After months of back-and-forth, the state charter-school commission spelled out what First Place Scholars must do if it wants to continue receiving public money to operate a charter school.

Share story

Members of the state commission governing charter schools on Wednesday laid out what First Place Scholars, the state’s first charter, must do if the school wants to continue receiving public money this fall.

Commissioners unanimously approved what they say is a final set of non-negotiables for the Seattle school, which has struggled since converting from a private school to a publicly funded but independently run charter last fall.

“If we are, in essence, going to have the confidence to allow the school to open for its second year again to serve kids, we believe strongly these things have to be in place,” said Steve Sundquist, the commission’s chairman.

The concerns are not new. The commission wants to see evidence that First Place is providing special-needs students with services required under federal law. The group also wants to know that the school has a plan to make up services for students who missed them this year while the school, at times, did not have a special-education teacher. Commissioners are asking for proof that the program for students learning English as a second language is working. They want assurances that, despite the group’s shaky finances, the budget for next year is viable.

If these conditions aren’t met by June 15, the commission says it will likely revoke the school’s contract.

“We won’t want the school to reopen in September if it cannot meet its obligation under the law and its charter to students,” Sundquist said.

Despite some commissioners saying at a meeting last month they had waited long enough for the school to fix its problems, the commission did not revoke the charter, in part because many wanted to give First Place another chance.

Dawn Mason, who became School Board president at First Place after the previous head resigned in the fall, said after Wednesday’s meeting the school needs more time to address issues.

“We will answer them,” Mason said. To revoke the charter and disperse the roughly 80 students to other schools would be traumatic for the children, she said.

It’s been “a learning year” for everyone, Mason said, including the charter commission.

Demi Garayt, whose son is in second grade at First Place, said the school’s leadership — which took over when the former principal and more than half the board resigned in the fall — inherited a school in disarray.

Fixing First Place, she said, will take time “that hasn’t been fully allotted.”

Her special-needs son is now reading on par with his peers, she said, and he wakes up on Saturdays asking if he can go to school. She said the school is making up special-education services he missed during the year.

Garayt said she hopes her daughter, who will be in kindergarten this fall, can attend First Place, too.

The commission had originally planned to meet again June 16 — one day after the school’s deadline — but said Wednesday it would delay further action until a regularly scheduled meeting June 18, so that the school’s principal can speak to the commission in person.