Under the Commonwealth Charter School Law, the school directors of the School District of the City of York are responsible to the parents, community, taxpayers, and the state of Pennsylvania for the all of the York City students funded by public monies. These elected officials are responsible for monitoring performance and evaluating compliance for the charter school student's educational well-being and achievement and for the legal and ethical operation of the charter schools.
When the operating agreement for New Hope Charter School approached the five-year term limit, the district administration, in accordance with the Charter School Law, notified the charter school of the intent and general reasons to not renew.
Following the Charter School Law, the school directors (acting as a silent judicial body) held a series of public hearings (starting on Feb. 23, 2012) to gather detailed data in a format where the district administration (represented by the superintendent) and expert legal counsel (like a prosecutor) and the charter School (like a defendant with their legal counsel) called witnesses and presented exhibits to state the arguments and supposed facts for and against non-renewal.
After the public hearings, both parties presented proposed findings of facts, which the school directors reviewed before making the determination during a public meeting on July 18, 2012, to not renew the charter.
Many public and personal communication statements are being circulated around the city that do not state the truth concerning the actions taken when the new 2012-13 district administration and the reconfigured school board took action to fulfill the Charter School Law and carry out the school directors' obligations and duties.
The determination was not based on any district attempt to steal a parent's opportunity to choose a school they believe better serves their child, or to rob a student of a (supposedly) more successful alternative educational model with greater flexibility in elective classes and extracurricular activities, or to prevent individuals or profit making businesses from receiving the legal dollar compensation allowable in the original charter agreements and contracts, or to divert charter money back into the district coffers, which have been greatly reduced during the last few years by severe commonwealth funding budget reductions.
The determination to not renew was based on the facts revealed by the public hearing testimonies of the New Hope personnel that the charter school has not fulfilled the requirements of the Charter School Law and that the students and York City community at large would be better served when other educational options were available.
The non-renewal of the New Hope Charter School is based on poor student achievement, non-compliance with the charter agreement, and fiscal and ethical practices.
Student achievement is measured by the Pennsylvania Department of Education only through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment testing, which is configured to follow the federal funding criteria of the upward sliding scale of Adequate Yearly Progress within the No Child Left Behind Act.
The charter has never met the goals. The charter has the worst and lowest PSSA scores in York County.
Non-compliance with the charter agreement was revealed on many levels by New Hope personnel during the public hearing, including not complying with state Department of Education Chapter 4 requirements for enrollment, timely reporting of truancy for legal processing by the district, transference to alternative education schools without due process, transference to alternative education schools that were not pre-authorized by the Education Department, and transferring students to an alternative school that did not include the required curriculum, accredited teachers, number of school days, and number of school hours per day required by an alternative school to conform to Chapter 4 general education requirements.
Fiscal and ethical practices that do not comply with Charter School Law were revealed on many levels by New Hope personal during the public hearing, including several for-profit operating and support business staff members making day-to-day student, personnel, school educational and administration decisions, use of charter school funds as a free open line of credit with no interest responsibility to make cash flow for the for-profit businesses, use of charter school office facilities rent free for several for-profit operating and support businesses, several for-profit operating and support business staff members directly influencing the charter board meeting actions.
It was also revealed several charter board members did not file the required commonwealth annual financial disclosure statements, board members did not read and understand contracts between the school and the operating companies, board members did not follow expert legal advice concerning changing contract finances when renegotiating agreements with the operating for-profit company, and a board member voted to award a multi-million dollar loan between the operating company and a bank of which he is a senior officer.
When a charter school fulfills the commonwealth Charter School Law, a responsible school director is compelled to approve an application for renewal.
In the case of New Hope Charter School, the public hearing testimony revealed multiple serious non-compliance items to the Charter School Law, any one of which obligate non-renewal.
Overwhelmingly, the educational welfare of the City of York students was the most important criteria as the school directors of the School District of the City of York came to the decision of non-renewal.
-- Michael Miller is a York City school board member.