As reported by the education-news site Seattle Schools Community Forum, the state Charter School Commission – chaired by West Seattleite Steve Sundquist – met this week and started the process of shutting down, with state charter funding running out as of next week. Meantime, some of the already-open schools have been reported to be looking at other options for staying open and funded, including affiliating with a small school district in Northeastern Washington.

We broke the news of the West Seattle charter-school plan at the start of this year, after discovering early-stage documents in city Department of Planning and Development files. Summit Public Schools – a California firm that opened its first Washington schools this fall in Tacoma and in Seattle’s International District – was soon revealed as the school’s prospective operator, and this summer it was approved to open a middle-and-high-school campus at the 35th/Roxbury site.

Meantime, Washington Charter School Development – also the local arm of a California firm – bought the site from Freedom Church for $4.75 million. Interior renovations were planned so that the first two grades could start next fall, with building additions planned later; Freedom Church leased the site back for a while but has now purchased and moved into its own new location in Skyway, so the prospective school site is in essence vacant.

We’re checking with Summit for more information on what happens now, both for families who had been seeking to attend the future school and for the site, a prominent, sizable piece of Arbor Heights real estate. The organization had told WSB twice since the Supreme Court’s ruling on charter funding that they were moving forward with the West Seattle plan.

26 Replies to "West Seattle charter school Summit Atlas on hold for at least a year"

  • Admiral mom December 11, 2015 (10:56 am)

    In the meanwhile state funded public schools are struggling with overcrowded classrooms. Please explain.

  • Doug December 11, 2015 (11:15 am)

    Awesome, another year of peace and quiet on that corner I live near. What a nice a holiday gift for all neighbors

  • Alex December 11, 2015 (11:26 am)

    Such politician’s language… Just like how every conservative in the country has been repeating the sound byte about how Obama is “not serious” about ISIS, every statement from a charter school backer uses the same language about how a legislative “fix” is on the way.
    …as if upholding the law against diverting public education funds to private schools was somehow an oversight we need to correct. But it wasn’t.
    I get it –the public schools have problems. So lets make them better instead of undermining them.

  • Nearby neighbor December 11, 2015 (11:30 am)

    Just curious…are there regulations about how close a school can be to a marijuana distribution shop? There are two medical dispensaries on two of the corners adjacent to this site.

    • WSB December 11, 2015 (11:49 am)

      Nearby, that’s come up multiple times. There actually are not.

  • Rick December 11, 2015 (11:33 am)

    Could we at least squeeze George W. into this somehow.

  • colleen December 11, 2015 (11:50 am)

    Why is the outcome “uncertain” when the court says that we don’t have to fund these conservative boondoggles?

  • miws December 11, 2015 (11:53 am)

    Meantime, some of the already-open schools have been reported to be looking at other options for staying open and funded….


    Maybe those schools could look to their corporate owners for full, financial support, instead of taxpayers funding a private corporation with the limited money that should be going to public schools. In other words, see Alex’s last paragraph.



  • DP December 11, 2015 (12:24 pm)

    Sure thing, Rick:

    “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” – Kanye West

  • Joe Szilagyi December 11, 2015 (12:42 pm)

    Good riddance. Illegal, unconstitutional funding model. No public money stolen from our kids.

  • LAintheJunction December 11, 2015 (12:50 pm)

    “I hope you will also continue to be a voice of support for public charter schools so that we are able to open Summit Atlas in 2017.” Not bloody likely. No public funds diverted to what in essence are private schools! Thank goodness our supreme court is smart enough to make the right decision. I’ll be sure to weigh in with my legislators too, just not in the way that Mr. Ponikvar would like.

  • JanS December 11, 2015 (12:53 pm)

    I have always thought that if there was money for these “public” private schools, then there is money for our public school system already established in this state. But our schools are not being taken care of. Yet, there is money to pay the $100,000 per day fine for not fully funding education in this state. SMH ! The incompetence of our legislature boggles the mind…

  • Joe Szilagyi December 11, 2015 (1:03 pm)

    C’est la vie. The rule of law wins.

