THE BOARD EVALUATION OF THE SCHOOL DIRECTOR’S PERFORMANCE

Every year, normally in spring, although it seems to happen at any time of year our office receives urgent calls from a board seeking a process or an instrument to conduct a job performance evaluation of the school director. In those conversations it turns out more often than not (probably 80% of the time) we learn the board’s plan is to do the evaluation in a matter of days – although it’s not been unheard of that the board plans to conduct the evaluation that very evening.

Let me just say that for a board to implement and conduct a job performance evaluation in such a haphazard and callous manner of a school director, or anyone for that matter, is not just poor governance – it is unethical.

A board has a duty to act in both a legal and ethical manner.

The law requires that “a charter school board adopt personnel evaluation policies and practices.” Ethics require that the board create those policies and practices in an orderly and fair process which includes seeking input from the person(s) who will be the subject of the evaluation policy.

The charter school law requires ‘that a board shall establish qualifications for administrators, and that then it outlines the areas qualifications must at least cover, and then states that those qualifications are to be used for job descriptions, hiring, and job performance evaluations.’

Ethics requires the board to have established a job performance evaluation process and instrument well before the evaluation so the person whose performance is being evaluated knows the criteria and process.

If a board does not have a job performance evaluation policy and/or process, now is the time to develop one, not days or hours before the job performance evaluation. If a board does have a job performance evaluation policy and process, now is the time to review it, before it is time for the next performance review.

EP

EQUITY & EQUITABLE OPPORTUNITIES

Words and our individual understandings of the meanings of words reveal a lot about our beliefs, values, experiences, and how we translate words into actions. In organizations, we often assume that everyone defines and understands the meanings of words in the same way as we do. So, it
is important for people in organizations to take time to share and reflect on the meaning of the words we use to convey our collective beliefs and aspirations.

Over the last couple of meetings, the MACS Board of Directors has dedicated a significant portion of those meeting to sharing and discussing what the words Equity and Equitable Opportunity in Education mean given that the board amended the Association’s mission statement to say that
an aspect of our mission is “…to promote equitable opportunities and excellence in education for students.”

The conversations began with each board member sharing their definition and understanding of equity and equitable opportunities. Based on the board’s discussion, input from school directors who responded to the equity definition survey earlier this summer, and other sources, the Association staff was charged with drafting a statement for board consideration.

At its September meeting the Board reviewed and amended the proposal the draft presented by the staff. Upon adoption of a statement at its in November meeting the statement will be used to guide our public policy positions and the Association’s programs and activities.

The goal of this work is to ensure that our commitment “to promote equitable opportunities and excellence in education for students” has a common basis and is always at the heart of the Association’s work.
EP

CHARTER SCHOOL FACILITY FUNDING

In July, The Charter School Facility Center at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published an analysis of state policies relative to Per-Pupil Facility Funding.

According to the analysis there are 18 states that provide per-pupil funding for charter school facilities. Of those 18, 12 states – including Minnesota – provide supplementary funding beyond the overall per-pupil funding formula for schools. (6 states embed any funding for facilities in the general formula).

When one looks closer at the 12 states that provide supplementary per-pupil funding for facilities, Minnesota provides the largest per-pupil funding by statute for facilities, except for Washington DC. In terms of the average per-pupil funding Minnesota ($1,232.94) is twice as high as the next state, New Mexico, and six times higher than Pennsylvania and Texas.

All 12 states have either some eligibility criteria or restrictions on the use of facility funding. For example:

  • 3 states differentiate on how much per-pupil funding a school is eligible for based on the ownership of the building,
  • 4 states preclude virtual schools from receiving facility funding,
  • 5 states connect eligibility to academic performance,
  • 4 states restrict use of the funds to Lease reimbursement costs (including Minnesota)

While Idaho, New Mexico, and Washington DC provide funding simply based on average daily attendance whereas Minnesota is based on adjusted pupil units, the per-pupil amount in their statutes is lower far lower than Minnesota, with the exception of Washington DC.

When one looks at the statutes of all 18 states that provide facilities funding, only Washington DC, and Arizona have a higher amount in statute than Minnesota. New York cannot be compared to any state since it has a hybrid model of facilities – including no cost district space.

So, when you look across the landscape across the country – Minnesota is a top tier state in terms of providing per-pupil facility funding in both statute and in real dollars.

EP

ETHICS OF CHARTER SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS

The ethical behavior of a small number of charter school directors has been an issue that the Board of School Administrators (BOSA) has brought forward to the Association. Over the last few years BOSA has received a number of ethics complaints about licensed and un-licensed charter school administrators.

