Charter Schools: The Hit Is Out (Part I)

Established; the left hates, and wants to extinguish, charter schools.

Charter schools – invented about twenty years ago in Minnesota, and given life by a 1991 law that allowed schools, run by sponsoring organizations and elected boards of parents, teachers, sponsors and other interested parties, to use the money that would have been allocated to the student at a public school – have been a lightning rod ever since.

For the teachers’ union and the educational/industrial complex,anyway.

For parents – especially parents underserved by the decaying inner city schools with their sub-50% graduation rates, violence and miserable achievement – the word I’m looking for is “lifelines”.  City parents – especially the Afro-American parents that have the most to gripe about with urban schools – are leaving the city schools in droves; 1/8 of Saint Paul’s kids have left the system, with even more in Minneapolis, as of two years ago.

Charter schools offer what public schools not only lack, but actively squelch; parental involvement; beyond that, parental control; staff whose jobs are intimately tied to their success with the kids, since the board that hires them administers only the school they’re in; perhaps most important, immediate accountability – not to some politicized, “elected” school board (which is in the bag for the teachers union, not the parents) and careerist administration, but to them via a decision loop that is a microscopic fraction of what it is at a public school.  If a charter school screws up with a kid, they know it right away; the board hears it and must respond immediately, or the kids, and the money, go away.

The accountability, in other words, is immediate.

Which the teachers union and the educational-industrial complex hates.  They’ve been working for almost two decades to extinguish the charter school experiment.  They’ve tittered about “academic achievement” rates that, in the cases of some schools, is a tiny hair below that of public schools, in press releases that carefully ignore two inconvenient truths:

  • Charter schools are often where parents go after kids have “checked out” of the public system, developed atrocious study skills, and lost interest in education.  Call it educational recovery; it’s where many parents – myself included – go to salvage the mess our inept public schools create.
  • When a kid in a public school is performing poorly enough to blow the school’s rates for purposes of “No Child Left Behind”, they’re shunted off to an “Alternative Learning Center” (ALC), which, being explicitly for kids with academic problems, is “off the books”.  Charter schools don’t have this; there’s just one Grade Point Average for a charter school!

But more than anything, it’s about the money.  Since the per-student money from the states follows each charter student, every family that decamps for the charters takes tens of thousands of dollars away from the factory school system.  It’s adding up fast.

They want it back.

John Fitzgerald came out yesterday with a hit piece on charters’ “Financial Accountability”. for “Minnesota 2020”, the “non-partisan” think tank founded by former DFL Representative Matt Entenza and employing, as far as I can see, nothing but partisans.

Seventeen years after the first charter school opened in Minnesota, this examination of fiscal year 2007 charter school financial audits shows that the vast majority of charter schools do not follow basic financial guidelines or, in some cases, state law. Since this analysis agrees with a recent report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor and audit examinations written in 2001, 2002 and 2003, we conclude that these financial problems are not being adequately addressed by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and, further, are endemic of the charter school system.

Well, that sounds pretty damning.   Of course, the damnation is in the details -which we’ll look into later.

Efforts by the 2009 Legislature to provide more accountability to charter schools was welcome, but shorthanded. The charter school program is financially flawed and basic concepts about charter schools – such as unelected school boards and under informed business management – need to be changed.

Let’s clarify a few things about the language in this paragraph, since they obfuscate a few things that, for the charter advocate, are better re-clarified.

Some charters do have unelected boards.  Most of them do elect their boards.

And any parent that’s ever been involved in a charter school knows that most of them are run by teachers, not managers or accountants. At some charters – schools with excellent academic records – the staff freely admit they work hard to keep the regulatory hogs’ troughs slopped with the pails of paperwork that attend the spending of any public money.  It’s not an unfair charge – although to try to turn that charge into a conviction, as Fitzgerald does later in this piece, is laughably misleading.

