Is leaving the school the only option? Aren’t districts responsible for charters? After all, districts sign the charter contracts. More often than not, the answer is ‘No’. Why is that? Who is in charge?
Many charters decide which rules to enforce and bend laws they do not like. When parents disagree, to whom do they turn? The charter governing board is supposed to make certain that laws and procedures are followed. They don’t always.
Here some parents turned to the local school district for help. They reasoned that a charter school was a public school so the district would ensure the law was followed; management problems would be corrected. It turns out that children have to be in danger or the charter has to be nearing bankruptcy before the district can do much. Why is that?
Charter governing boards serve as the charter petitioner and holder. They have legal and financial obligations for the school. They develop policies to serve the school’s mission. They ensure contract, statutory and regulatory requirements are met. The school principal reports to the board.
In practice, board members are appointed by the people who run the school. The local school district does not approve them. Too often, this results in board actions that are a rubber stamp not a cross check of charter school practices. When there is a conflict, there can be a free-for-all.
We looked up the rules and realized that breaking rules may have few consequences. First, let’s look at what should be:
What are charter board duties? Florida law requires that charter boards are trained to:
- negotiate charter agreements.
- oversee school operations.
- adopt and maintain operational budgets.
- ensure annual audits.
- submit monthly financial statements and corrective actions.
- submit annual progress report to sponsor.
- adopt standards of ethical conduct and provide training. (The Code of Ethics of the Education Profession in Florida is here).
- adopt procedures and report incidents involving instructional personnel and administrators that affect health, safety and welfare of students, and include an explanation of liability protections.
- appoint parent representatives who may or may not be a board member. See Florida law changes 2011.
What laws regulate charter boards? There is a Q and A about the 2009 legislative changes that impact charter school boards. These specifically include nepotism and conflict of interest laws. The requirements specify that:
- Nepotism is prohibited. Board members or spouses may not be employees of the charter school. If appointed prior to the implementation of the 2009 law, they may finish their terms. See also: 1002.33(26) (3) Florida Statutes
- Two board meetings per year must be held in the district as per 1002.33 FS.
- Conflict of interest laws apply to federal grants awarded. Board members or immediate families must not benefit.
- Boards must operate as a non-profit.
- Board members and personnel must have a level 2 finger printing check for criminal offenses. Instructional personnel and administrators with direct student contact must have a prior employment check. 1012.32(2)(b) FS
The duties of a charter governing board are spelled out. What is missing is the oversight responsibility if those boards are not doing their jobs. Problems have to be so bad that the children’s safety is at risk or the school is not able to pay its bills before the district can effectively intervene. Districts can call charter board members and discuss problems, perhaps, but they lack authority to require solutions. So, if there is cronyism in the charter school and its board, the parents just have to vote with their feet.
National organizations have recommendations to resolve the problems. Our legislature has to be willing to enact them. Watch for the post that summarizes what can and should be done.