Given that BOSA is a licensing board, it only has jurisdiction over the ethics of licensed school administrators. BOSA has raised the question of who oversees the ethics of charter school administrators who are not licensed. In response to this, BOSA has been contemplating introducing legislation to address the ethics of unlicensed charter school administrators, as well as requirements about the education and training of charter school administrators. BOSA sees the fact that some charter school administrators lack educational administrative education/training as one of the reasons why there are ethical complaints about charter school administrators.

In the last legislative session, MACS introduced legislation to address the education/training of charter school administrators – which has been an issue on the MACS agenda for several years. 

In November one of the items on the MACS Board agenda will be the issue of the ethics and what the Association should undertake to raise the issue of ethics, especially in light of the fact that there is no body that has the authority to address ethical complaints of non-licensed personnel.

There continue to be conversations between the BOSA Executive Director and myself about ways of addressing the ethics issue, as well as the education/training issues. This summer the conversation also has included the Executive Director of the authorizer association (MACSA).  Our conversations have led to a better understanding of the issues and concerns and have brought us closer to common ground on legislation regarding ethics and education/training issues.

EP

REIMAGINING PUBLIC EDUCATION

Some thirty years ago in an era when public education was seen as being somewhat stuck and static the concept of chartered public schools was proposed as a way to reimagine schooling. Chartered public schools would be outcomes based and focused on innovation in programming, teaching methodologies, assessment techniques, evaluation processes, and redefining the professional development, the role and power of educators in managing the school.

Today, we are in another era where there is growing recognition that public education must address the historical barriers to an equitable and quality education for many students, while also dealing with the inequities brought upon by a pandemic. If the pandemic has demonstrated anything is that public schools and educators have the capacity to meet new challenges. The challenge ahead is a daunting one. Public education is being called upon to reimagine how it must be different to be more equitable in a post-pandemic world.

What that reimagined public education ecosystem might look like is yet to be defined. What we do know is that it will require a renewed commitment to creating and sustaining a culture of innovation and a commitment to re-empower educators to take the lead in education.

For charter schools the upcoming 30th anniversary of Minnesota’s first in the nation chartered public school law provides an opportunity to reflect on how the movement has or has not reimagined schooling. It provides a time to renew the commitment to innovation and empowering educators to lead and act to ensure that each-and-every individual student has an equitable opportunity to a quality education to achieve their potential.

IT IS TIME BETTER MARKET RESEARCH

Over the last decade a disturbing trend has occurred relative to new chartered public schools in Minnesota.

The trend is the growing number of new chartered schools being approved which do not open, or open with enrollments significantly below projections, or schools that close within a short time after opening.

While there are multiple factors for this trend, some more obvious than others, one thing we do know is that school developers need to provide better Market Information about the need and demand for a particular school in the application process.

It is for this reason the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools is proposing legislation to 1] Define what a Market Need and Demand Study entails, and 2] require a Market Need and Demand Study as a component of the application for a new charter school.

PROPOSED DEFINITION

“Market Need and Demand Study” means a study that includes the following for the proposed locations or the school or additional site: a] current and projected demographic information; b] student enrollment patterns; c] information on existing schools and types of educational programs currently available; d] characteristics of proposed students and families; e] availability of properly zoned and classified facilities; and f] quantification of existing demand for the school or site.

The goal of this legislative proposal is three-fold:

1] Require school developers to better know the market for their proposed school and better make their case to an authorizer that the school will be successful and sustainable,

2] Provide authorizers with more consistent information about the potential success and sustainability of the school as they make their decision to authorizer or not authorizer a school,

3] Reduce the number of schools that are approved but never open or are not successful.

It is time for school developers to do a better job of making their case.

It is time for authorizers to be provided more consistent information about the market need and demand for a particular school.

It is time to reduce the number of schools that do not open or fail.

IT IS TIME FOR A MARKET NEED AND DEMAND STUDY FOR EACH PROPOSED SCHOOL

A NEW DECADE – THE TIME FOR A NEW GENERATION OF THE LAW

The beginning of a new decade reminds us that in a short 18 months, Minnesota’s first-in-the nation chartered public school law will be 30 years old.  As we approach the 30th anniversary of the law it is clear that it is time for the next generation of the charter law based on the lived experience of chartering.

In late 2018, the Association’s membership ratified AN AGENDA to FULFILL THE PROMISE which outlined several reforms to the charter school law, as well as school funding of charters and facilities.

As we approach the 2020 legislative session it is our intent to put forth a policy bill based on that Agenda – The Charter School Transparency and Accountability Act of 2020.

