Michelle Harmeier

Michelle Harmeier

After establishing a legacy as an early adopter of charter schools, the San Carlos Elementary School District is positioned to formally cut ties and transform into a traditional public school system.

The district Board of Trustees will weigh Thursday, June 6, a proposal to convert Heather Elementary School from a dependent charter school to a non-charter public school by electing to not renew the school’s dependent charter status.

If approved, the school will be the next in the district once comprised entirely of charter schools, with the exception of Central Middle School, to revoke its status, and more similar conversions are likely on the horizon.

Superintendent Michelle Harmeier said operating the district as a network of affiliated but technically independent charter schools causes administrative headaches and offers no benefit, motivating officials to consider the shift.

“There’s no incentive, no advantage, and there is a lot more work involved for the parent community, administrators and the teachers to maintain these charters,” she said.

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 district was the first in the state to adopt charters, and the Charter Learning Center, the pioneer school, will preserve its status.

Harmeier said the district was initially willing to operate as a charter system to track down grant funding available at the time. But that money has since dried up, and the district has long operated largely as a traditional school system, despite having to jump through administrative hoops with the state due to its relatively unique status.

Officials already started the shift away from dependent charters when officials agreed the district’s newest campus, Mariposa School, should be launched as a traditional establishment. The same decision was made when Arroyo School was opened as well.

Beyond the operational inefficiencies, Harmeier said the motivation to convert the district is also fueled by most members of the school community assuming San Carlos is just a traditional school system.

“Nobody really understands that we have this burden and we are just suffering so I don’t think there will be any issue about this,” she said.

To that end, she said no one in the school community has raised concerns about the proposal to shift away from dependent charters. Contrarily, she said the Heather Elementary School site council requested the change. If the school board approves the proposal, the conversion will be final, as it was already voted on by the school’s site council and its teachers.

Looking ahead, she said the rest of the district’s dependent charter renewals are up in the coming year and Harmeier expects they too will seek to convert back to traditional programs.

Additionally, she said the conversion is facilitated by officials adopting much of the innovation often associated with charter schools and folding that into the district’s strategic plan, broadening the reach of such programs.

Harmeier said when San Carlos initiated the conversation around the conversion, state education officials referred administrators to other dependent charter districts in California which are considering similar shifts as a model.

Ultimately, beyond the operational advantages offered by doing away with a system which only seemingly causes administrative challenges with no apparent incentives, Harmeier framed the upcoming decision as a matter of common sense.

“It doesn’t make sense that we are a charter, when we are really operating as a whole district,” she said.

The San Carlos Elementary School District Board of Trustees meets 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6, in the district board room, 1200 Industrial Road.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

Note to readers: this article has been amended to note that Central Middle School was never a dependent charter school. 

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