In Search of Meg Whitman and Charter School Transparency

My recent EdWeek Teacher blog post about school choice week and charter schools took a while to write and led me to some interesting reading as well. Some of what I found didn’t quite fit into that blog post, so I’m adding it here. For a more thorough consideration of why the charter school movement is fraught with problems, see the EdWeek post.

Charter schools are widely considered public schools, and call themselves public schools. They use public money to serve the public, but enjoy exemptions from public regulation when it comes to labor practices. And while they are “chartered” by a governmental body, their directors are not directly accountable to the public for their use of public funds. In some cases, the directors aren’t even directing in any visible way, though I doubt many parents realize it.

Curious about how “public” certain charter management organizations (CMOs) are, I took a quick glance at the websites of two such organizations with good reputations in California. At the Green Dot web site, I was pleased to see the availability of detailed financial information about the organization. However, the actual governance of the organization is a bit more difficult to learn about; board meeting agendas are a bit hard to find, but I figured out that some are available if you click on the calendar entries for past board meetings. I could find no meeting minutes posted. In contrast, Summit “Public” Schools (quotations marks added) does post board agendas more prominently, along with meeting minutes, but financial information, if it’s there, was impossible for me to find.

I did notice something interesting regarding Summit board meetings: Hewlett Packard CEO and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is a member of the Summit Board of Directors. She brings great organizational management experience to the board – or at least, I assume she would, but I couldn’t find any meeting minutes showing she attended any board meetings in over two years. (Note: I reviewed all of the minutes posted on their site as of 2/7/15, going back to October 2012. A few copies of meeting minutes were missing or had broken links). Could it be a union is protecting her from any accountability for such an attendance record? Because you would think a board made up mostly of businessmen (with no education background) would be willing to dole out some “real world” consequences, right?

So what exactly does Summit get from having a director who attends no meetings? Perhaps it makes the board look more impressive. And, one other thing comes to mind:

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$5,000,000.00.

And what does Meg Whitman get out of this arrangement, giving away money and her name? Reporter Joe Garofoli, in the blog link above, suggests that the appearance of civic involvement might be worth something to Ms. Whitman. If she doesn’t attend any board meetings, it does seem that appearances are more important than actual involvement.

Maybe that’s just the way it’s done among the 1% – you’re appointed to lots of boards but you don’t actually have to show up in front of the public when it’s time to “direct”. Okay. It’s just that, if I recall, we were talking about public schools, which are supposed to serve the 100%, and I don’t think the parents at Summit, or the public that’s funding those schools, have been asked to approve the idea of an absentee director.

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