Monitoring Charter Schools Better Accountability Needed, Board Says

Article excerpt

The Duval County School Board has demanded that the school system improve its monitoring of charter schools to prevent a repeat of problems that occurred with Impact Academy.

School system staff admit they have been reluctant to monitor charter schools through site visits and other techniques because they believed the charter schools would view such actions as micromanagement.

Charter schools are funded with tax dollars and are managed by their own governing boards. The schools are free to hire their own staff, establish their own curriculum and manage their own finances. In exchange, they are expected to improve student achievement.

The hope is that by being exempt from much of the typical bureaucracy, charter schools will develop new educational methods and compel traditional public schools to improve.

But the School Board closed Impact Academy, a charter school serving 300 high school students, because the school had management and fiscal problems. A recent financial report shows that the non-profit company behind the school owes more than $1 million to vendors.

School system administrators have said they were unable to intervene sooner because state law prevents them from getting involved. The law states that charter schools may be monitored by school systems even though they are supposedly free from most government oversight.

The school system does require charter schools to file quarterly reports, but school system files show that Impact never filed its report.

At a workshop last week on charter schools, School Board members stressed that this inaction should have been a red flag that there were problems at the school.

"It is our responsibility to make sure the public moneys we are distributing are protected," board member Gwen Gibson said.

Gibson said the school system needs to better define its role with charter schools and determine how to adequately monitor them.

Board members asked whether school system staff visited Impact after the quarterly report was never filed.

Evelyn Tukes, director of the school system's charter school office, said she and her staff did not make any site visits to Impact after the reports were not filed, even though they had heard about the financial problems.

Superintendent John Fryer said the school system has taken a "hands-off" approach because that is what the charter schools wanted.

Fryer said there is often an "us-vs.-them" mentality held by most charter schools, and the school system does not want to be viewed as interfering.

Instead of site visits, the school system relies on annual reports to document the inner workings of charter schools, Fryer said.

Board members questioned how an annual report is supposed to reveal problems at a school. …