While much of the work to advance the legislation will be undertaken by our lobbyist and staff, we need you to be engaged in telling your school’s story and the overall charter school story to your legislators.

We need you to be active participants in the Annual Charter School Day @ the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, March 4th.

It is time for charter schools to do a more focused effort to tell the story of how they are serving students, and It Is Time for the next generation charter school law.

IT IS TIME

For Higher Expectations for Charter School Boards

For most of the history of chartered public schools in Minnesota (and across the country) one of the biggest challenges has been the governance of schools.

Originally in Minnesota, the board of every chartered school was composed of a majority of teachers who taught in the school, thus ensuring that teachers really were in charge of both the academic program and the operation of the institution.  A decade ago in response to a number of factors, the charter school law was changed to allow for different governance models – a teacher majority board, a parent majority board, a community majority board, or a non-majority board – but all boards must have teachers, parents and community members on the board.

At the same time that these different board governance models were enacted, the Legislature also enacted a requirement that members of chartered school boards take training on the board’s role and responsibilities, employment practices, and financial management within 12 months of being seated on the board. It also mandated annual training but left what that training should be for boards to decide depending on the board’s needs.

What is clear a decade later is that training has contributed to improved overall governance, but governance of many schools is still a significant challenge. There are a number of reasons for this challenge including:

  • As a non-profit organization, the task of recruiting volunteers to serve on boards is difficult work.
  • Often, expectations for volunteers are not exceedingly high – there are those who believe and express that you cannot really expect too much from volunteers.
  • Many of the volunteers who serve on chartered school boards have little or no experience on governance boards, or other experiences that translate to service on a board.
  • Many chartered school boards do not have job descriptions, written expectations, or an on-boarding process for new members, or plans for the annual training of board members.

SO, IT IS TIME – to raise the expectations for charter school boards. It is time for action.

  1. Every chartered school board should have a written job description and expectations for board members, and utilize those in recruiting new members and evaluating the performance of the board.
  2. Every chartered school board should have a formal on-boarding process to provide new members with the background of the institution’s history, challenges, opportunities and the process and procedures of how the board itself works.
  3. Every chartered school board should have an annual plan for the ongoing education and training of individual board members and the overall board.
  4. Every chartered school board should have a board development committee whose job is to facilitate the identification and recruitment of potential board members, oversee the on-boarding and annual education/training processes, and annual retreat of the board.

It is time – for higher expectations for chartered school boards.

EP

THE COST OF AUTHORIZING

Annually by September 30th all Minnesota Charter School Authorizers are required by law to submit to the Commissioner of Education a statement of income and expenditures related to chartering activities during the previous school year ending June 30th. The authorizer must also transmit a copy of the statement to all schools it charters.

QUICK FACTS – FY19 AUTHORIZER INCOME & EXPENDITURES

SCHOOL FEE INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS     $3,115.946.06

OTHER INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS                 $  101,125.73

TOTAL INCOME – All AUTHORIZERS              $3,217.071.79

TOTAL EXPENDITURES – ALL AUTHORIZERS   $3,140,871.78

NET INCOME – ALL AUTHORIZERS                    $     76,200.01

JUNE 30, 2019 – REPORTED FUND BALANCE – All AUTHORIZERS $611,943.54

AVERAGE COST PER SCHOOL– $19,269.00

AVERAGE COST PER PUPIL – $52.52     

EXAMINING LEASE COSTS

As you know, chartered public schools are prohibited by state law from directly owning buildings using public money, so charter schools are always only tenants – never owners – of the spaces they occupy.

Over the last decade, charter school facilities has been a major focus of the Association and we have worked to enact charter school facility legislation – including direct ownership, state bonding, amending the lease aid law to cover maintenance costs, and leverage incentive for schools in negotiating leases with landlords.

During the same period, we have been keeping track of Lease Aid and the costs of charter school leases. Today, Lease Aid is close to $80 million dollars a year, while lease costs are $100 million a year.  Given that the Lease Aid Law requires that charters pay 10% of the lease cost from general funds, or about 10 million, it also means that charters are paying an additional $10 million out of general funds.

Earlier this week we sent our member schools a LEASE COST WORKSHEET so that schools could look at lease costs from five different perspectives:

  1. Cost Per Square Foot
  2. % of Excess Cost of Lease from General Fund
  3. Amount of Excess Dollars from General Fund
  4. Cost Per Pupil
  5. Square Foot Cost Per Pupil

The LEASE COST WORKSHEET is designed to be a educational tool for school administrators, Boards of Directors, and its Finance Committee given that lease costs for many schools are the second biggest expenditure after personnel costs.