Governance Part 2: What’s Needed in the Long Term?

  • Who should authorize charter schools?
  • Who should manage school facilities?
  • Who should handle the money?
  • What should happen to the Orleans Parish School Board?
  • What about giving the mayor authority over schools?
  • What about an appointed school board?

While these are all important questions, Educate Now! urges everyone to hit the pause button and take time to fully understand the “what” of school governance (what roles, functions, services must be in place) before looking at the “who” (what individuals, group, organization, or political entity or entities should be responsible for these functions).

A Different Governance Model

New Orleans is now a majority charter school district. This year, 61% of students attend charters, and come August, it will be close to 70%. Based on current projections, the percentage of students attending charters could easily reach 80-85% within the next few years.

New Orleans will require a governance model that is different than anywhere else in the nation. This will be the case whether schools are returned to the Orleans Parish School Board or to a new entity or entities.

In the rest of the country, generally speaking, there is either:

The traditional model: A central governing authority – “the system” – manages operations and makes decisions for all schools; there are no charter schools. The governing authority might be an elected board, an appointed board, the mayor, etc.

OR

The competition model: Public charter schools “compete” with a centralized system. This is the structure that was in New Orleans pre-Katrina when we had 9 charter schools and the system had more than 100 traditional schools.

In this model, charters are a small percentage of the total number of schools, and they rely on the system to handle issues that are “outside” of their schools, such as enrolling students who change schools mid-year or providing educational services to expelled students.

Neither of these models will work for long term governance in New Orleans, for both of them assume “the system” has the majority of students, performs the majority of services and has the majority of the money. In New Orleans today, charters have the majority of students, perform the majority of services once managed by the district (hiring and firing staff, managing budgets, selecting the curriculum, providing transportation, etc.) and receive the money directly.

We have passed the point of whether or not we will have charters or even a limited number of charters. Charter schools enjoy strong public support, and student academic performance is improving.

So the question is: Now that the majority of schools in New Orleans are autonomous charter schools, what do we need from government so this “system of schools” performs well, serves all students and is sustainable?

The What Before the Who

Before New Orleans can decide who should be responsible for school governance, we must first determine what functions will be performed by individual schools or nonprofits, and what functions government must perform.

This past summer, Educate Now! convened a group of 25 people, including national experts, representatives from charter schools, parent and business groups, and others to discuss long term governance. The goal was not to come up with “the answer” or even specific recommendations for a governance structure. strong>Instead, our purpose was to understand the “What” before talking about the “Who.” Specifically, we wanted to identify what students, schools and the community at large will need from the entity or entities that govern schools long term.

Functions that Government Must Perform

Participants in the governance discussions identified everything a central office does in a traditional school district and eliminated those things that New Orleans schools or nonprofits can or should be doing. The result was a list of necessary functions we think government (not schools) must do if we are to have a coordinated and cohesive system of schools that serves all children. These functions fall into six categories.

These first three categories are the ones most commonly discussed:

1. CHARTER AUTHORIZING
In any governance model, there will be a need for a chartering authority that:
Grants charters
Oversees performance
Renews charters
Revokes charters
Maintains charter school quality

*******

2. FACILITY MANAGEMENT
School governance must include an entity that:
Assigns campuses to school operators
Establishes the length and terms of lease [the
responsibilities of the school (tenant) versus those of
the landlord]
Inspects and maintains school facilities
Secures and allocates capital funds for facilities
Optimizes efficiencies, e.g., insurance, utilities
Manages construction

*******

3. FINANCES
How money is raised and distributed across schools and students is a key governance function, including:
Taxing and bonding authority
Securing additional resources
Monitoring school use of funds
Creating a local weighted student formula (WSF)
Distributing funds using the weighted student
formula (WSF)

These next three roles have not received the same level of public conversation, but they must be assigned if New Orleans is to have a “system of schools” versus a “collection of schools.”

Serving All Students
The governance model must answer how all students will be served. The answers will likely include a  sophisticated funding formula that provides additional funds for alternative schools and special needs students as well as supporting alternative schools that specialize and excel in serving unique populations. Equally important is the need for additional “rule making” – especially around charter school enrollment policies. Charters will have to give up some of the enrollment autonomy that they traditionally enjoy elsewhere in the country. For example, a policy for mid-year enrollees might require charters to accept more students, even if a school has reached its planned enrollment limit.
4.   SERVING ALL STUDENTS
Because these are public schools, we must ensure that all students are served. This includes:
Making rules/policies that address:
◦ Enrollment, including mid-year enrollees
◦ Participation in the common application
process
◦ Special education:
· All schools serving appropriately
· Placement decisions when no local school
is appropriate
◦ Adjudicated youth
◦ Alternative needs students including drop outs
Monitoring and enforcing the rules
Assisting parents with finding schools

******

5. COMMUNICATIONS Communications
The public needs a centralized source of information, a local forum for commentary and a means to engage with the system of schools.

