and some people are trying to get them to do something about it.
To be more precise: on August 9, the DC office of open government (OOG) issued a binding opinion that declared that the DC public charter school board (PCSB) violated public meeting requirements of DC’s School Reform Act (SRA), PCSB custom and practice, and DC’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).
These violations happened when the board voted at their June meeting on enrollment increases and another campus for one DC charter school without notifying the public in advance that it would be doing so.
Those proposed actions had been discussed at PCSB’s March meeting—and voted on at the board’s April meeting.
At both March and April PCSB meetings, citizens and public interest groups either submitted written testimony or testified in person about the proposed actions. Some opposition was based on the high suspension rates of the charter school in question, DC Prep, and the overcapacity in available seats that already exists among all DCPS and charter schools.
In April, the PCSB voted against the proposed enrollment increase and new campus of DC Prep.
But at PCSB’s June meeting, board member Don Soifer asked to reintroduce DC Prep’s proposed actions, citing Robert’s Rules of Order. The board approved the request and then re-voted on those items—then, reversing its April vote, the board approved DC Prep’s enrollment increase and new campus.
I filed an OOG complaint shortly thereafter, noting that my and others’ comments on DC Prep were not posted publicly by PCSB in materials on that subject (still aren’t, as far as I can see—but you can see my comments here).
I also noted in my OOG complaint that the lack of public notice for the board’s re-vote on DC Prep’s request in June ensured that no member of the public had any chance to testify in person or submit comments on the action taken by PCSB.
Simply put, if the public doesn’t know something is being considered, and voted on, by a public body for the benefit of the public, then the public is left in the dark not because it chooses to be, but because it has no other choice.
(So little choice in THAT school choice!)
I noted in my OOG complaint an additional ick factor: That the only people in the know about that PCSB re-vote in June stood to benefit from it materially. That would be the school itself, which now will receive more public money, and the charter board, which is funded in part by fees from individual charter schools.
The OOG ruled that the lack of public notice for the re-vote constituted an “improper closure that prevented the public from attending the meeting.”
It then recommended that PCSB adhere to DC law; that it does not revise agendas at the beginning of meetings to include action on items requiring public comment; and that PCSB attend OMA training. (No legal requirement, though, for posting public comments.)
Soooo, to recap:
We have a procedurally flawed process by a public body regarding a public school using public money that omits the public–and yet results in a legally binding decision.
Wouldn’t a re-vote be the democratic way?
In its response to my complaint, PCSB indicated that no action was needed. And OOG has no authority to force a re-vote.
The most OOG can do is to initiate legal proceedings as a result of this violation of the OMA, such that a court would void PCSB’s June vote.
For now, OOG has not pursued this. Rather, the OOG’s August 9 binding opinion applies going forward.
But some citizens have now asked PCSB that it void its June vote; take a re-vote; and notify the public in advance of all of that and enable public comment.
No word (yet) on a reply–but that request was copied to most of DC’s education leaders, who (one hopes) would see the value of public input in our public schools.
You know, that whole democracy thing.