Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Charter School Board Discussion in the St. Vrain Valley School District

There's a controversy brewing in the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) over a proposed change to district policy that would require charter school board members to live within school district boundaries. This would be the first time a district will have imposed such a requirement.

According to a Longmont Times-Call editorial, this district policy provision is not warranted because the district's charter schools are doing well and the editorial questions why this change is proposed after a proposed charter school application last year had out-of-district founders.

Last year the Lotus School for Excellence proposed a new charter school using a model similar to the school they already operate in Aurora. The application was denied, in part due to their founders -- and proposed board members -- being from outside the school district. In the Lotus proposal they intended to use their existing governing board to also oversee the new school in Longmont.

It's apparent that the vital issue with this whole debate is where should the line be drawn in charter school authorizing responsibilities. This subject came up in the last legislative session when certain lawmakers wanted to see "something done about" schools like the Cesar Chavez School Network. The top three administrators of the Network were eventually terminated, but it was disclosed that they had extraordinarily high salaries and little accountability. Several lawmakers questioned who had the responsibility to ensure things like that didn't happen.

There are differing viewpoints on where the line should be drawn between charter school accountability and "regulation creep." The charter school philosophy embodies the right of a charter school to operate independently, in exchange for increased results. Leaders in the charter school community have expressed concerns over the years that gradually charter school autonomy has been eroded. In fact, this was an issue in the most recent charter school appeal hearing before the State Board of Education.

This debate about autonomy is likely to be a hot topic at the committee hearings established as a result of HB10-1412, which creates a committee to review charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards. The committee will meet this fall and ultimately, have recommendations for the State Board by August 1, 2011.

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