Fitzgerald cuts to the chase

In November and December, 2008 and January, 2009, Minnesota 2020 combed through the financial audits of 145 charter schools for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2007 – reports that were filed with MDE by December 31, 2007. Our research found several trends in charter school financial management:

  • 83 percent were found to have at least one financial irregularity in their audit – five years earlier, that figure was 73 percent;
  • 51 percent of those schools with problems identified on their 2007 financial audits had the same problems identified on their 2008 audits, according to the MDE;
  • 29 percent did not respond to a request for board minutes – five years earlier, that figure was 33 percent;
  • 55 percent were found to have “limited segregation of duties,” a requirement that ensures no single charter school official has control of the school’s funds;
  • 26 percent didn’t have proper collateral for deposit insurance, a requirement that ensures the charter school can pay its bills.

Well, that sure sounds bad.  And those are the numbers that MN2020 will splash all about the state’s media (the media that so many of MN2020’s staff used to work for).

But what’s behind those numbers?  You have to do some reading for that.  We’ll look into the numbers tomorrow.

But Fitzgerald reaches a conclusion:

If charter schools can’t run their schools in a financially competent manner, Minnesota should reconsider whether charter schools are worthy of public funding at all.

Which brings up a slew of interesting questions.

Why should charter schools be the only ones required to be “financially competent”?  Can we have the same debate about “worthiness” with our union-strangled, factory school system?

We’ll be back to look at Fitzgerald’s numbers tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Yep, it’s John, not Peter Fitzgerald.  I hadn’t had coffee yet; I’m lucky I didn’t write “Edmund”.

And I guess I don’t keep up with my “progressive” non-profit trivia like I used to: Entenza isn’t with MN2020 anymore.

(Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series)

28 thoughts on “Charter Schools: The Hit Is Out (Part I)

  1. Yup. There are, clearly, some problems — some pretty horrible ones — with some charter schools. (Did the report cover the TIZA scandal?

    As to the “checks and balances”, the parents have a very easy check on a charter school: if they don’t like the way it’s doing its job, the kid can go to another school — charter of public — and the money goes along. If enough do, the charter school goes belly-up, as its funding is just this side of exclusively the state dollars that the kids bring along with them.

    Having, just a few minutes ago, left a meeting with the largely unaccountable bureaucrats in the Minneapolis Public Schools, this is sounding like a little piece of heaven to this parent.

  2. What a crock. I worked for some small cities in Central Minnesota in the 90’s. The annual city audit dinged them for “inadequate controls” year after year, just like the charter schools.

    What was the problem? Well, the town is so small that it has only one woman working as Clerk-Treasurer. Proper accounting principles require at least two people to sign and countersign for every nickel. But that would mean hiring more people and cost more money, which is why we combined the Clerk and Treasurer jobs into one position in the first place.

    Besides, is any money missing? Well, no, but technically you’re not doing it the best way our industry wants you to.

    So it looks bad on paper but in truth, everything is fine? Well, yeah.

    What a crock.

  3. I have smacked Fitzgerald down so many times the side of his head fits the rhetorical back of my hand like a glove.

    If there’s a stastic or a number of any sort included in his pap, count on it being wrong, out of context or simply pulled out of the crack in his ass.

    One of his favorite talking points these days is that our “investment” (excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth) in public schools has lagged the cost of inflation by 13% in the past five years.

    Now a quick check at the Bureau of Labor Statiscs says he’s lying….but he’s not. He’s using the rate of *government* inflation, which is tracked seperately because it leads the private sector by 20%.

    I had the extreme pleasure of forcing to him stumble through an explaination of that twice on AirScamerica.

    In fact, taken as a whole, MN2020 is staffed by some of the most incompetent liars the left has to offer.

  4. He does say this:

    “charter schools … are not subject to the same checks and balances taxpayers have the right to expect. Traditional schools are governed by elected school boards.”

    And yet these “elected school boards” have not stopped many “traditional schools” from producing results that make you think “stunningly mismanaged” would be an improvement.

