Last week the Washington Post's Emma Brown revealed that D.C. Public Charter School Board member Barbara Nophlin is being paid $195,000 under a contract with Friendship Public Charter School to coach principals. She received, according to the Post reporter, $85,000 from the charter in 2013.
Ms. Nophlin recuses herself from any board votes regarding Friendship PCS, and is not even permitted to be present in the room if matters regarding the school are being discussed. Scott Pearson, the PCSB's executive director, explained to Ms. Brown that the arrangement is not in violation of the School Reform Act which prohibits board members from being employed by charters. In addition, she apparently is also in compliance with a new policy that board members cannot do work for charters without Mr. Peason's permission, a rule developed after it was learned that as the PCSB' chief financial officer Jeremy Williams was at the same time behind the scenes supporting Options PCS. Still, Mr. Pearson believes that the contract between Ms. Nophlin and Friendship is "unusual" and therefore he has asked for an advisory opinion from the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. Ms. Nophlin should not wait for a decision to be handed down before deciding what to do.
We now have two recent concrete examples, Options and Dorothy I. Height Community Academy, of charters getting in legal trouble regarding contracting arrangements. Moreover, the CHARM report issued last week failed to resolve details about the financial relationships between other schools and their Charter Management Organizations. Now I do not want to be misunderstood. No one is saying that Ms. Nophlin did anything wrong. However, there is another consideration that needs to be taken into serious consideration in this case.
The situation reminds me of a talk I heard given years ago by Ed Crane, the past president of the CATO Institute. He said that when he was hiring policy analysts for his group one of the qualities he stressed for someone in this position is that their published work had to be completely accurate. The reason, Mr. Crane asserted, was that as a libertarian think tank, people already found its ideas out of the mainstream. Therefore, any slight deviation from the facts could be used by others as an excuse to disparage the political philosophy.
A similar analogy applies here. Because charters are the alternative school system people get nervous over the millions of dollars in taxpayer money that goes to these institutions. For this reason the spending of funds must rise to a higher standard than is customarily applied to nonprofits.
Ms. Brown also brings up the examples of board members John "Skip" McCoy, who works for Fight for Children, an establishment that provides grants to charter schools, and Sara Mead, whose Bellweather Education Partners consults with educational organizations. But these instances are much different than the case with Ms. Nophlin in that the majority of her work on the board can have an impact on Friendship PCS from which she is receiving direct remuneration.
The right thing for Ms. Nophlin is to resign from the PCSB or end her consulting relationship with Friendship PCS. The step is consistent with the financial transparency those of us in the charter movement are striving to achieve.