  • Eric1 December 11, 2015 (1:45 pm)

    I am so tired of people saying that these are private schools. Anybody can apply and not pay a cent to go. There is some issue with the legality as written but hopefully it will eventually become legal.
    What public educators afraid of is that the “good” parents will all send their kids to charter schools. The rub is that everyone knows who will and will not apply to charter schools. It is time that parents who give a sh!t (rich, poor, brown, white) be able to self segregate and do what is best for their child. It isn’t wrong, just politically incorrect.
    The bottom line is that 10% of the parents do 90% of the volunteering and 10% of the students cause 90% of the problems. I am willing to help the 90% of decent kids, it is that last 10% that I want to avoid. Those kids need extra help but public school can’t provide it. Again, political correctness says otherwise.

  • Alex December 11, 2015 (2:21 pm)

    Eric, listen to yourself. You literally just said that segregation is best for our children. It’s not. Yes, there are some parents who are far less involved in their kids’ education, and those kids tend to be a pain, but that is not the kids’ fault. They are innocent. All kids deserve good schools, even kids with bad parents.
    Any system that allows the “good” to be segregated from the bad (however you define those terms, skin color or not) is a bad system. We need all schools to be good schools, that should be our only focus.

  • marty December 11, 2015 (2:31 pm)

    I agree with Eric1.
    Why would we want to try something different when the current public schools are doing so well. (sarcasm)Do we want to be politically correct at the expense of getting our children a decent education?

  • metrognome December 11, 2015 (2:46 pm)

    it seems disingenuous for the Summit employee to say that the WA Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional; it may be splitting hairs but what the SC said is:

    ‘We hold that the provisions of I-1240 that designate and treat charter schools as common schools violate article IX, section 2 of our state constitution and are void. This includes the Act’s funding provisions, which attempt to tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act.’
    ‘Here, because charter schools under 1-1240 are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as “common schools” within the meaning of article IX.’
    Basically, the portion of initiative 1240 that established the appointed rather than elected governance structure was ruled unconstitutional; it followed, therefore, that the funding was unconstitutional.
    The court noted that,
    ‘Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools. Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution. Accordingly, “[o]ur review here is limited to the issue of whether the voters acted in compliance with our state’s constitution in expressing their collective will.”‘
    The issue of elected representation was ultimately led to the [political] decision to merge the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle into King County. The issue of the limited power of the initiative process will probably be what overturns Eyman’s latest funding initiative.

  • roxy December 11, 2015 (3:20 pm)

    WA rule 314-55-050 requires a 1000 foot separation and allows cities and counties to reduce the separation. Seattle has pending legislation (CB118580) to maintain 1000 feet or more separation from property line to property line for MJ businesses and elementary & secondary school or playgrounds, etc.

  • Nora December 11, 2015 (4:31 pm)

    Roxy, Nearby, the law provides a distance that a pot shop may open from an existing school. There is no rule about how far schools have to open from an existing pot shop.

    • WSB December 11, 2015 (4:50 pm)

      Also, at this point, unless one of those two shops gets a 502 license, they won’t be open there in their current form as all dispensaries are under orders to convert or close by next summer, which would be before even this school’s original opening date. – TR

  • Melissa Westbrook December 11, 2015 (5:38 pm)

    Eric, it is never wrong to think of your own child’s best interests. But it’s hard to miss that you think other children are problems.

    “There is some issue with the legality as written but hopefully it will eventually become legal.”

    Yes, that “issue” would be the constitution.

    There has been a lot happening over this issue in the last 48 hours because the state funding spigot is shutting down for both charters and their authorizers. Technically, they no longer exist as charter schools.

    The very first charter school in Washington State – First Place Scholars, a former private school that helped children with families in crisis – announced today that it would not continue on as a charter school but go back to being a private school.

