Paying more attention to charter school boards

The increased scrutiny over shuttered charter schools have state lawmakers looking for ways to ensure that the people who apply to open and run new schools are up to the task.

Charter school closures aren’t always bad things, but a recent investigation by the Naples Daily News found dozens of charters have closed “amid poor financial management, accounting and oversight.” Those are the kind of closures lawmakers — as well as charter school advocates — hope to prevent.

A new article in Education Next suggests the responsibility for those sorts of problems lies squarely with charter school boards,  the non-profits, municipalities or other organizations that oversee the schools and in some cases hire management companies that run their day-to-day operations.

Whose responsibility is it when a charter school gets into trouble—when its students aren’t learning or it misses its enrollment targets or money runs short or it closes?

Everyone I asked gave the same answer. “I’d point right to the board,” said Mark Lerner, who sits on the board of Washington Latin charter school. “The failure of a charter is the failure of the board,” said Tom Keane, who directs strategic initiatives at AppleTree, an early-learning charter with six D.C. campuses. “Every closure ultimately can get traced back to the board not doing the job,” added Marci Cornell-Feist, a Massachusetts-based education consultant and entrepreneur.

Charter legislation passed last week by the Florida House and up for a committee vote later this week in the Senate would bring charter school boards under greater scrutiny before they open new schools. SB 1552 and HB 7037 would require charter schools to disclose the names of governing board members, as well as the financial and performance history of any charter schools they may be associated with, when they pply to local school boards.

The article looks at the push by organizations like BoardOnTrack and Charter Board Partners to find qualified people and train them for positions on charter school boards in places like Washington, D.C. They also hold boot camps where recruits practice mock board meetings and learn about leadership evaluation and bone up on the nuts and bolts of corporate governance.  In short, they prepare future board members to help lead what are, in effect, multi-million dollar startups.

Author June Kronholz says she repeatedly heard the number of charter school closures will decline as the sector becomes more mature “In part,” she writes, “that’s because authorizers, bankers, and donors are paying increasing attention to how well the schools are governed.”

Patrick Gibbons contributed to this post.