Friday, April 2, 2010

Imagine That!

Parents at a charter school in Nevada that is managed by Imagine Schools, Inc. are upset by their lack of decision-making authority.

Imagine founder and president, Dennis Bakke, caught media attention last fall when a private memo to company executives was released. The memo was critical of charter school board members who would question Imagine's decisions. Bakke said, "Before selecting board members we need to go over the voting process and our expectations that they will go along with Imagine unless the board member is convinced that we are doing something illegal."

Many charter school authorizers across the nation have expressed concern when a management company comes in to a state and selects board members for a new charter school. Then Imagine writes the application and shepherds it through the approval process. Imagine also has a branch of its company that owns the facilities built for new charter schools while the school pays a lease indefinitely.

The parents involved in the Nevada charter school said they didn't have authority to make necessary budget cuts because Imagine made those decisions. This is a difficult situation for parents who believe their child is getting a good education at the charter school, but have questions about the management of the school. The contractual or legal scenarios at these schools means the parents would be left with a charter-school-on-paper-only if the management company walked. All the assets belong to the management company. Some management companies don't even disclose their financial expenditures to the governing board of the charter school.

How can charter school authorizers and developing charter school board members avoid problems with a management company after the school is operating? In Colorado, there is a "ESP Provisions" attachment to the state's new sample contract language that lists numerous provisions that the charter board and the company should address prior to the charter contract being signed with the charter authorizer. Authorizers in Colorado want an assurance that the company can be "fired" for not fulfilling its obligations and that the governing board will still have a school should that happen. One of the ways this is accomplished, is by the assurance both the charter board and the management company will have separate legal counsel when negotiating the performance agreement for the company.

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