For D.C. charter schools to survive they must remember they are part of a national movement others want ended

Washington City Paper writer Rachel Cohen has come out with her next in a series of articles meant to destroy our local charter school movement.  This one deals with the financial compensation that some school leaders are receiving. From her article:

“Summary statistics aside, the sector is replete with examples of steep salaries and quick raises. Allison Kokkoros, the head of Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and the highest-paid charter official in D.C., received a 24 percent salary increase between 2015 and 2016, from $248,000 to $307,000. Then, in 2017, she received another 76 percent increase, bumping her compensation to $541,000. Patricia Brantley, head of Friendship Public Charter School, received a 33 percent raise between 2016 and 2017, increasing her pay from $231,000 to $308,000.

Outside of school heads, other high-ranking charter administrators also claimed significant salaries. In 2017, KIPP DC had four administrators making approximately $200,000 annually, and its president earned $257,000. The chair of Friendship, Donald Hense, earned over $355,000 annually between 2015 and 2017, and its CFO earned between $171,000 and $197,000 in each of those years. DC Prep’s Chief Academic Officer earned $203,000 in 2015, and $223,000 one year later. The board chair of AppleTree Early Learning earned over $231,000 annually each year since 2015, reaching $245,000 in 2017. 990 tax forms list another 110 charter administrators earning between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, although this list is likely not comprehensive, as schools are only required to disclose their top five highest-paid employees. 2018 figures are not yet available.

In one remarkable instance, Sonia Gutierrez, the founder and former CEO of Carlos Rosario, who now sits on the school’s board, earned $1,890,000 between 2015 and 2017. Board chair Patricia Sosa, when contacted about this large sum, says much of that had been awarded as deferred compensation from Gutierrez’s time working between July 2010 and December 2015. However, according to tax records, she was also paid an average of $326,000 annually during that period.”

I do not have sufficient information to say if these earnings are justified or not.  But I will make this important point.  Although charters were established in the nation’s capital over twenty years ago, there are still many people who wish they would go away.  The notion still exists that they are stealing money from DCPS and that charters are private schools run with public funds.  The issue is not unique to us locally.  For evidence of the hatred toward charters all you have to do is look at the inflammatory language that was targeted at them during the recent strike by teachers and their union in Los Angeles. Here is one key paragraph from the New York Times in a story written by Jennifer Medina and Dana Goldstein about the work stoppage:

“But the defeat in the court of public opinion is clear: After years of support from powerful local and national allies — including many Democrats — charter schools are now facing a backlash and severe skepticism.”

In order to reduce the likelihood of backlash and skepticism, all financial decisions at charter schools must be viewed through the lens that this information will end up on the front page of the Washington Post or the City Paper.  If the school’s action can withstand this level of scrutiny, then it is appropriate.  But if spending does not pass the smell test for being an ethical and market-based expenditure, then it needs to be abandoned.  No less than the future of our sector is dependent on making these calls correctly.

When I was a board chair I would open many of our meetings with a news article that described controversies involving charter schools.  I wanted the trustees to understand that they were part of something that others found distasteful.  Because of the political environment in which we operate, everyone involved with charters has to conduct business at an exemplary level of integrity.  It is a standard that as courageous professionals we should accept and embrace so that we can continue to provide the exceptionally high quality education our students deserve.

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