Opinion
School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Who’s in Charge at Charters?

August 10, 2010 3 min read
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To the Editor:

Your July 14, 2010, issue features a Commentary by Greg Richmond concerning charter school boards and their relationships with education management organizations (“Who’s in Charge at Charter Schools?”).

Mr. Richmond completely misstates the content and purpose of the 2006 Ohio legislation he refers to in his essay, involving the replacement of a charter school board. He specifically mentions our company as an example of “turning accountability on its head.” I wish that he had talked to me, or to White Hat’s chief executive officer, to understand what actually is occurring.

Mr. Richmond should agree that a rogue charter school board can exist. The issue is, what can the legislature do about that? The Ohio legislature decided that, in the event a contract with an education management organization was terminated, an appeal could be filed with the school’s sponsor, who would then determine whether that termination was appropriate.

The sponsor would have the power to replace the board if that decision were necessary. At that point, the education management organization would have the right to recommend trustees for the board. However, only the sponsor has the final authority of appointment.

Possibly some other method could have been used to deal with the question of rogue boards. But the Ohio legislature decided on this method.

The statement that White Hat Management has taken action “to remove the boards of 10 charter schools” is erroneous and absolutely untrue. Neither White Hat nor any education management organization has that power.

These schools did file a lawsuit contending that this provision of the state charter law is unconstitutional. That case is pending in the Franklin County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas.

On June 30, 2010, an order was entered that the current arrangement between the present boards and White Hat Management will continue during the pending litigation until those issues are resolved. All parties consented to this arrangement.

In essence, this is a contract dispute between these boards and White Hat Management. Resolution of that contract dispute is a primary thrust of the plaintiffs’ litigation.

The Commentary’s recommended six points for strong governance are complied with by White Hat and its boards.

The sticking point between us and the author is whether a board is entitled to delegate all or part of its authority to provide services to the school. The board can and should set policy and then oversee the EMO’s progress in carrying this out. Boards are interested volunteers who seek good educational outcomes for the children in their schools.

The contract between the EMO and the board must lay out the respective responsibilities of each side. The boards cannot and must not try to run the day-to-day operations of the schools.

Charter schools do not generally have the capital necessary to start a new school. All 10 of these lawsuit schools were started from scratch. Under Ohio law, the several million dollars required to start a school is not available to the school.

In each of these schools, the startup capital was provided by White Hat Management.

For over 10 years, we have operated the schools under a management agreement which clearly defines our respective responsibilities.

Unfortunately, some trustees become unhappy with school operations from time to time and for various reasons, good and bad. These differences have to be resolved, so that the education of the children can continue. We have followed that path, and we will continue to do so.

David L. Brennan

Founder

White Hat Management Group LLC

Akron, Ohio

To the Editor:

Greg Richmond’s comments about the importance of charter school autonomy in choosing and working with education management organizations are valid, important, and timely (“Who’s in Charge at Charter Schools?,” Commentary, July 14, 2010). At EdisonLearning, we value his perspective and insights, and are committed to partnering with charter schools in ways that respect their independence and promote their strength.

Mr. Richmond’s six criteria for strong governance and oversight establish a baseline for a broader discussion of these issues. As a leading school management organization, we place a high priority on charter operations and autonomy, respecting the authority of charter boards to govern their schools. We know that strong, independent, and well-informed boards are an essential element of consistently high-quality charter schools.

Kudos to Mr. Richmond for sharing his insights on building strong management relationships and effective schools.

Jeff Wahl

President and Chief Executive Officer

EdisonLearning

New York, N.Y.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week as Who’s in Charge at Charters?

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