  5. Swiftee says I’m pulling facts and stats out of my ass. Let’s try this one: I’ve been on AirAmerica twice, once in August 2008 and once in October 2007. Neither time did anyone ask me about state underfunding of public schools. Seems to me someone has to pull something out of his ass, but it’s not me.

  6. Fitz and Swiftee,

    Ok, for now let’s leave forensic reconstruction of past AirAmerica appearances for another forum.

    I’m a charter parent for whom this issue is very important. Charter schools have had a huge impact on my kids’ lives; the DFL (and their various “progressive”/”non-partisan” retainers) effort to kill them off is a direct threat to the well-being of an awful lot of kids. So I’d like to keep this debate on an even keel, inasmuch as it’s possible to do that in a comment section.

    I’ll be getting into more specifics about your article tomorrow, Mr. Fitzgerald.  Thanks for showing up.

  7. Well, you may as well have typed “Edmund Fizgerald”; the “report” is a wreck:

    The legend flows on from the Superintendent on down,
    Of the schools that they say are the “charters”.
    The charters, it’s said, should be given up for dead,
    So the perks for the unions don’t falter.

  8. On a more serious note, while the metric of number of financial inadequacies and/or irregularities is significant, it’s irrelevant unless properly measured against those of the charter schools’ competitors: the public schools.

    A better metric, of course, would be the effectiveness on educating the students — and I’d be very interested to see how the charters stack up against, say, the Minneapolis Public Schools and their sub-50% high school graduation rate.

    But, sure, it’s just horrible that almost a third of the charter schools didn’t send out board minutes upon request; that is, after all, a core function of a school. Gotta kill those trees.

  9. When I read MN2020’s article I also wondered how many public schools might “fail” their checklist. Especially considering that only one “violation” constituted failure by their standards. While I would agree that charter schools should be held accountable for their financial status, I dispute that it is a large a crisis as they project.

    I also found it very interesting that two of the four schools highlighted as the biggest offenders were actually sponsored by public school districts. I would have thought that one of the responsibilities of a sponsor of a charter school would be to have someone overseeing it and ensuring that these requirements are met. If the school districts aren’t doing that for these charter schools they are sponsoring, what IS going on with the rest of their schools.

  10. My spouse had an administrative position with a metro school district. This was after more than a decade of working as an executive assistant for various senior level executives at a major insurance company. She said that if public schools were held to the same standards insurance firms are (they are not, but MN2020 acts as if the charter schools should be) most of the administrative staff would be fired for flat out incompetence.
    My neighbors kids go to a charter. She was shocked when I told her that our kids teachers get two weeks of vacation – during the school year. Her charters’ superintendent couldn’t explain two “irregularities” in the financial statement and the board fired this person without a backward glance.
    Like GM and Chrysler, many public schools now aren’t much more than jobs programs with a mission that was sacrificed to union work rules, wages and benefits long ago and coupled with administrative / bureaucratic sclerosis, damns the kids to having to go on for training in, what do you know, state run post secondary educational institutions and training centers. The commercials GM is running now are so much like the teachers union commercials; the “workers” smiling faces, turned upward like some commie propoganda film, promising that with just a little more money we can straighten this out, give us another chance. Or else.

  11. I was really hoping for a rubuttal or at least a correction to the “lagging the cost of inflation by x%”

    “One of his favorite talking points these days is that our “investment” (excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth) in public schools has lagged the cost of inflation by 13% in the past five years.

    Now a quick check at the Bureau of Labor Statiscs says he’s lying….but he’s not. He’s using the rate of *government* inflation, which is tracked seperately because it leads the private sector by 20%.”

    So will Fitz admit that spending on public schools has increased 8% faster than inflation? Anyone else been getting an 8% raise for the past five years?

    What will be the new rate of government inflation under the Obama Oligarchy?

  12. I went to a pretty darn good suburban school district public school, large student graduations. I maybe knew of one single student my own age at the time who dropped out of school – and that student later went back and graduated, just late. On the other hand, I knew a number of other kids – like me – who had either earned enough credits to graduate early and/or had skipped one or two years, as a result of other academic achievement.

