Charter Schools
 

After cheating report, ReNEW board begins work of reform; whistleblower policy set

After state officials found special-education and testing policy violations at one of ReNEW Schools six charter campuses last spring, the network’s board of directors is under orders from the state to make sweeping reforms, including how the board itself operates.

Learning the name of the state policy governing charter schools was a good start Monday night. It’s Bulletin 126.

“What is bulletin 126?” one member asked, quickly echoed by the some others at a Governance Committee meeting. Some members have served for more than five years.

Six of the 15 ReNEW board members joined CEO Colleen Mackay to discuss several governance-related tasks in its corrective plan. The state Education Department laid out the plan in late January as part of a 70-page report of findings and supporting documents related to wrongdoing at SciTech Academy.

For example, the state said by May 1 the network must ensure that its board is composed of “members who have extensive experience in school board governance and/or a demonstrated track record in fields relevant to charter school governance and operations.”

The committee members focused mainly on bylaw revisions and the charges of each of the board committees. They discussed a bylaw section on lower and upper limits of the number board members, currently set at five to 17. They debated changing the upper limit to 15; they couldn’t quite decide.

Bulletin 126 of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is unequivocal: “§2101. D. 1. The board of directors of each charter operator shall consist of no fewer than seven members.”

Mackay briefly updated them on a new whistleblower policy for the network. Last spring the network withheld the name of one or more individuals from The Lens based on its whistleblower policy, which promises confidentiality.

Mackay said the new policy had been reviewed by lawyers and state-appointed monitor James Meza.

“It lists a number of things that can be reported. It doesn’t necessarily say [special education] violations,” board President Brian Weimer said. “I’m just wondering if we’re being too restrictive.”

To encourage employees to come forward anonymously with concerns, the network has set up a hotline through a third party to allow employees to report suspected issues. The tip line carried a one-time set-up fee of $250 and costs $500 annually, spokesman Scott Satchfield said.

Member Kathy Conklin thought the policy should be narrow so it didn’t turn the hotline into a general complaint line, but was reserved for serious issues.

“I think we should add academic issues in there,” member Liza Sherman said of the policy which clearly addressed financial and other misdeeds but didn’t specifically name academic or special education issues.

Mackay said the policy will be reviewed with employees at test trainings and will go out in the staff newsletter this Friday. ReNEW spokesman Scott Satchfield said the policy did not need to be approved by the board. It’s unclear if the administration would take the board’s suggestion of adding ‘academic’ issues to the policy.

Additionally, the network submitted its testing security policy to Meza. Weimer is reviewing a contract for independent state-testing monitors, a measure ReNEW and all other RSD charters pledged to implement in light of the SciTech revelations and allegations of cheating at Landry-Walker High School.

The network is poised to hire Caveon Test Security, which was recommended by the Department of Education.

Caveon’s work in Atlanta was widely criticized after vastly under representing wrongdoing in what ended up being one of the nation’s biggest cheating scandals.

“The fee for the pre-K through 8 schools is $24,000,” Mackay said. “The fee for the high school is an additional $4,000. It’s $4,000 per school each day that you have them on site.”

The full ReNEW board is scheduled to meet Thursday.

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