Board Eyes Safeguards for Charter Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Jabeen Bhatti, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. Board of Education officials say they will revamp hiring policies for charter schools after The Washington Times reported last week that the principal of the city's oldest charter school is a felon with a questionable professional history.

"This incident is raising all kinds of questions that we hadn't thought of before," said Brenda Belton, executive director of charter schools for the D.C. school board. "A lot of safeguards are going to be put in place to make sure the schools can be held accountable and so they can thrive."

School board officials say they have no policy on how charter schools should hire staff or check their backgrounds. Each school does its own hiring and checking - part of the independence that comes with being a charter school. Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run enterprises, and 16 of the city's more than three dozen charter schools are overseen by the D.C. school board.

Ms. Belton said she will require that all charter school administrators turn over to her office copies of their staff resumes and background checks. Until now, charter employees did that voluntarily, she said.

"The charter schools operate like mini school systems," said Ms. Belton. "We didn't ask how are they checking out people. That was their own purview. It wasn't even something we thought to look at or thought we should ask about."

The action comes after The Times reported Thursday that Clarence Edward Dixon is a felon with a long arrest record and was on probation for credit-card fraud when he became principal of Options Public Charter School on Capitol Hill in June.

Chancellor Beacon Inc., the Florida-based educational firm that operates Options and one other school in the District, fired Mr. Dixon on Friday, saying he lied to his employers about his criminal background and misrepresented himself. They appointed the school's vice principal, Monique Murdock, as interim principal Thursday.

Mr. Dixon has declined to speak to The Times about his criminal or professional record. He has directed inquiries to Greenbelt lawyer David Alexander, who also has declined to comment.

Some charter school and school board officials say they also are considering ways of standardizing procedures for hiring in a manner similar to those of public schools. For example, public school employees in the District receive background checks from the school system's security department, which performs FBI fingerprint criminal-records checks. A check performed in 2000 uncovered Mr. Dixon's criminal record and prevented D.C. schools from hiring him.

Charter school officials say they may be able to access the D. …