A Clear Conflict of Interest in Charter School Proposal

Article excerpt

The next time state lawmakers tweak the rules for charter schools, they should require a course in board ethics as a prerequisite.

For some applicants, the subject seems about as easy to grasp as a correspondence course in advanced calculus.

Last week, for example, one charter school entrepreneur pressed his case to the Duval County School Board for a 10-year contract. But by the end of the night, his approach toward educating youths seemed far less innovative than his approach toward his job security.

Not only did he want to be the administrator of the school but he wanted to serve on its governing board as well. Unless he planned to abstain from voting on board actions regarding him, such a setup would have given him a vote on his salary and a say in his evaluation. And if the board ever decided it wanted to fire him, he could wind up as the swing vote.

He received a three-year contract after promising the School Board that he wouldn't serve on the charter school's board. But while he might have been a bit murky on board ethics, he was clear on one thing: Nothing in the state law that governs charters expressly bans administrators from serving on the boards of schools that they run.

It's a loophole that only F. Lee Bailey could love.

It seems that in the rush to create charter schools -- schools that are publicly funded but governed by volunteer boards -- lawmakers did a good job of minimizing bureaucracies that govern class sizes, curriculum and other educational aspects that make it tough for some students to learn in traditional schools. They did such a good job, in fact, that some charter school entrepreneurs now seem to believe that freedom from bureaucracy equals freedom from checks and balances as well.

It is an equation that can lead to disaster.

In January, Impact Academy, a charter school in Northwest Jacksonville, closed after operating for less than six months and accumulating debts of more than a million dollars. …