Today's bombshell from the Washington Post's Emma Brown in her follow-up to the financial problems at Options PCS is that television anchor J.C. Hayward, during her time as board chair, received payment from one of the for-profit companies created by the school's executives.
How could she not realize that this was a serious conflict of interest?
Previously, I've discussed efforts to improve the governance of these alternative schools. Tom Nida, past chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, came up with the idea of creating Highly Qualified Trustees. The concept is that individuals willing to serve on charter boards would receive formal training in areas such as finance and facility acquisition and would therefore be ready to join schools once openings on the governing bodies arise. Charter Board Partners, whose founders Carrie Irvin and Simmons Lettre I recently interviewed, offer classes specifically designed to improve the governance of charters. However, becoming an HQT or enlisting the help of Charter Board Partners is strictly voluntary.
That time has passed. Washington D.C. will spend $540 million on charters in Fiscal year 2013. These schools of choice now educate almost 37,000 children, 44 percent of all kids attending public school in the nation's capital. The investment is way too high to leave oversight and accountability to unpaid volunteers who sit on boards because they may have particular expertise as bankers, lawyers, fundraisers, or accountants.
We desperately need to raise the bar and require that some form of good governance training be mandatory before individuals are given the keys to run multi-million dollar non-profits. Sure, this may make it slightly harder to find people to serve in this capacity. But I strongly contend that the integrity of our movement is worth the cost.
We need to add to this step an evaluation of governance as part of the PCSB's Performance Management Framework. Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, PCSB's Deputy Director, confirmed to me recently that the idea originally was to include a governance grade as part of the PMF but the notion was dropped. Making this subject a part of the PMF will provide a powerful incentive for schools to get it right.
There is no excuse for another case of financial irregularities such as occurred at Options for ever happening again. The PCSB has taken a positive step to preventing future incidents such as this by proposing new contract submission rules. The next move should be to require governance training by members of its boards.