In addition, some entity will need to speak for the schools collectively when discussing public education or youth related policy issues with governmental bodies, businesses and other organizations. And in case of an emergency, such as a hurricane evacuation or a flu epidemic, there will need to be a consistency of protocol and management.

In addition to school sites’ communication with their individual constituencies, there must also be coordinated, system-wide communication that:
Provides information to the general public,
parents and schools
Creates a platform for broad public input
(proactive)
Gives the public opportunities to address
policy issues (reactive)
Represents schools with other governmental
bodies (Mayor, City Council, judges, legislature)
Coordinates emergency management
(consistency of protocol & management)

******

6. PLANNING
Government will need to collect, analyze and use data to evaluate system performance and to plan for future needs, including:
Conducting demographic planning
Determining the necessary number
and types of schools
Collecting and monitoring student data
(shared data system)

Principles to Drive Decision Making

Having agreed that the six categories listed above constitute the “what” of a new governance model, the group moved on to develop a vision statement and a set of
principles to guide decision making about how these functions should be assigned.

Vision Statement

New Orleans should have a system of governance for public education that empowers and requires individual schools to excel and provides the coordination and fairness necessary to serve the needs of all students and the public.

Having quality, high performing schools for all students is critical and non-negotiable and should not be jeopardized. As long as school quality is not compromised, any governance decisions can be adjusted over time as we learn more.

Principles

Autonomy
.
Autonomy is critical for high quality, effective schools and must be protected.
.
All schools, charter or traditional, should have authority over:
Personnel and related functions
Budget
.
In addition, all charter schools should have authority over:
Direct governance of their schools
Curriculum and instruction
Time, including school calendar and length of day
Handling and resolving school level issues in compliance with their charter
contract and established school policies. School level issues are first
addressed at the school level.

****

Quality Authorizing
.
Quality Authorizing ensures:
Focus on academic performance
Protection of charter autonomy
◦  Preventing burdensome rules and regulations
◦  Protecting schools from political pressure
Compliance with charter contracts
Low performance results in transfer of direct school
governance to another operator

****

Parent Choice
***
Parent Choice is protected.
Information on schools is easily accessible, timely
and understandable by parents.
Schools that do not have selective admissions are
part of a coordinated, simplified open enrollment process.
The desire for neighborhood schools is balanced with
the need for parents to be able to choose a school
outside of their neighborhood.

****

Local Voice
****
Local Voice is heard.
The charter authorizer is either local, or if it is
a state authorizer (like BESE), it has a local
office to respond to local issues and concerns.
Clarity is provided so the public understands
where to go with particular issues.

****

Equity
****
Resources (facilities and local, state and federal
revenues) are sufficient, well-managed and fairly
allocated across schools.
The same amount of money should follow an individual
student no matter whether it is to a charter or to a
traditional school.
Some students, such as special needs students,
should have more money allocated to them.

****

Separation of Power
****
Whoever manages the resources (facilities and money) does not operate schools and is impartial as to whether a school is a public charter or traditional school.
*****
Charter schools should not have to compete with schools operated by the resource manager for fair allocation of resources.

****

What’s Next?

Once we have agreed on the critical functions that must be performed by government, the next question is: How should these functions be structured?

  • Should all functions be managed by one entity?
  • Should we divide the functions into separate entities, with one entity handling resources (facilities and taxing) and another authorizing charters?
  • Should there be a separate and distinct Facility Authority, and if so, how would it coordinate with the other entity or entities so there is a shared vision and priorities? A facility manager might think repairing facilities is the number one priority, while the authorizer might think additional monies for school operations is most critical. Who decides?

These are exciting times for New Orleans. Educate Now! is committed to expanding the input and ideas that began with these discussions and welcomes your comments. Please email me at ljacobs@educatenow.net with your thoughts. Or, if you would like Educate Now! to make a presentation to, or meet with, your organization, please contact us.

Educate Now!
Leslie Jacobs
Founder

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