Monday, May 27, 2013

Financial Transparency Requirements

By Eileen Johnston

I believe that a couple of the requirements under the Financial Transparency Act are being misinterpreted by many charter schools.  While most schools are compliant with posting their accounts payable check register, salary schedule and credit card statements, there may be some confusion about posting financial statements and investment statements.

The statute requires that, at a minimum, financial statements be posted quarterly.  It further requires that financial reports be posted within sixty days after completion.  Most schools post their quarterly statements within the time frame, but they are not posting their monthly statements. I am not aware of any school that only produces quarterly statements.  It seems to me that it would be extremely difficult to effectively manage a budget if you only saw a budget to actual statement once every three months.  To the extent that schools are producing monthly financial statements for their board and/or administration, these reports need to be posted within sixty days of preparation.

The other area that is often overlooked is posting money market statements.  Generally, schools will post their statements from CSAFE or other investment institutions, but the money market account is not included.  In as much as money market accounts earn interest, (albeit insignificant), they should be included in your monthly postings. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Online Learning

The following post is from the Ed is Watching blog. 
Has Colorado taken another step toward providing students with greater choice and opportunity through access to digital learning options? If so, how big and effective a step has been taken? Let’s look at a piece of education legislation that was overshadowed by the likes of the “Future School Finance Act” and others, Senate Bill 139.
recent online column by Reilly Pharo of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Matt Samelson shares an overview of SB 139′s key provisions:
Now, what exactly does this legislation do? * Track academic performance of students in online and blended learning courses? Check. Provide educator access to professional development for online and blended courses? Check. Create local level supports at schools and districts for these courses? Check. Promote mentoring to help students be more successful in an online environment? Check. Increasing market incentives for high quality providers in the state? Check.
Pharo and Samelson — the latter of whom worked with my Education Policy Center friends on the development of a digital learning policy road map for Colorado — note that SB 139 creates “a selection committee charged with awarding contracts to statewide online education providers.” The legislation directs the state to contract with a local BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) to oversee the sharing of supplemental online and blended learning resources, especially with rural schools, at no additional cost to state taxpayers.
I have to wonder aloud: How would this new system work in conjunction with the proposed Digital BOCES idea? Could the Falcon 49 brainchild possibly be thatBOCES the legislation talks about? Maybe there’s a complementary role? A little more thought and digging needs to be done.
Currently, the Mountain BOCES contracts with Colorado Online Learning to provide supplemental courses at fixed rates. But as Pharo and Samelson explain, the change opens the door to more providers without an artificial price cap:
The new law improves the state’s ability to provide supplemental online offerings by removing an arbitrary cost per-course cap of $200 that resulted in a distorted market, limiting the expansion of high quality supplemental courses.
As usual, more work remains to be done. But at first blush, SB 139 sure looks like a small positive step forward for choice, innovation, and quality in Colorado’s digital learning environment. I sure needed something to make me smile today, and this news will do.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Charter School Board Presidents, Part 3

Believe it or not, sometimes people sitting on charter school governing boards do things they shouldn't. Not surprised? I know I've written about it numerous times over the years, including last year when I saw some pretty crazy things going on.

Who's responsibility is it to address improper board behavior? The Board President's.

How, you ask? Every charter school should have a governing board handbook that outlines the school's vision, the role of the board, expected board behavior, the authority and decision-making structure with the authorizer and school administration, and ethics. This handbook should be signed by every board member every year. In fact, immediately upon election, new board members should sign it.

Sometimes board member don't even realize that what they're doing is causing problems. It's very difficult for charter school parents to separate their role as a parent from their role as a board member. The two are very different and require repeated verbalization of which "hat" the board member is wearing.

I've had to discuss inappropriate actions by my son with the Principal and then later, as Board President, not bring that situation into the Principal's evaluation. This is especially important when there are personal differences of opinion. The board needs to provide the Principal the latitude to make decisions and not second-guess those simply based on a different personal opinion of how the situation should have been handled. The board needs to even allow the Principal to make mistakes. After all, who does their job perfectly every day? The Principal needs the same latitude.

If a board member is acting inappropriately, the first step is for the President to discuss the matter with the board member one-on-one. Using the board handbook, the President points out how what the board member is doing or saying violates the agreement. Give the errant board member the benefit of the doubt going in to the conversation and expect him/her to respond positively, having simply not known.

But if that's not the case, and the board member continues to cause problems, then two board members should go speak to him/her. For boards where two member constitute a quorum or law stipulates two member cannot discuss business, this is not an option. For example, all charter schools authorized by the state Charter School Institute are under state law that prevents two board members from meeting or discussing school business.

The third step if the inappropriate behavior continues, is to discuss it in public at a board meeting. Errant board behavior is not an acceptable reason for an Executive Session. It must be discussed in public.

How the board addresses improper board behavior can be handled a few different ways, depending on the board's Bylaws and how the other members want to handle it. Here are a few options:

  • Discuss the situation and resolve it.
  • The majority of the board adopts a resolution "censuring" or noting the errant behavior.
  • If Bylaws permit, and the case is severe or the board members is continuing to do something even after repeated discussions, the majority of the Board may vote to remove the errant member.
It's wise to consult the school's attorney before taking these steps to ensure the President knows the legal options available and doesn't make a mistake that could ultimately harm the school.

From my experience, most of bad board behavior issues are about power struggles. New, inexperienced board members want to make their mark on the school or have their own agenda. Far too often, the school community is harmed by these misguided individuals. It's better for the board President to handle the situation promptly, rather than waiting until it escalates.