Transparency 101 (Or, “When You’re A Star . . . You Can Do Anything”)

–The council held a hearing at the end of June on legislation to bring more transparency to budgets and school meetings. During the hearing, one of the chairs chastised public witnesses (i.e., members of the public) when they testified about the desperate need for transparency in our schools in addition to budgets.

–It took more than 6 hours of testimony before it was revealed that DCPS is running a budget deficit. (Exactly how much, why, and its resolution were not clearly elucidated.)

–While testifying about the recently released report from the DC auditor’s office, detailing the planned, sustained, and ruinous deprivation of funds by DCPS to schools with large proportions of at risk students, the author of the report was told to stop talking after 4 minutes and 45 seconds. All non-government witnesses were given 4 minutes to testify.

–Every (other) government witness testified against expanding transparency, either through the specifics covered by the bills in question or beyond what is provided now. None was asked to stop talking.

–The COO of KIPP raised the need for secrecy concerning charter school real estate (really–check it out), while the executive director of the charter board invoked “trade secrets” as a bar to public knowledge, echoing the “industry secret” standard reportedly invoked by the charter board as a bar to public knowledge.

–Two major newspapers (here and here) recently ran op-eds lamenting the city standing by as AppleTree charter school left the campus of DCPS’s Jefferson Middle School–a lament echoed at the hearing by the charter board executive director, who said the school had been “evicted.” When council member Charles Allen noted that AppleTree had knowingly signed an extended lease whose nonrenewable end date was July 2019, due to renovations at Jefferson, the executive director doubled down and said the school was “displaced.” Not mentioned by the editorials or the charter board executive director were the several sites in the same area the school reportedly has under lease for 2020 and beyond.

–Claudia Lujan, deputy chief for strategic school planning and enrollment at DCPS, not only serves on the board of a charter school (E.L. Haynes) and planned out of the public eye at Banneker’s building a middle school program (which may or may not have been associated with that charter school), but her position at DCPS is apparently being paid by a private organization, Education Forward. That organization’s money (more than $13 million, according to its most recent, publicly available, tax filing) appears to come from education privatization groups, while its board members serve in a variety of roles on behalf of charter schools and it provides funds overwhelmingly to charter schools. Thus, to whom and for whom Lujan serves is unclear. (A complaint to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability about her board service resulted in a non-public decision that all is honky dory.)

–The council didn’t approve the master facilities plan, with the council chair noting that it wasn’t really a plan. There is no clear path forward–except that we don’t have even a caution light to prevent yet more planning behind closed doors.

Just remember: “When you’re a star . . . you can do anything.”

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