Testimony of Lisa Haver to the BOE, September 17, 2020

Last year, the Board abolished the speaker policy set up years ago which encoded  consistency and mandated that speakers on both sides of a topic could be heard.  APPS protested the elimination of that policy. Now the Board threatens to cut off the mic of anyone they feel veers too far from their chosen topic, another perk of remote meetings for them. Documents APPS received this week from our RTK request show that Board members are actually meeting in secret during the public meeting, sharing opinions on topics and on speakers via text messages. That is against the law. The Board should be getting its own house in order instead of silencing public speakers. 

The special hearing last week on Renaissance charter schools brings into question why the Board needs to contract with an outside charter consulting organization.  Item 8 proposes an extension with the National Charter Schools Institute to provide a tool called Epicenter Document Manager. If renewed, the contract will cost taxpayers $250K over 3 years.  The District’s vendor list shows that one-third of the District’s $3.3 billion budget goes directly to charter operators, much of that to the 21 Renaissance charter operators, so this $250K is in addition to those costs. 

The Board’s special meeting on Renaissance charters last week was a bait-and-switch in response to former Board Member Chris McGinley’s motion last April for real Renaissance reform—to honestly and thoroughly examine how a program that has cost tens of billions has resulted in such failure, and to consider taking back the Renaissance charters that have failed their mission and reneged on their promise to “effect dramatic change” in neighborhood public schools. Committee Chair McColgan’s pandering to charter operators last week, repeatedly reassuring them that the Board had no intention of changing the status quo, and referring to Renaissance charters as “quality schools”—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the District’s own data—was inappropriate and embarrassing. Unfortunately, it was part of the pattern of the Board’s protection of charter operators at the expense of the public school students whose interests they swore to protect. 

APPS has done extensive research over the years on the exponential growth of charters and their cost to the District. We have made several suggestions to the Board about reforming this, including holding charter renewal hearings. But the Board takes no responsibility, disingenuously blaming the state at every turn. APPS says don’t hold private negotiations with charters on renewals, the Board cries “state charter law”! APPS says hold charter renewal hearings, the Board cries, “state charter law”! APPS says stop renewing Renaissance charters that meet NONE of the basic standards, the Board cries “state charter law”!

Item 8 and its extensions represents a drop in the bucket in District charter spending of over $1 billion every year and growing. But the Board’s subservient position when approving charter renewals, amendments, enrollment expansions, and their silence on exorbitant charter CEO salaries sends a very clear message to the community—that they will always take 2nd place to those with money and political power. Which, incidentally, will also be true if the Board approves tax breaks for Hilco Incorporated.