    There is turmoil at the school with some parents/teachers picketing over lack of transparency from the charter board. It is unclear exactly how the school will go forward but it will not be part of the ALE program at Mary Walker School District near Spokane.

    That’s another odd story. Here’s a tiny 500 kid district, taking in near 1,000 students from across the state. Their superintendent, Kevin Jacka, was a former Charter Commission until right after he asked his school board for a resolution to create the ALE program to take in these students. So he was a Commissioner when he took this action as a superintendent. Something of a conflict of interest. MWSD stands to do well in terms of dollars with this action.

    To be clear, right now this law is out. The Court threw out the entire thing, not just the funding issue. That means the issues with the law are not a single “glitch” but there are several of them that are going to require an overhaul of the law. That’s a lot of work.

    But the Legislature could revive it and indeed, Rep Chad Magendanz has said that “nothing will get done on McCleary” until the charter issue is addressed. Quite the throwdown there and appalling statesmanship on his part.

    Job #1 for public education for the legislature is McCleary. 1,000 kids in schools open half a year don’t trump 1M kids who have been waiting for years for their schools to be fully funded.

    OSPI and MWSD have found a solution for the charter schools to stay open thru this school year.

  • Max December 11, 2015 (5:46 pm)

    Charter schools no longer exist in Washington State. A small school district in eastern Washington is trying to absorb existing schools as Alternative Learning Experience schools. There is no timeline to make this happen.

    The Charter Commission and charter school operators were irresponsible and prematurely opened charter schools and placed over 1000 students in these buildings.

    Families would be smart to look for other options. The path forward is on extremely shaky legal and financial grounds.

    The state is under a court order to fund education for 1M students and the state just wasted $1M funding a now defunct Charter Commission.

    State Representative Gerry Pollet urged the Charter Commission to create contingency plans in the event of an unfavorable ruling. The Commission did not create a contingency plan and existing(former charter schools) are not under the oversight of a governing body. They are not under the oversight of OSPI because they are not a public or private entity- and the Charter Commission is disbanding.

    We were told that we had the best charter schools in the country. Wrong.

    The legislature must focus on funding education for 1 million students.

  • Mark32 December 11, 2015 (5:49 pm)

    Thanks Eric1.

    As part of the 10% I agree, but it’s not just the parents and students, One year my student had done the years worth of math by January, when I asked what he would do the rest of the year I was told he could help the rest of the students catch up. When I asked about doing the next grade level THE PRINCIPLE’S response was “Then what would he do next year”?

    Yah, we need other options.

    Chief Sealth budget is almost $12 million dollars this year, West Seattle almost $10. Rather then throw more money at the schools lets look at how/where the money is spent.

  • AMD December 11, 2015 (11:44 pm)

    Eric, people call them private schools because they are privately owned.
    I’m not okay with my tax dollars funding a privately held corporation with no taxpayer (voter) oversight when there are existing publicly-funded, publicly-owned schools WITH taxpayer oversight that need the money.
    Charter schools are not inherently more helpful to students than public schools. If they have teaching methods that work better, we should be talking about enabling our public schools to better serve students, not funneling money to corporations with no accountability.

  • Greg December 12, 2015 (6:11 am)

    This news, and the many great comments by my fellow public school supporters, has made my day.

  • Enid December 12, 2015 (9:29 am)

    If public schools required the same amount of participation that charters do, it might make a difference. As it stands, our underfunded public schools must, by default, act as babysitters, psychologists, social workers, and corrections officers – in addition to providing education. Charters have found a way around these problems with their completely opaque and manipulated entry system. The public system needs help, but funding private schools at taxpayer’s expense is not the answer. Speaking of manipulation: the recent pro-charter ads on TV suggest (and not very subtly) that to be anti-charter is racist, and that students of color will suffer most at their closure. Not only do I call BULL on that one, but I find advertising that exploits racial discrimination reprehensible. Good riddance, indeed.

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