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San Carlos school officials finalized the conversion of Heather Elementary School from a dependent charter school to a traditional public school — a change which officials suggest could eventually sweep across the district.

The San Carlos Elementary School District Board of Trustees unanimously agreed, with Trustee Neil Layton absent, to approve Heather Elementary School’s request to abandon its dependent charter status.

Officials have said in the past the unique classification causes administrative headaches while offering no substantial benefit, motivating the Heather school community to apply for the change.

Trustee Eirene Chen characterized the move as common sense, because the school has for years been effectively functioning as a traditional public school.

“I feel like the move accords with reality because Heather isn’t operating as a charter school,” said Chen, according to video of the meeting Thursday, June 13.

The district operates as a dependent charter system, under which the schools are technically independent according to the state’s definition, but still rely on financing from the county, state and federal government while adhering to a conventional administrative system with direction from a school board and superintendent. Such a structure differs from independent charters, which operate similarly financially but are not overseen by a school district.

In 1993, the pioneering district was the first in the state to adopt charters, and the Charter Learning Center, an independent charter, will preserve its status. All of the other district schools are dependent charters, except Central Middle School.

To operate as a dependent charter, periodically schools must renew their status with the state. Rather than go through the process, Heather Principal Pam Jasso had said the school community would prefer to opt out.

Superintendent Michelle Harmeier has said renewals are on the horizon for other district schools and similar decisions may be made. Officials already started the shift away from dependent charters when Arroyo and Mariposa were launched as traditional schools.

Board President Michelle Nayfack said the transition offers the additional benefit of enhancing transparency for the school community, because dependent charters make listing the school’s achievement on the state’s accountability dashboard more cumbersome. More broadly though, she said the move makes sense for a school which has effectively been a traditional public school for years.

“We are not operating like dependent charters in any capacity and it is straining our resources during this tight budget time,” she said.

Relating to the district’s budget, in other business officials received a presentation from a pollster who may gauge community support for renewing the school’s parcel tax slated to expire in 2021.

No decision was made at the meeting, but officials must determine which election they prefer to float a proposal to extend the measure generating about $2.2 million annually. The issue will return for further discussion at an upcoming meeting.

For her part, Nayfack characterized the forthcoming renewal proposal as a foregone conclusion, citing the essential additional revenue generated by the measure.

“It’s a ‘when,’ not an ‘if,’ because our tax is expiring,” said Nayfack.

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