It's rumored that another Colorado charter school may give up its charter to become a district-operated choice school. While this certainly wouldn't be the first time, it does raise the question about why a charter school governing board would consider this monumental decision.
Some governing boards have given up their charter in order to become a district-operated magnet school. Most often, this is a segue to completely closing down a school, but it doesn't have to be if the school district is committed to operating the school (with its original mission) for an extended period of time. As a school district's board of education changes, so can the district's mission and philosophy. Future boards may not want a particular educational program operating, especially if it's a low-performing model. Charter schools operate via contract, which district-operated choice schools do not. This means key features of the magnet school and how long it stays operational, is subject to district leadership.
Back in 2002 Rennaisance Charter School in Douglas County was the first to surrender its charter to become a district-operated magnet program using the Montessori model. Later (2005) Center for Discovery Learning, in Jeffco, was facing closure due to lack of academic performance and converted to the Kirk Brady Exploration School. Last year the Pioneer School of Expeditionary Learning in Fort Collins became a district program within a district high school.
Now reports are that the Pueblo School for the Arts and Sciences (PSAS) may be considering giving up its charter in favor of a magnet performing arts school. For people in the charter school community, this could be viewed as "going to the darkside." So why does this option appeal to charter school governing boards?
When the original, hard-driving founders rotate off the board or otherwise leave the school's governance, it's "easier" for board members to have the district take care of things such as financing facilities, staff professional development, administrator supervision and hiring. The charter school goes through a phase of "fatigue" where the people leading the charge no longer want to expend the incredible number of hours it takes to lead a charter school. Sometimes the district may offer to sweeten the deal in order to bring the charter school "into the fold."
Charter schools are not self-sustaining unless new people rise up to assume a leadership role over the school's lifetime. Many charter school board members keep this in mind as they recruit new board members and seat people on board subcommittees. Further, many charter schools convey their philosophy to parents and their communities through repeated newsletter articles, board town hall meetings or daily conversations. Some charter schools, more than others, have clearly defined the core principles that are essential to their charter school's vision. This clarity ensures a common purpose in the future. But more fundamentally, charter school sustainability comes from the quality of the school's leadership.