The D.C. charter board should make its schools adhere to the open meeting law

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein has an article published today questioning whether charter schools in the nation’s capital should increase their transparency by operating under open meeting laws and being subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The answer to the first part of this equation is simple. I agree that individual charter board meetings should be open to the public. When I was board chair at Washington Latin PCS and the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, parents would sometimes ask when they were allowed to attend our monthly meetings of the trustees. I would reply that these sessions were open to the public. Only rarely did someone other than a board member come, but my response diffused a situation that creates tension with parents when it appears that decisions are being made in secret. At Latin, we also published board meeting minutes on the school’s website.

The part about complying with FOIA requests is more difficult, simply because charters often do not have the administrative resources to be able to satisfy the inquiries. I would consider a proposal in which the DC Public Charter School Board assists schools in providing information, meeting certain criteria.

Scott Pearson stated in Ms. Stein’s article that the PCSB is always trying to increase the transparency of the sector, and I believe that is true. Currently, online visitors to the board’s can view school budgets, 990 forms, audits, and financial analysis of schools’ balance sheets.

Ms. Stein also included the opinion about this subject of Todd Ziebarth, the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s senior vice president for state advocacy. He “said the District is an anomaly and in most jurisdictions, the public can attend charter school board meetings — and request records from individual schools. “

Mr. Pearson remarked to the Post reporter that a revised version of the board’s proposed transparency policy will be presented at its February 25th meeting. This will be the same night that the consolidation of Cesar Chavez PCS’s campuses will be discussed. Should be an extremely interesting evening.

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