Michelle Harmeier

Michelle Harmeier

San Carlos school officials are slated to take a first step to potentially transition from a system comprised of dependent charter schools to a more traditional district format.

The district Board of Trustees will vote Thursday, June 13, to allow Heather Elementary School to abandon its dependent charter status, which Superintendent Michelle Harmeier has said could be the first in a series of similar decisions.

The district was a pioneer in adopting dependent charters decades ago, but the system no longer offers benefits and causes administrative headache said officials requesting the transition.

Heather Elementary School Principal Pam Jasso told school board members last week that the move would likely go unnoticed by much of her school community, since many are unaware the school maintains its relatively unique status.

“The majority of my school community barely remembered that we are chartered,” said Jasso, according to video of the Thursday, June 6, meeting. “That includes the teachers as well as the parents — they just don’t see our charterness anymore.”

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. 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, Jasso said the school community would prefer to opt out. 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.

The district initially sought grant money available to dependent charters but, since the financing is no longer available, officials claim there is no incentive to keep the title.

“This is really just kind of cleaning up some operational challenges that we have by having this old, dependent charter status,” said Harmeier.

For the part of trustees, many suggested they supported the proposal.

“I feel like we are all on the same page, and I really like the idea of simplifying the operations, so it is less burdensome on our administrative staff,” said Trustee Eirene Chen.

Board President Michelle Nayfack shared a similar perspective, suggesting the transition would clarify a relatively confusing status for parents and members of the school community.

“I’m very excited to also just clean up the structure legally so that we can really be straightforward with our community members about how we operate here,” she said. “So I’m all for it.”

In other business at the meeting, officials also discussed a timeline for renewing the district’s existing parcel tax. The tax expires in 2021, and officials must determine whether they wish to float a ballot initiative in the spring or fall of 2020, said Harmeier.

Assuming trustees are interested in pursuing the tax renewal, groundwork should be laid reaching out to build community support for the measure, said Harmeier.

Pollsters are slated to attend the upcoming meeting to discuss renewal strategies for the tax which generates about $2.2 million for the district, said Harmeier.

The San Carlos Elementary School District Board of Trustees meets 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, in the district office, 1200 Industrial Road.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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