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School board President Richard Barrera said today that San Diego Unified will allow any charter school to apply for the space it is leasing in the planned downtown library, instead of guaranteeing the space to a newly proposed charter school that was designed specifically for the library.

Charter schools normally apply for spaces owned by the school district. They have a right to unused facilities, but do not get to choose which facilities they are offered.

But school district officials say the library space does not fall under that law because the district will lease it, not own it. Backers of a newly proposed charter school, Downtown Charter High, said it would make sense to just grant the leased space to their school, because they specifically crafted it for the library.

Its creators included library boosters who helped usher the schoobrary into being, such as Mel Katz and Scott Himelstein, and its draft brochures already advertise the library location as a selling point.

Yet Barrera said the board wanted to give all charters a fair shot at the space, instead of automatically giving it to Downtown Charter High. The school board will decide first on whether to allow Downtown Charter High to open at all and then allow charters to apply for the library space through a separate process.

“We anticipate that we’ll have other charter schools that will want to apply for that space,” Barrera said.

Board member Katherine Nakamura agreed that it was only fair to let other schools apply for the spot, but added that the Downtown Charter High proposal would be tough to beat. The charter plan focuses on learning through projects, internships and other personalized experiences for students downtown.

The school board took its first look at the Downtown Charter High proposal tonight, but school district staff is still reviewing its petition before the board decides whether to let it open in 2013. Charters are publicly funded schools that are independently run. School districts like San Diego Unified decide whether or not they can open based on legal criteria, such as whether they have a sound budget.

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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