Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Are charter boards accessible to public?

One side effect of the surge in school choice around Charlotte is that it's getting harder to keep track of public education decisions and spending.

Mecklenburg County currently has about two dozen public school boards,  though only one of them gets much attention. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board,  which has responsibility for more than 144,000 students and controls a $1.2 billion budget, gets regular coverage from the news media and scrutiny from others interested in public education. The folks who serve on that board go before county voters every four years.

But about 10,800 Mecklenburg students,  or roughly 7 percent of the total public-school enrollment,  attend charter schools,  which are run by independent boards.  Members aren't elected but those boards are public bodies,  subject to N.C. Open Meetings and Public Records laws.

I'm not about to add all those charter board meetings to my calendar,  but I got curious enough to check the web sites for the 16 charters currently operating inside Mecklenburg County  (a fuller tally would include those in nearby counties which draw Meck students and the 11 new charters just authorized to open in 2014).  Could I find information about their board members and meetings?

The best site I found was Lake Norman Charter's,  where I easily located information about the board members,  times and locations of meetings,  agendas,  minutes and process for signing up to speak.  Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy also has a notably strong board presence on its site,  though I had to search the school calendar to locate meetings.

At the other end of the spectrum were Invest Collegiate and Crossroads,  where I could find nothing about board members or meetings. You might be able to get that information by calling or emailing,  but nothing about the web pages tip you off that these schools are open to public scrutiny or participation.

The rest fall in between.  I managed to find meeting times and locations for 11 of the 16,  though sometimes it took some hunting.  Some don't list board members at all,  some list only names and some give biographical and contact information.

State law requires public bodies that have web sites to post notice of their meetings  (agendas aren't required).  Amanda Martin,  attorney for the N.C. Press Association,  says charter boards need to be aware of their public role.  "They need to be as transparent as the Mecklenburg County school system,"  she said.

Joel Medley, director of the N.C. Office of Charter Schools, says his staff  "hammers on"  the need for charter board to comply with the Open Meetings law.  Some post meetings on bulletin boards at school,  he said,  but if they have a web site,  the board meetings should be listed.

Regardless of how well those schools post their meetings,  none are likely to get regular media coverage.  Which poses the next question:  What kind of reception do parents,  community members and other interested parties get if they seek to attend charter board meetings?  If you've attended meetings or requested public documents from charters, let me know how it has gone.  Choice and innovation are cause for celebration,  but public spending without public oversight is cause for concern.


BolynMcClung said...


CMS probably sends representatives to those boards irregularly. Maybe CMS would share their reports with the public. Particularly if those boards were as confrontational as past CMS ones.

That brings up a question about L.I.F.T. Foundation. I like that board but have always wondered why a group that has so much power over nine CMS schools doesn't have open meetings?

At a minimum the minutes should be public records.

The reason I bring this up is that in several years there is probably going to be a push either for the public to fund L.I.F.T. or it will become 116th state school district.

I would really like to see it become a separate school district. It would solve so many funding and transportation problems within CMS. It might short circuit the desire for breaking up the district..and Ann could have another Board meeting to attend.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Good another story on charter schools.

Anonymous said...

So almost 11,000 Meck students attend charter schools currently, almost 30,000 attend private schools and another 10,000 are homeschooled.

That should say a lot about our public school system and how dissatisfied parents are.

Anonymous said...

I like how it is the fault of the charter schools over the fact the media does not attend their meetings, and only attends CMS meetings.

I wonder if the board members of those charter schools have stopped beating their spouses yet?

Anonymous said...

Oh and I am not about to add those charter schools to my calender says a lot about them folks, so you should keep your kids away from them too.

Why those charter schools are noting like the big government game in town.

Only let your kids go to place the observer would tread and where they can keep on eye on your kids for you.

That is what we have all learned today. Why just ask MeckEd or any of the other regulars quoted in the observer they too know what is best for your kids.

Anonymous said...

Oh Ann how many Charter School Board Meetings did you attend before this story, or actually at all.

And tell us which ones you attended and wrote about so we can verify it to show that you are not just doing a story slanted against Charter Schools.

Some folks might think you are when all you are is being a good observer employee.

Wiley Coyote said...

LIFT should not receive one more penny of tax dollars than any other public school in Mecklenburg County.

If people with money want to give it away to LIFT in 3 years to sustain it, let them fund it, regardless of whether the program is working or not.

Here it is almost February and we can't even get basic data from CMS - even though they have the information.

Daddy daycare said...

Why should all the charter school articles surprise anyone?

Parents are fed up with CMS, the crazy policies, wacky school start/end times, the lack of consistent and meaningful discipline and the ever expanding role of govt in our children's education (with NO positive results). This is the community's way of saying "enough is enough". It's about time.

