Nashville school board moves to increase charter school transparency

Reporter Joey Garrison’s story this weekend in The Tennessean is a good one about increasing charter school transparency.

While some might think it’s as much politics as anything behind the motivation to require charter schools in Nashville to publish financial documents on the Metro Public Schools website, it’s a proactive measure that all local governments can take, even before there is a controversy.

Good to see that the school board decided to require the same of all Metro Nashville schools, not just charter schools.

Our open government laws (open meetings and open records) apply to charter schools the same way they do to all other public schools.

I don’t see many media stories from charter school board meetings, so I would imagine that most reporters don’t cover them.

But charter school boards are required by law to give adequate notice of their regular meetings, and when they have special meetings, post their agenda. Look for board meeting notices either on their websites or in your local newspaper. And if you don’t see them, give a call to the local charter and ask where they publish notice.

There’s a lawsuit in Shelby County right now, filed by board member Dionysia Smith-Richardson, that alleges that the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences has violated the Open Meetings Act in that they haven’t  published notice of their meetings. Smith-Richardson told me that when she asked about the issue, she was told by a long-time board member that the school was a nonprofit and didn’t have to have open meetings.

Smith-Richardson’s lawsuit against Memphis Academy came after two board meetings in January – one a special emergency meeting – in which the longtime board chairman was named as new interim executive director.

The law is clear about open meetings and charter schools. It’s written into the part of the state code that governs charter schools.

In fact, state lawmakers in the past session carved out a special exception to the Open Meetings requirement for charter schools, allowing charter school boards to meet via teleconference without having a physical quorum in one place. (All other governing bodies are required to have a physical quorum in one place.)

The reasoning behind the teleconferencing exception is that some charter schools have board members all across the country.

Still, like every open meeting, the law requires that all the deliberations be audible to the public, so special accommodations must be made for those teleconferencing in so all can hear.

Deborah Fisher is executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, an 11-year-old nonprofit alliance of media, citizens and good government groups promoting transparency in government through education about our laws.


What do you think?