    So… while the whole story is really interesting, and especially while I applaud Mitch for the kind of close look he has taken at the real significance of the numbers —Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m still stuck back at the graduation rate, trying to fully wrap my head around the number, numbed with a screaming sound inside my head reminiscent of the Home Alone movies.

    As the shriek fades out, I have to agree with joelr about encouraging parents to consider ‘voting with your enrollment / $$’. And the biggest question in my mind is what are the other parents (than Mitch) doing about their children in view of this, especially the ones who are not graduating? Anything? The mind simply boggles.

    nate says:
    “Besides, is any money missing? Well, no, but technically you’re not doing it the best way our industry wants you to.

    So it looks bad on paper but in truth, everything is fine? Well, yeah.”

    If I may raise a question – the situation you described of one person having check signing perogatives because of the town being small did strike me as a situation where that one person COULD do a lot of damage, even potentially cleaning out the town’s bank account, even if nothing had gone wrong at that point. Clearly the requirement to hire another person to be a countermeasure against that was impractical, but was there something else done as different but equivalent safety measure against that kind of abuse put in place? There has to be more than one possible way to prevent embezzlement; and I’m sure that it doesn’t require reinventing the wheel to come up with it.

    Which I would imagine to be the case with the school problems as well. What has been tried and found to work – and does anyone know when something worked, WHY it did, to suggest new solutions?

  13. If government spending increases at 8% per year and the non-government sector increases at 5% what does the curve of the non-government economy look like?

  14. Anyone notice that Fitzgerald didn’t care to argue the truth of the meat of my comment regarding the government inflation index? That’s because he knows it is the truth..I’ll tell why in a minute.

    I could likewise go through AirScamerica podcasts and refresh his memory regarding our conversations, but listening to all that spew again to find the brief clips of my questioning (before Mark Heaney hung up on me, natch) would cause an uncomfortable swelling of my brain.

    I don’t need to anyway.

    How does Fitzgerald know I’ve got the facts right? Well, because it was Fitzgerald himself that told me about the separate inflation indexes in the first place…on AirScamerica…like I said.


  15. When it comes to embezzlement, the majority of the time the money is long gone from the account before the second or other party’s are aware of it. In my experience and reading – the embezzler is on the beach in Belize (big time frauds) or has transferred it via slot machine to an Indian tribe (small time frauds), long before the auditor or board has a clue.
    I’m a graduate of public schools, too. That said, public schools have been and are becoming large warehouse operations based on trying to produce lots of units of copycat products to cover the growing labor and overhead burden they have. And this factory model doesn’t serve the units – the children, very well at all. At the same time, some parents have to quit acting like schools are a taxpayer subsidized daycare and take responsibility for their kid getting the education they need and make certain their kids realize that education has value. From attending some school board meetings, some parents complain more about ice time being reduced than the fact that the school is closing a science or math lab due to lack of funding.

  16. Reply to Dog Gone: no, nothing was done. And it wasn’t just one small city, the same thing happens in small cities all across the state.

    Look, the population of one of my city accounts was 199 souls. That’s fewer people than live in my neighborhood here in St. Paul. And I’d bet the total assessed valuation of their city is less than ours, too. Makes no sense to require them to comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles by hiring more people to counter-sign checks and deposits.

    Yes, there is risk of loss, but it’s small and residents are willing to accept it in return for lower taxes. So the city gets a note in the audit about lack of appropriate controls and they ignore it because they know it’s just a technical violation of accounting rules, not an indication of a real problem.

    I’d bet the notes in the charter school audits are of a similar nature, which is why it’s so appalling that the writer would use those insignificant and routine “best practices” comments to imply financial mis-management.

    There’s money missing in government, all right (e.g. trillions in TARP moneys not accounted for or closer to home, the Gang Strike Force’s Missing Motor Pool that Joel R wrote about). So far, nothing I’ve seen indicates that the charter school audit issues are even in the same galaxy in the universe of financial problems.


