Most charter schools continue to flout open-meetings laws by ignoring requests

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By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer

Despite an October story by The Lens that highlighted charter school boards’ failure to comply with open-meetings laws, only some boards have consistently offered information in the past few months in response to standing requests.

Our previous story showed that only 10 of 35 New Orleans public charter boards provided the legally required dates and agendas of board meetings, even though these boards were given as long as three months to respond. Four months after that story, only three of those 10 have consistently sent agendas prior to board meetings.
Though many boards continue to ignore our requests, three boards that were unresponsive prior to the October story have since responded and are regularly sending the information. That means six of more than 40 boards now operating are complying with the law.

The open-meetings law requires that public school boards give written public notice of their meeting schedules at the beginning of each calendar year. This is also one of the few laws that expressly cater to members of the news media, with a mandate that boards must also forward a 24-hour notice and meeting agenda to any member of the media who requests it.

In an age of increased autonomy for New Orleans’ more than 60 charter schools and more than 40 school boards, parents and charter-school advocacy organizations, such as the Louisiana Association for Public Charter Schools, have called for increased transparency and accountability to the public.

The organization’s executive director, Carolyn Roemer Shirley, called the low response rate to The Lens’ public records requests “upsetting” in an October interview.

Other organizations, such as the Public Affairs Research Council, a non-partisan statewide governmental reform agency, have also chimed in on charter school transparency, as outlined in a March analysis:

“Transparency, in particular, is a concern because it refers to the ease with which the public can access information about existing and proposed charter schools,” the report reads. “Unfortunately, the charter school landscape in Louisiana remains difficult for many parents to navigate.”

Louisiana Department of Education spokeswoman Ileana Ledet wrote in an October statement that boards not compliant with state law may face sanctions up to and including charter revocation.

“If a charter school is not complying with any federal/state law, or BESE policy, the Office of Parental Options includes that in its reports to BESE on that particular charter school’s overall performance,” Ledet wrote, referring to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “This could lead to a school not being eligible for extension or renewal.”

When BESE’s Recovery School District committee approved charter renewals last week, 13 schools with boards that were not consistently responsive to us were awarded charter renewals, with 14 renewals awarded in total.

The seven New Orleans-based charter schools that applied for extensions were ineligible because they didn’t meet all financial performance standards. These will be reconsidered for extension in June. Of these seven, only one was consistently responsive to us.

The Lens contacted BESE president Penny Dastugue to ask whether BESE includes compliance with open-meetings laws as one of the requirements for renewing charters, but she did not respond.

However, the state’s Charter School Review, Extension, and Renewal Checklist reads that a charter must meet legal and contractual performance standards, including laws regarding governance, in order to be extended or renewed. If the school fails to meet four or more of all financial and legal standards, “the school shall be recommended for revocation.”

Note: The Lens contacted five of newest boards overseeing six schools that opened earlier this year. Of these five, four responded to our requests with all of the information and pledged to send agendas. As these four boards’ meetings are still to come on the 2011 calendar, we reserve judgment as to whether or not they are fully compliant with the law.

School/Board Name Responded to initial request with all info Responded consistently after inital request Responded sporadically after initial request
Advocacy for Arts and Technology (Crocker School) Yes No No
Advocates for Arts-Based Education (Lusher) Yes No No
Advocates for Academic Excellence in Education (Franklin) Yes No Yes
Akili Academy No No No
Algiers Charter Schools Association No, did not provide members mailing addresses No Yes
Arise Academy Yes No No
Benjamin Mays Yes No No
Broadmoor Charter School Board (Andrew Wilson) No No No
The Choice Foundation (Lafayette Academy, Esperanza Charter) No, did not provide members mailing addresses No Yes
Edward Hynes Charter No, did not provide board meeting schedules or agendas No No
Einstein Charter School Yes No No
Firstline Schools Yes No Yes
FAME Board (Audubon Montessori) Yes Yes No
Friends of King (MLK School) No, did not provide members mailing addresses No Yes
Intercultural Charter School No No No
International School of Louisiana Yes No No
James Singleton Charter School No No No
KIPP Schools Yes No Yes
Lagniappe Academy Yes N/A* N/A*
Lake Forest Elementary School No No No
Miller McCoy Academy No No No
Innovators in Milestones Inc Yes Yes No
Morris Jeff Community School Yes N/A* N/A*
Capital One Charter School/New Beginnings New Schools Yes Yes No
New Orleans College Prep Academy Schools No No No
New Orleans Charter Math and Science Board Yes No Yes
New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy (Sci Academy) Yes No Yes
Pelican Foundation Yes No Yes
Priestley Charter School-board Yes Yes No
Pride College Preparatory Board No No No
ReNew Schools Board No No No
Robert Russa Moton Board No No No
Sojourner Truth Academy Board Yes Yes No
Sophie Wright Board No No No
Spirit of Excellence Academy Board Yes N/A* N/A*
Success College Preparatory Board No, did not provide members mailing addresses Yes No
Treme (McDonogh 42) No No No
Voices of International Business (International High School) Yes N/A* N/A*
Warren Easton Yes No Yes
New Orleans Charter Schools Foundation (McDonogh City Park Academy) Yes No Yes
*Because these schools were only recently contacted, they haven’t had a chance to establish a track record.
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