Fearing new South Seattle charter will hurt nearby schools, School Board opposes zoning request

Though the Seattle School Board voiced opposition to the request, the decision ultimately falls to the city of Seattle, not the district.

In an attempt to inhibit the growth of charter schools, the Seattle School Board voted Wednesday to oppose a request to let one charter construct a larger building than city zoning rules allow.

The School Board’s resolution, which passed 6-0 (with board member Zachary DeWolf recusing himself), is aimed at a new high school that the Green Dot charter-school network hopes to build within a few miles of Rainier Beach High, which is part of Seattle Public Schools. Green Dot needs a zoning variance from the city in order to build the three-story, 58,000 square-foot school on the site.

The decision ultimately rests with the city of Seattle, but the board wanted to take a stand. School Board members said they are concerned the Green Dot school would draw students — and funding — away from other public schools, including Rainier Beach, Franklin and Cleveland high schools. Allowing charters to build large schools, board members wrote in the resolution, would be “highly detrimental” to the three high schools’ ability to serve Seattle students.

At the School Board meeting, state Charter Schools Association CEO Patrick D’Amelio urged board members to vote down the resolution, saying that both the charter organization and the school district share a commitment to students.

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Only public schools can request departures from zoning regulations, including those governing building height and distance between a building and a street. But the Department of Construction and Inspections has proposed that the code be clarified to include charter schools. Charters are public schools that are free to students and receive public funding to operate, but they are run by nonprofit organizations and often operate independently of traditional school districts.

But at Wednesday’s meeting, board members argued that charter schools shouldn’t be classified the same as other public schools because they aren’t governed by elected officials, so are less accountable to voters.

“If you’ve had enough of us, you vote us out,” board President Leslie Harris said to the audience, referring to herself and her fellow board members. “That is what public education is…

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