  17. joelr wrote: “A better metric, of course, would be the effectiveness on educating the students — and I’d be very interested to see how the charters stack up against, say, the Minneapolis Public Schools and their sub-50% high school graduation rate.”

    I sure would love to see a graph showing all the increases in MPS funding year to year in comparison to the graduation rate. I’ve always sensed that we’ve throw tons of money at the schools while the results (quality of the product) decline precipitously. The charter schools are just a straw dog for those that want to keep the children indoctrinated for the purpose of feathering their own nest.

  18. I had hoped to stay out of this discussion, but MN2020 Fellow, John Fitzgerald, has brought it to Winona in a very direct way by slamming Bluffview Montessori School, a 2009 Department of Education Finance Award Winner, with malfeasance because of the auditor’s notes on our 2007 audit report.

    While MN2020 attempts to convince the public that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza had “nothing to do” with its recent report on Charter School audits, Fitzgerald continues to dig his own hole deeper and deeper by not allowing his flawed analysis of charter school audits to simply fade away. Disguised as legitimate (scientific?) research, Fitzgerald is doing what he knows best – writing to persuade.

    MN2020 wants to persuade the voting public that Charter Schools are a bad investment for Minnesota. Speaking on behalf of MN2020, Fitzgerald does not tell you why that is the case. Instead, he collects a bunch of facts and simply spins them together into a report that “makes his case.” All of the opinions and judgments about the significance of the data are Fitzgerald’s – a newspaper reporter by trade. Nowhere does he cite auditors or other accounting experts. Nowhere does he include detailed explanations of how individual comments came about. While MN2020 sells itself as a “progressive nonpartisan think tank,” progressive non-partisanship and thinking are not part of how the organization operates. The MN2020 agenda is simple; it wants to protect the status quo in education.

    The devil is in the details, so let’s take a look at Bluffview’s 2007 Audit Schedule of Findings in detail:

    Limited Segregation of Duties

    Auditor’s recommendation: “We recommend that the School continue to segregate duties as best it can within the limits of what the School considers to be cost beneficial.”

    The school’s Corrective Action Plan (CAP) states: “The School reviews and makes improvements to its internal controls on an ongoing basis, and attempts to maximize the segregation of duties within the limits of the staff available.”

    After several years of effort and by working with our auditors, Bluffview has been able to design and refine an internal system that segregates duties appropriately (without significant increases in personnel expense, I might add). Bluffview did not have that finding on its 2008 audit.

    Annual Financial Reporting under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)

    Auditor’s recommendation: “The School should continue to evaluate their internal staff, expertise, and assigned duties to determine if an internal control policy over the annual financial reporting is beneficial.”

    The CAP states: “The School will continue to rely upon the audit firm to prepare the financial statements and related footnote disclosures and will review and approve these prior to the issuance of the annual financial statements.”

    While this is an acceptable Corrective Action Plan, it virtually guarantees that the finding will continue to appear on subsequent audits. Indeed, in June 2008 – the audit that resulted in Bluffview’s winning the Finance Award – this same finding appears. We modified the CAP to require the Bluffview Board of Directors to pass a policy that requires such oversight of the auditor. I don’t know if passing that policy will satisfy the GAAP Principles enough to eliminate the finding. We’ll see in July.

    Year End Adjusting Journal Entries

    Auditor’s recommendations: “The School should evaluate its accounting controls and determine if additional procedures should be implemented to assure that accounts are adjusted to their proper year-end balances.”

    The CAP states: “The School will continue to rely upon the audit firm to propose such audit adjustments as necessary to adjust accounts in accordance with GAAP. Management will review and approve those entries prior to recording them.”

    This acceptable Corrective Action Plan, too, virtually guarantees that the finding will be repeated on subsequent audits.

    Bank Reconciliation Not Reconciled to General Ledger

    Auditor’s recommendations: “The School should be reconciling its bank reconciliation on a monthly basis to the general ledger. There should also be consideration given to creating an oversight role to the reconciliation process.”