Fake Name said...

Parents of those Charter Schools, look over the shoulder of every little decision. Maybe that is why the media is so upset.

And if it bleeds it leads needs a story they can continue to mine the CMS tragedy of lost futures. That is where so much of our problems and future problems in Charlotte Mecklenburg are coming from.

Oh does everyone like my new name, it is like the Sun God person, it is my real name and everything. Maybe Ann will be happy.

Kevin M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veronica said...

Another hit piece from Ann on charter schools.

"I'm not about to add all those charter board meetings to my calendar..." but I won't have any problem writing an article implying they are unsupervised and up to no good.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand some of the negative feedback on this article.

The article doesn't make any accusations it simply points out that the information in some instances isn't available as it should be. Sounds like an easy fix. Thanks for drawing attention to it!

If charter schools are providing good outcomes for kids, great. If public schools are providing good outcomes for kids, great.

Eye on the prize.

BolynMcClung said...

To: WC

You're incorrect about "one more penny."

CMS, and all of public education, has been very good about drawing attention to problems yet haven't been able to follow through. L.I.F.T. is an exception.

Even with the screwed-up graduation reports last year (THEY WERE BOGUS) L.I.F.T. is almost as solid a program as Providence Springs Elementary. The nine schools are under control to the benefit of students. Teachers want to be in the program. However, family participation is thin.

But one complaint you had in your response has turned into a blessing for the success of L.I.F.T.---that is the inability of the State and CMS to report grades.

The number one worry of L.I.F.T. from the beginning was that early reports would not be good. That they would draw attention away from the plan that the project needed three years to form and then show its stuff in the last two years. Sometimes you get lucky. L.I.F.T. gets to hide behind others incompetence.

I hold out hope that CMS won't have to provide extra funding. I think that is the L.I.F.T Board's thinking. The idea that those nine schools could be a separate district with designation as "Low Wealth." Is very appealing…and appropriate.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wiley Coyote said...


You missed my point.

LIFT schools should not receive a penny more based on the same funding criteria of the other schools in CMS.

If LIFT schools have more unsubstantiated poverty students than other CMS schools which leads to more unsubstantiated Title I funds then sure, they are entitled to those additional unsubstantiated dollars.

West Charlotte and West Meck are 5.44 miles from each other. Both schools should get the same tax funding as the other based on the same criteria to disperse funds as the other 158 schools receive.

Also, many of the teachers there received big bonuses to work there.

Some of their salary comes from unsubstantiated Title I funds, but a large chunk comes from the $55 million private dollars.

CMS will never be able to replicate that type of funding and in 3 years, taxpayers should not be funding another penny of the LIFT program beyond the funds they would typically receive.

Anonymous said...

Folks, (1) as one reporter covering public education, Ann cannot possibly track down, attend, and fully report on ALL of the board meetings herself (2) some of the schools do not make the board information easy to access by the public, which they are required to do by law. This is not pointing fingers at charters, it is pointing out facts. If a school accepts public (taxpayer) monies, they need to be openly accountable to the public (taxpayers). Or, become a private school and do whatever they want.

Ann Doss Helms said...

I'm a bit baffled by the notion that this is an anti-charter piece, given that I led with charters doing a good job of public access.

My regularly covering the CMS board but not the charter boards is about volume, not virtue. I have no interest in steering families or dollars away from charters. I think everyone benefits from good public oversight, and I'd love to deliver the same coverage of good, bad and just plain interesting in charters. But the logistics just don't work out. So given the choice between a board responsible for about 93 percent of Meck's public-school students and a board responsible for less than 1 percent (as just about any single charter board would be), that's a math problem that even a journalist can solve.

For the person who asked, I just attended my first charter-board meeting. It was a good use of time for a specific story, and the board members were open and welcoming. What was great to see was a dad who came with constructive suggestions and a desire to get engaged. He said he had just learned that his son's school had open board meetings. That kind of awareness is a good thing for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

You are a very fair and balanced writer.

So since I led with this anything else I say can not be taken in any other way.

Great you attended your first Charter School Board meeting, where was that, which School?

Since as you say you have to cover the 90 some percent at CMS, and since you have not covered any of these Charter meetings before, then you need to attend them for the next few years just to catch up as Charters have been around for some time.

Yet now we see a real focus on them from you and Meckup and that Mecklenburg moves or something or the other, all which know how education should be done.

So it is great you are promising to attend so many to catch up as you want to make up for the lack of the ten percent all these years.

Thanks and we look forward to all the other things you write about when it come to Charters.

Wiley Coyote said...

