APPS Files Right to Know Appeal on District’s Secret Meetings with Charter Operators

by Lynda Rubin
August 9, 2017

APPS has filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records after receiving sparse information from the district in response to a formal Right to Know request filed in May. That request was filed after a NewsWorks article, also published in the Public School Notebook, revealed that SRC and district officials had met for months behind closed doors with several charter operators and industry supporters.

imgresHigh-level school district officials—including Superintendent William Hite, Charter School Office Director Dawn Lynne Kacer and SRC Chief of Staff Claire Landau—met behind closed doors for over six months with several charter operators and charter industry lobbyists, including Philadelphia School Partnership Director Mark Gleason, Mastery Schools CEO Scott Gordon, Russell Byers CEO Laurada Byers, Global Leadership Academy CEO Naomi Booker and PCCY Executive Director Donna Cooper.

The reason given by district spokespersons for those meetings was to discuss changes in the state’s charter law being proposed in the state legislature. No explanation was given for the secrecy of the meetings or the exclusion of advocacy groups and individuals who had come out publicly against the pending bill. If the SRC and district had intended to create language which balanced the ability of public schools to thrive side-by-side with charters, advocates to safeguard public school interests would have been involved and the meetings would, and should, have been held publicly.

APPS filed a legal Right-to-Know request with the SRC and School District on May 23, 2017 in order to discover the exact nature of these meetings: who attended and what was discussed, as well as any communications about proposed resolutions drafted by the group or individuals on behalf of the group.

The district’s Office of General Counsel responded on July 14, 2017, providing few details beyond those already included in the NewsWorks article. In fact, the district claimed that no minutes were taken. One of the heavily redacted emails between Landau and Amanda Fenton, Director of State and Federal Policy for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, referred to “the attached proposal for a comprehensive overview of the legislative proposal with the items discussed added.” However, the district claimed in its official response that the proposal in question was “an internal document”. A follow-up email from Landau to Fenton (Subject: “Legislative Language Check-In”) states, “Attached is the document that sums up where we are at the moment.” That document was also redacted by the district’s lawyers in the RTK response to APPS.

When SRC and district officials meet in secret, for months, with the managers of the schools they are supposed to be regulating, that is an obvious conflict of interest. That should be investigated by the PA Attorney General. When SRC and district officials meet to discuss legislation it will be proposing or supporting, that is a public matter. APPS will be investigating possible violations of the PA Sunshine Act, which says that the public has a right to know, and comment on, what its government officials are doing when conducting public business.

APPS Attorney Rich Migliore has filed an appeal to obtain all requested information and documents. Stay posted for the outcome of this appeal.

Actions show District prioritizes charter operators | Commentary by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin in the Public School Notebook – June 12, 2017