“The charter authorizer here in D.C. now perceives itself as the school board. They are involved in everything and all that we do is regulated. We have lost ourselves.”
The above words were spoken by Friendship Public Charter School founder, chairman, and chief executive officer Donald Hense at an event last week sponsored by the Center for Education Reform. At the time I didn’t know the specific acts of the DC Public Charter School Board to which Mr. Hense was referring. From watching the PCSB for years I gleaned that the charter agreements forged between schools and the regulatory body at the time of charter renewals were often contentious, but this was only conjecture on my part that this is what the Friendship CEO had in mind. But last night viewing the monthly meeting of the PCSB I realized exactly what he was talking about.
Much of the session was spent discussing the co-location of Lee Montessori PCS with Washington Leadership Academy PCS at St. Paul’s College on Fourth Street, N.E. The ruling should have been a simple “yes” but because of concerns from nearby residents of the Chancellor’s Row community the proposal turned into a decision akin to whether to drop the bomb. In fact, the charter board staff met on several occasions directly with homeowners to understand their issues with the proposed facility. In the end the plan was approved, but not before the PCSB imposed five exceedingly detailed steps that the schools will need to take in order to occupy the site.
If we are to believe that charter school autonomy is something the PCSB guards at every turn as it does its work, then this matter could have been handled in a much different manner. The schools should develop their own plan, which then would have received a up or down vote. What I observed last evening was micromanagement of the highest degree.
But its not only the PCSB getting into this act. Recently, D.C. councilman and chairman of the education committee David Grosso introduced the “Planning Actively for Comprehensive Education Facilities Amendment Act of 2016.” While this proposed law deals almost exclusively with DCPS, in announcing the legislation Mr. Gosso brought up the issue of a school deciding to open in close proximity to another with the same academic program as something this act will seek to prevent. Of course, he was referring to the situation in which Harmony PCS located across the street from a DCPS school that shares a STEM focus. One section of the bill states that any local education agency, which all charter schools are by definition, that does not provide requested information to the government “for the development of a Master Facilities Plan and bi-annual supplement, or to provide the Department of General Services with adequate access to facilities to conduct the annual survey as required” will lose their facility funding.
It looks like charters may need to hire their own attorneys to try to protect their Congressionally authorized freedom to operate independently.