This editorial was published by the Idaho State Journal of Pocatello.
The standoff between several of the state’s charter schools and the state commission that oversees them has escalated to the point that now the Idaho Attorney General’s Office is involved.
The office confirmed last week that it is in fact investigating the Idaho Public Charter School Commission after receiving a complaint about the commission from Heritage Academy, the Jerome charter school that was on the receiving end of some not-so-nice comments from the commission.
Those comments were made during an April executive session of the Charter School Commission that was accidentally recorded and then accidentally released by the commission itself.
The recording included commission members also saying some very regrettable things about the city of Jerome, its school district and its residents and made it appear that the commission is on a mission to shut down several of the state’s charter schools, as evidenced by the critical comments made by the commission about those schools.
The critical comments about Heritage Academy were especially hurtful because many of that school’s students are special needs and/or can’t speak English.
The commission’s audio recording scandal has now been covered by several Idaho media outlets as well as the Associated Press.
The fact the attorney general has gotten involved should get the attention of Idaho Gov. Brad Little if he hasn’t been paying attention to this brewing powder keg already.
The attorney general is presumably going to answer the question via an investigation on whether the executive session during which the commission made its disparaging remarks was or was not held in violation of Idaho’s open meetings law. The charter schools that were criticized by the commission on the audio recording have made a strong case that the meeting should have in fact been open to the public rather than held behind closed doors.
We’re confident the Attorney General’s Office will conduct a comprehensive review of the commission’s behavior and hold the commission accountable if any laws were broken.
The seven members of the Charter School Commission were each appointed by either Little, Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, or Idaho Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.
The difficult chapter in the commission’s history caused by the audio recording is definitely worthy of the attention of Little, Bedke and Hill because this is a serious matter.
The negative and critical comments the charter school commissioners said on the recording about several of the state’s charter schools have not gone unnoticed by those schools and the people affiliated with those schools now feel with certainty that the commissioners have an agenda to shut down their schools.
One can’t help but get the strong impression upon listening to the audio recording of the commission’s April executive session that the commission’s dislike of the schools mentioned is bitterly personal.
No one affiliated with any of the schools mentioned on the audio recording could feel that the commission is going to objectively review his schools in the future. Just the opposite appears to be true after listening to the recording.
That puts the commission in an untenable position because it is the commission’s job to conduct such critiques to make sure the state’s charter schools are meeting standards.
The charter schools that feel like they’re in the commission’s crosshairs are now fighting back by saying that some members of the commission lack any background in education and are not qualified to serve in a position where they’re casting judgment on the state’s charter schools. Many charter schools also fear that what was captured on the audio recording was not atypical of the commission’s attitude and apparent arrogance.
If left unchecked, this controversy is destined to get worse before it gets better.
We suggest, for starters, that the Charter School Commission offer a sincere apology to the state’s charter school community regarding the commission’s ugly comments captured on the audio recording.
By sincere apology, the commissioners need to admit those comments were inaccurate and unprofessional, ask for forgiveness and explain how they’re going to rebuild the commission’s credibility moving forward.
We would encourage Little, Bedke and Hill to take a close look at the commission and decide if any changes need to be made.
Having people on the commission who don’t have the necessary background in education is less than ideal. How can a charter school administrator or board member take seriously the advice from Charter School Commission members who lack any expertise in the education field?
Little, Bedke and Hill should make sure that the people who serve on the commission have the expertise to truly oversee the state’s charter schools, especially since more of these schools are going to open in the future.
Forging ahead with a charter school commission that is disrespected and seen as anything but objective by the charter school community is not acceptable.
The commission itself and our state’s leaders need to right this ship and fast so that when the commission speaks, the state’s charter schools will listen.
Because right now many of those schools believe the commission is their enemy.