California Charter School Hit With ‘Poison Pill’

Published March 1, 1998

If a California voter initiative favoring more charter schools qualifies in June for the November ballot, an award-winning charter school will have to close its doors on June 30 because of a “poison pill” provision inserted by the San Luis Coastal Unified School District board into the school’s charter renewal document. Ironically, the initiative would prevent such arbitrary closure of charter schools.

The Charter Public School Ballot Initiative is currently at the California Attorney General’s office for Title and Summary, but supporters anticipate it will be released soon and move to the signature-gathering phase. The initiative, targeted for the November 1998 ballot, was written by Don Shalvey, a 30-year veteran of California public schools, and businessman Reed Hastings.

“Once the initiative passes, this kind of political blackmail will no longer terrorize charter schools,” said Shalvey, a superintendent of a school district with a successful charter school. “I’m sure the charter school is frustrated with this action,” he added, “but in my experience school boards will eventually do the right thing.”

Shalvey and Hastings both called for repeal of the “poison pill” and committed their campaign’s full resources to saving the pill’s target, the popular Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School. The “poison pill,” buried in the district’s renewal of the charter, provides that, “In the event the [Charter Public School] Initiative is qualified . . . on or before June 30, 1998, the [Bellevue Santa-Fe] Charter shall terminate and be of no further force and effect as of June 30, 1998.”

“It is time to stop resenting the success of charter schools and to start emulating them,” said Hastings.

The aim of the Initiative is to repeal the 100-school limit of California’s 1992 charter school legislation, and to provide the legal and financial framework to support the growth of more than 2,000 quality charter schools. That framework includes a streamlined approval process and clarification of the constitutionality of reasonably independent charter schools.

The Initiative also provides that parents of the worst public schools would be allowed to bring in an already successful charter operator to operate the site. To enforce strict accountability, a procedure is established for closing charter schools that do produce the superior results required of them.

Charter schools are innovative public schools organized by teachers, parents, and the community. They offer parents new choices for their children’s education, with each charter school adopting a specific educational approach to improve student learning. Charter schools in California commit to enroll any child who applies, and to have their pupils achieving at higher levels than similar pupils in the regular public schools within three years. If they fail, their charter is revoked.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].