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School board commissioners seek more regulation of charter schools with resolution

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City Arts & Technology High School is a charter school located in San Francisco’s Excelsior District. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco school board leaders on Tuesday called for increased oversight of charter schools at the local level.

A resolution introduced Tuesday by board Vice President Stevon Cook and Commissioner Mark Sanchez would direct the district to conduct a “thorough” analysis of the “fiscal, educational and socio-emotional impacts” that charters have on San Francisco’s students.

Describing charters as a “rapidly growing sector of the educational system” that is not required to adhere to the same standards as traditional public schools, the resolution calls for an investigation into the demographics of their students, the funding they divert from traditional public schools, suspension and expulsion rates and teacher retention, among other things.

The resolution is also seeking to place an SFSUD representative on the governing boards of charter schools operating in the district; verify parent signatures needed in petitions for new charter schools; and implement and convene a Charter School Oversight Committee that is open to community participation and will review charter school student data and complaints on a monthly basis.

“We are looking to have a demographic analysis of charter schools and to get an idea of the student groups they are serving, especially groups who are traditionally underserved and under-resourced,” said Cook. “We [want] to have them provide us with numbers and percentages of students that are being expelled, suspended, and [information on] the punitive practices that we are are trying to move away from as a district.”

According to school district leaders, obtaining such information has been an issue, and has been cited repeatedly as the impetus for school board commissioners taking a stance against the expansion of charter schools in San Francisco in recent months.

Over the past year and as recently as this month, the board has blocked petitions for new or expanding charter schools.

But the issue is not one exclusively faced by SFUSD. In 2016, the NAACP called for a moratorium on the expansion of public charter schools pending reforms to the sector, including assurances that traditional public school are not financially burdened.

SFUSD is required under state law to provide space to charter schools that request it, often resulting in the co-location of traditional and charter schools in the same facilities. Public school advocates say this puts SFUSD’s students at a disadvantage.

“As a school who is being co-located next year, we have a lot of stress about what that will look like,” said Deirdre Elmansoumi, a librarian at the Bayview District’s Malcolm X Academy. “We have to hold all schools accountable to the same laws and we can’t just give our schools away to charter schools.”

Charter schools whose petitions are denied by local districts may appeal to the state board for approval, sidestepping the authority of local school boards.

According to the resolution, charter school boards are also not required to comply with a provision of the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.

“The big piece is governance. We are a public board — have a place to go to have [parents’] concerns heard, and all of our meetings are documented in public…and are accessible to the people that live here,” said Cook, adding that for charter schools with privately appointed governing boards, that public process is largely voluntary. 

The resolution proposes establishing a complaint process for charter school parents and staff. It also aims to close data gaps in regard to student outcomes and attrition rates.

While charter schools must report student data to the state Department of Education, they are not required to “track and publicly report data about their students, internal practices and policies to the same standard as SFUSD,” per the resolution.

Public school advocates say they are particularly troubled by a lack of accountability in regard to data discrepancies regarding student subgroups — English learners, foster youth, homeless students and those with special needs.

Alida Fisher, chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and a candidate for school board, said that her advisory group is “built into the framework of special education law to provide parents oversight, accountability, and to provide a voice to hold the district accountable.”

Fisher said that special education service and budget plans for the district are signed off by the group. Many local charter schools are under the jurisdiction of a Special Education Local Area Plan [SELPA], a regional consortium for special education services, that is separate from SFUSD, complicating the oversight and parent engagement process. 

The school board resolution encourages charter schools to join the SFUSD SELPA, or to void their charters entirely — in effect becoming district operated schools — in a process that has yet to be devised by the superintendent.

The resolution is expected to come before the full board for a vote by September.


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