    The CAP states: “The School will implement procedures and controls to ensure that bank reconciliations are prepared properly. Management will oversee the completion of these bank reconciliations each month.”

    The School had not previously had that finding. What happened? How did the School fail such a fundamental GAAP Principle? This is an example of a moving target. Even though monthly bank reconciliations were taking place, the school was not reconciling the multitude of bond accounts related to the bond issue of the BMS Building Corporation. Those numbers were calculated by the bond trustee and provided to the School at the end of its fiscal year. The numbers were, in effect, unavailable for monthly bank reconciliations. Thus, the auditor became involved in the reconciliation process. Because new Generally Accepted Accounting Principles were being phased in, a new finding was required, even though this had always been the standard practice in previous years. The School’s CAP, however, was effective and this finding did not appear on the 2008 audit.

    Minnesota Legal Compliance – Uncollateralized Deposits

    The CAP States: “The School will implement procedures to ensure that the School’s deposits remain fully collateralized.” Indeed, Bluffview has done that and its bank now fully collateralizes Bluffview’s deposits.

    What does this mean? MN2020 would have you believe that, “26 percent didn’t have proper collateral for deposit insurance, a requirement that ensures the charter school can pay its bills.” That simply is not true and Fitzgerald’s lack of knowledge of finances, investments, and accounting principles shows up most starkly in that statement.

    When the School places money in its savings and checking accounts, FDIC protects those investments (currently up to $250,000). Whenever the school’s total deposits exceed the FDIC limit, the deposited funds in excess are not protected by FDIC. Minnesota Legal Compliance is concerned that all public monies be collateralized. The purpose of the collateralization is to protect public money, not ensure that charter schools can pay their bills. Frankly, if a charter school could not pay its bills, the amount of deposited funds would most likely not be large enough to require additional collateralization.

    And finally, while it is the charter school’s responsibility to conduct oversight in this process, it is the responsibility of the bank to ensure that deposits of public monies are fully collateralized. Moreover, this finding will appear in the audit whenever there is a significant delay in the rise in deposited funds and the collateralization of those funds by the bank.

    Minnesota Legal Compliance – Missing Declaration of Payment

    The CAP states: “The School will implement procedures to ensure that the School has a declaration on the back of all of its checks.” We did. Enough said.

    Minnesota Legal Compliance – Adopted Budget

    The CAP states: “The School will approve and adopt its revenue and expenditure budget for fiscal year 2009 prior to July 1, 2008”

    The budget in question was for its Food Service Fund. That failure, too, has been corrected.

    As Bluffview deals with its audit findings, I expect the auditor to look even harder and to identify other areas where our accounting systems can be improved. You see, in addition to meeting state requirements, I expect our audits to assist Bluffview’s efforts to improved fiscal accountability. I don’t know how some school audits are completed without such findings. I do know that whether or not a finding appears on the audit often is the result of conversations between the auditor and representatives of the client schools. At Bluffview, we are open to suggestions for improvement and do not often argue with the auditor’s suggestions.

    Finally, the glaring problem with the MN2020 report is that it did not include a similar study of regular public school districts. Thus, the public has no standard of comparison to judge how charters perform with respect to financial management. I do know, however, that it is possible for a school to win a Department of Education Finance Award even though it has findings on its audit. Are such findings intended to be informative and instructional or are they intended to be punitive? The MN2020 report does not say, but it has certainly used the data to recommend punitive “solutions” to perceived problems – problems recognized only by MN2020 and the “non partisan” organizations who provide their financial support.

    Such mischaracterizations and colored language are used by MN2020 in their analysis of the results of their study and in subsequent articles defending their study. For instance, in a defense of his report in the Winona Daily News on June16, John Fitzgerald, the study’s author, characterizes the election of a charter school board as, “much the same as a college fraternity elects its leaders.” Unless a college fraternity is a not-for-profit corporation governed by Minnesota Statute Chapter 317A, it is, likely that there is no comparison. The use of such language only serves to persuade readers. It does not express truth. A more accurate characterization might have been to compare the election of charter school boards to the election of the board of the Winona Chamber of Commerce or even of MN2020 itself!

