Public awareness of charter schools is a subject the Hillsboro School Board has wrestled with since the beginning of the school year, with board members voicing philosophical differences on whether the school district should actively seek charter school proposals.

The conversation started in September when board member Erik Seligman raised the issue at a board work session. Seligman later drafted a resolution calling for charter school proposals. The result was a lively round of discussion, with several board members objecting to the idea or the way the proposed document was worded.

Seligman acknowledged a formal resolution has been tabled for now, but his goal has not changed.

“The resolution is not important,” he said. “What matters is getting the word out that we’re open for proposals.”

Seligman was elected to the board in May after running on a platform that called for more educational choices in the Hillsboro School District. He said his conversations with parents in the community indicated a desire for alternatives to the traditional system offered by public schools.

“They want options for their children,” said Seligman, whose daughter attends Carden Cascade Academy, a private school in Hillsboro.

City View Charter School, currently Hillsboro’s sole public charter school, serves K-8 with one class for each grade. Classroom size is capped at 24, so the school has an enrollment of 216 students. According to City View records, the school has a waiting list of about 280.

“We could build and fill two more charter schools with no problem,” Seligman pointed out, citing City View’s triple-digit waiting list as an example of community support.

Other school board members are uncomfortable with the notion of requesting proposals.

“I don’t like the idea that we are open for business,” said board chair Kim Strelchun during an Oct. 1 work session. “I think it says to teachers and principals we don’t know what we are doing and someone else can do it better. I don’t agree with that.”

Charter school development often brings with it a clash of ideology. Some stakeholders feel it is a recrimination of the public school system, while others cite dissatisfaction with the education offered inside that system.

Board member Glenn Miller said he has reservations about both arguments.

“I want the emotion out of it,” he said. “Our mission is to provide the best possible education we can. We need to be open to new ideas, but that doesn’t mean we’re turning our backs on what we already have.”

Miller supports the idea of additional charter schools in Hillsboro, but added they are only one of many options the board needs to consider.

“The No. 1 job for our board is to improve our schools,” Miller says. “We need to alleviate crowding with creative solutions. I’m not sure that charter schools would resolve that. We need to make teachers more effective.”

The final form of the board’s charter school document is yet to be determined. Miller said he would support a simple statement with easy-to-understand language that describes the district’s willingness to evaluate proposals.

A consensus by the board on this matter will not change district policy, which already allows for proposals of new charter schools. A state statute provides application guidance for prospective charter schools and specific steps a district must take to evaluate a proposal.

“The district has to make sure the financial model they are proposing makes sense,” explained Adam Stewart, the district’s chief financial officer. “During the evaluation process, the law tells us what to do.”

Several charter schools are developed statewide every year, but the Hillsboro School District has not received a charter proposal in the past three years, Stewart said.

A charter school receives state funding as a pass-through from the sponsoring school district based on average daily membership (ADM), or the number of students attending classes each day.

City View is now in its 10th year. Besides teaching curriculum to meet state benchmarks, the school offers students an experiential experience that extends the classroom, said Jeff Hays, the school’s executive director.

Second-graders took a walking tour of Hillsboro this year to research a book they are writing on the city’s history. Fifth-graders went on an overnighter to Bend for its darker skies to observe stars with an expert from Oregon State University, and also did some geology research there to help them with their state assessment tests.

“We have pretty robust science scores,” Hays noted.

Hays said he believes the state statute his school operates under is designed mostly to placate people who support alternatives to public education, and his advice to a fledgling charter school is to differentiate itself by offering an educational contribution that is not already provided by the school district.

“The law is written to not really provide a lot of strength for charter schools,” Hays said.

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