Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Governing Boards: Advice, Part 6

I've heard numerous stories in the past few weeks about charter school governing boards behaving badly. I was recently asked what's better: a board of parents or a board of professionals from the community? Colorado has always been unique in that the charter school movement has been driven by grassroots involvement of parents. It wasn't until about 2004 when the state Charter School Institute formed that we really had any significant presence from the management company sector of the market.

Whereas the early charter schools to open in Colorado all had parent governing boards, that has changed over time. Management companies often don't want to deal with the instability of having parent representation on the board and so choose non-parents from the community. These are often professionals or elected officials that don't want to get involved in the day-to-day operations, as parents tend to do when their own child is involved.

What's ideal? Probably a blend. Parents should have a meaningful role in their child's education, but oftentimes parents cannot separate their role of parent from their role on a governing board. That said, there have been numerous parents in the state who have done that very well. They don't make a decision for the school based on their individual child. They realize they don't wear their charter school board member hat unless they're in the board room. Many of these parents have made incredible sacrifices in order to see their charter school get opened and off to a successful footing.

There's also a lot to be said for involving community leaders in a public charter school. Other states even require this type of board member. These types of board members represent their school well in the community and oftentimes are successful fundraisers. It's not uncommon for "professional" boards to meet only quarterly and not the monthly or semi-monthly typical for parent governing boards.

Regardless of the composition of the governing board, training is imperative! Even individuals that have already served on numerous boards, need to learn about issues relevant to charter schools. Colorado is the only state with online board training modules specific to charter school governance. The website, boardtrainingmodules.org, is invaluable in providing the foundation for solid governance.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Charter School Management Organizations in Colorado

The Colorado Charter Schools Act (C.R.S. 22-30.5 et seq) doesn't specify what type of an entity can be party to a charter school contract. Although it's never happened in the state, a for-profit company would be permitted to charter with a school district authorizer.
SB12-067 requires that only nonprofits can charter. This could either be a founding board that has incorporated in order to start a new charter school or a charter management organization (CMO). CMOs are generally defined as nonprofit, differentiating themselves from for-profit, education management organizations or EMOs.
There are currently CMOs that have chartered directly with an authorizer in Colorado. While it's permissible for a CMO to hold individual charters, it's also possible for a CMO to oversee independent governing boards that hold the charter. There is no predetermined structure that's best. It's totally up to the authorizer and the charter school applicant.
SB 067 grandfathers in schools established before August 6, 1997 to accommodate charter schools that never incorporated and therefore became nonprofits. Some of the earlier charter schools considered themselves a public school and therefore getting separate nonprofit status was redundant. There has been differing legal opinions about this over the years. In recent years almost all of the newly established charter schools became nonprofits. In fact, the state Charter School Institute law requires nonprofit status for its schools.