    There are other assertions and conclusions in the report that are not born out by facts. They are conclusions of convenience, arrived at by Fitzgerald because they promote the real agenda of MN2020.

    One such conclusion is that regular publicly elected school boards will hold public school administrations more accountable than charter boards. The report states: “Although charter schools receive taxpayer funds, they are not subject to the same checks and balances taxpayers have the right to expect. Traditional schools are governed by elected school boards. Taxpayers who disagree with the way their money is being spent need only go to the school board meeting and voice their concern. Ultimately, voters can exercise their rights and vote school board members off the body.”

    This statement is irrelevant to the report and serves only to inflame readers. The report has not shown any inappropriate spending of public money. It contains no data that indicates audit findings are indicative of poor use of public money. For instance, nowhere in the report does Fitzgerald assert that our audit did not “present fairly, in all material respects, the respective financial position of the governmental activities and each major fund of Bluffview Montessori School…” as defined in our Independent Auditors’ Report (the first section of our audit). Instead the MN2020 report attempts to connect a relatively few cases of highly-publicized metro charter school mismanagement and fraud with audits that have findings.

    The election of boards notwithstanding, I wonder which type of board, a conventional school board or a charter board, is in a better position to exercise oversight over how public monies are actually being spent. After all, it is the oversight that is important. Voting a board out of office after improper spending is like closing the barn door after the cows have run away. When boards fail, they fail by not exercising proper oversight, not by failing to get re-elected.

    Again in the Winona Daily News Fitzgerald asserts that everything would be better if Minnesota required charter school administrators to be licensed like the superintendent of a traditional public school district because it “makes the superintendent an expert in the business of running a school.”

    I’ll let you be the judge. The Department of Education published a report entitled “Districts with Fiscal Year 2008 Statutory Operating Debt.” The following statistics come from that report:

    As of June 30, 2008 thirteen traditional school districts (3.8 percent), run by licensed administrators were in Statutory Operating Debt. In this same period, five charter schools (3.2 percent) were in Statutory Operating Debt.

    Five traditional districts (1.5 percent) did not submit their financial statements until after the deadline. All charters who submitted financial statements, submitted them by the deadline.

    Sixteen traditional districts (4.7 percent) and ten charter districts (6.4 percent) did not submit their financial statements in time to be included in the report.

    The Department of Education also publishes other financial reports and spreadsheet data. One spreadsheet lists General Fund balances of conventional and charter districts (Larger is better.) The average General Fund Balance for conventional districts on June 30, 2008 was 13.27 percent. Charter school fund balances for the same period averaged 18.39 percent.

    I don’t believe there is evidence in these numbers that licensed administrators are any better at running conventional districts than charter administrators are at running charter schools.

    Finally, Fitzgerald “spins” his numbers in ways that hide favorable changes or improvements. For instance, the MN2020 report states:

    “83 percent were found to have at least one financial irregularity in their audit…51 percent of those schools with problems identified on their 2007 financial audits had the same problems identified on their 2008 audits…”

    What does this really mean? If I am reading this right, it means that 41 percent removed the problems identified on their 2007 financial audits within a period of one year. I believe that is a fair amount of improvement.

    MN2020 Executive Director, John Van Hecke, insists on labeling this issue as a liberal vs. conservative one. It is not. It is an issue between entrenched educational interests and educational innovators. Van Hecke also refuses to acknowledge requests for a similar investigation of conventional school districts. He simply responds by accusing opponents of name calling.

    In summary, the research is full of holes; the conclusions are not logically arrived at; and the MN2020 report, “An Examination of Charter School Finances” appears simply to be a politically motivated attack.

    Leslie Hittner is the Director of operations of Bluffview Montessori School.

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