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Hearing on proposed Harbor charter school is Jan. 9

The Washington State Charter School Commission will be hosting nine public forums across Washington State in January to hear directly from 19 applicants and to learn more about the educational needs of the prospective charter communities. The forums are a part of the official evaluation process and are designed to ensure that Charter commissioners are able to hear and learn from members of the communities where the charters would reside.

One of those public forums will be held in Hoquiam and pertain to the proposed Evergreen Leadership Academy in Grays Harbor. The hearing is 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan 9 at Hoquiam High Little Theatre, 201 W. Emerson in Hoquiam.

Charter applicants will be given 10 minutes for presentations, after which the floor will be open for 30 minutes of public comment. Community members who wish to comment publicly will be limited to two minutes each in order to accommodate as many participants as possible. Speakers will be randomly selected in a lottery prior to the meeting. Individuals or groups wishing to provide written comment may send their statements to the Washington State Charter School Commission, P.O. Box 40996 Olympia, 98504-0996. Comments may also be hand delivered to the public forums. Written comments are limited to one page (12 point font).

Charter schools are independent public schools operated by non-profit organizations that are allowed more flexibility to be innovative with their educational program and are held accountable for improved student achievement. Broadly, charters must adhere to the same state learning standards, accountability goals, health, safety, and non-discrimination laws, must hire certificated teachers, must follow generally accepted accounting principles and are subject to state financial audits. They are free and open to all students.

Of the 19 charter school applications received by the state on Friday, only one — a military-style program for at-risk youths — would be on Grays Harbor.

What would be called the Evergreen State Leadership Academy, to open in the fall of 2014, would serve mainly the Twin Harbors but also some students from Mason and Thurston counties for grades six through 12.

The school would be an extension of the Pioneer Youth Corps that currently operates the Willamette Leadership Academy, a fully accredited military charter school that has two campuses, one for middle school and one for high school, in Springfield, Ore., according to Catherine Lay, the original founder of the more-than-20-year-old program, along with her husband, William Lay. The program currently serves about 270 students. The Lays retired from that program and moved to Aberdeen to be closer to their daughter, who is in the military.

The school would be located in the old Grays Harbor Historical Seaport building’s workshop and classroom site located in Aberdeen across from Sierra Pacific Industries.

That proposed charter school and the other 18 come as the state wait to see results of a King County Court case that challenges the state’s charter school law approved last year by voters. A coalition of educators, parents and community groups claims the law is unconstitutional and will interfere with public school funding and Legislative authority. The state Attorney General’s Office, representing voters, argues that the new law is constitutional and enhances education.

Both have placed emphasis on Washington state Supreme Court decisions on state education last year, which declared the state is violating the constitution in failing to fully fund education. The Legislature is ordered to make “steady, real and measurable progress” each year, and to fully fund public education by the year 2018.

The new law allows a maximum of eight charter schools to open each year, and does not have to choose a minimum by their February deadline. Lay argues that as the only proposal in the Twin Harbors area, they fit the description of the at-risk, and rural populations the new charter law targets.