Ann doesn't have enough time to cover CMS so give it a rest.

There used to be two people covering education until McClatchy made deep cuts due to declines in revenue over the past few years.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I did not know how the observer felt about eduction. I know they cover sports quite well.

Sorry Ann we now know your paper just does not care.

Thanks Wiley for noting that.

Bolyn McClung said...


"My regularly covering the CMS board but not the charter boards is about volume, not virtue."

I know you were referring to yourself and the paper but what I read was the CMS Boards in the past lacked virtue and were full of it(volume.)

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 10:26

Ann Doss Helms said on 3/10/2011...

Wiley, the Observer overall has seen big cutbacks over the course of the recession, and that has affected us all. But within those constraints, I feel very good about the O's commitment to covering education. A couple of years ago, we went from two full-time reporters to one (me). But when school closings and other budget-driven changes in CMS cranked up the volume of news, Eric was brought back onto the beat. We're both experienced reporters working full time (minus occasional furloughs), so that's a strong signal of support.
March 10, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Read more here:

Ann does a great job. Be grateful someone is trying to keep an eye on what's going on.

Anonymous said...

And obama recently said he was constrained by a system the founding fathers put into place. So everyone is just doing their job the best they can.

Anonymous said...

For once, your defense of Ann is a reasonable comment on a subject that really does need coverage. After all the valid complaints of CMS, there will need to be just as much scrutiny of tax dollars going to charters. Since the for profits are gung ho in attacking education issues, then providing "solutions" (Pearson, Power School, Washington Post, charter school chains,Waltons, Bill and Melinda, etc. ad nauseum) that have been just as poorly done as the ACA, then they deserve the electron microscope as much as the rose colored glasses.
Now back to the regularly scheduled rants…….

Shamash said...

"Now back to the regularly scheduled rants……."


I was waiting for that.

(Unlike Beetlejuice, Shamash needs not be invoked by name...)

FWIW, I agree with Wiley about the reporting on this.

Just too much out there for one person to cover anyway.

I'd say it's another reason CMS needs to be broken up into smaller pieces (heh!).

And in general, if public money is being spent, then they should be open about what they're doing.

I do not want to start a precedent of "secretive" charter schools in ANY school system.

And for my loyal followers, I've posted at least one example WHY before.

For the rest...

Well, catch y'all later.

Anonymous said...

surge in school choice, can I get an Amen!

For what it is worth said...

There is no scrutiny of tax dollars going to CMS! We know of the rampant FRL fraud and thus Title I and so on. We know of the rampant waste of money for results in 1.3, strategic staffing, etc. We know of the money just going down the drain when so many other schools could put it to good use on students thirsty for education.

Anonymous said...

If you want to shed some light on these publicly funded Charter schools, why not shed some light on the results they're getting from these public funds?
Compare them to the CMS schools.
Let's look at SAT scores
ATC scores
Graduation percentage
Dropout rate
College acceptance rate
Average college scholarship

The public wants to know thier money is accomplishing something, not the minutes of some stupid board meeting.

Ann Doss Helms said...

5:28, click on the first three map links under the "School Data" list just under my photo. It's not everything you asked for, but some of it.

I also did a November post with a VERY quick-scan analysis of how charters and CMS compared at the middle school level. There are no easy answers, but some interesting bits.

Anonymous said...

Ann, You want data on Charters I would like to see data on CMS that is accurate. Don't get me wrong I am not saying Charters don't need oversight. If your question is can Charters be a "open book" I say yes. In the same agenda can CMS be a open book with positive executive reviewed data ? I don't see that from the board or the management. Debate if your will CMS has 144,000 students (they don't have any idea) and Charters have a smaller number which is true. Data is data it should be very clear and truthful.

Chipper said...

CMS cannot and will not be truthful about data, just look at the 81% graduation rate number that was flaunted around last year.

Anonymous said...

I teach in CMS and I support charter schools, Private and home schools. I Love ST Matthews. Parents and families need to decided what's best for them.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7 17- well put best analysis I have seen in ages regarding local education. What works for the family unit , childs needs and safety. Well put from a insider of CMS.

mary said...

What's missing in CMS is the personal connection between the parents and the teachers. They don't have time to really connect with each and every student and, even with technology, have a hard time communicating effectively with the parents.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call myself an insider. Teachers have very little say in CMS. It is a top down system. I can't even choose what lesson plan template I use. Every time we get a new principal my template changes. I am older and will probably retire here but I am sad to see all the good experienced 30 something teachers leaving. The young guns who come for experience and move back, have always been apart of NC. Usually the 30 so things with roots stay but now they are starting to leave. It makes me sad.