When San Diego Unified partnered with the city to lease space for a charter school in the planned downtown library — what we’ve come to call the schoobrary — one of the many questions about the unusual partnership was what charter school, exactly, would get the space.

It was an odd situation: Usually charter schools are created and then seek a building. This was a building in search of a charter school.

Well, now there is a group petitioning to start a charter school in the space that includes political heavyweights like library booster Mel Katz and education consultant Scott Himelstein. San Diego Unified will soon mull its proposal to start up a high school in the building.

That raises a whole new set of issues.

New and existing charter schools usually have to apply to get space from school districts. School districts weigh all the requests under a state law that requires them to offer available spaces to charters that prove they are eligible.

It can be competitive: Charters struggle to find affordable spaces suitable for schools, so snapping up a school district lease is considered a coup.

Now a would-be-charter school is presuming that it will get a plum piece of real estate from the school district, before the school board has even given it the green light to exist. It’s even on the cover of its brochure: “A Charter High School In the New San Diego Central Library.”

That has rubbed other charter schools the wrong way, since they haven’t had a chance to apply for the same space. The question: Is it fair for a charter school to be guaranteed a specific space, while other charters have to apply for any space they can get from the school district, and take whatever they get offered? Should other schools get a shot to become the schoobrary?

School district attorney Mark Bresee said the short answer is that the law that guides how charter schools get school district space only applies to property that the district owns. Since San Diego Unified is leasing two floors of the planned downtown library, the law wouldn’t apply. It will be up to the school board to decide if it just gives the downtown space to the charter school that Katz and Himelstein are starting up, or if it asks the school to actually apply alongside other charter schools.

Want more? You can also read the full proposal for the school that could become the schoobrary. If you spot something interesting, let me know or post it here on the blog!

Update: Himelstein said the project is unique because the city and the school district had anticipated that their group would be planning a charter school for the library from the start and deserves some different consideration. The bottom line, Himelstein said, is it’s up to the school board to decide.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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