Kestrel Height’s charter extension reduced to three years

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 05:20 PM

Kestrel Heights Schools’ five-year charter extension has been reduced to three years because the public charter school has failed to comply with the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Joel Medley, director of the Office of Charter Schools, said Wednesday that the extension was reduced to three years because the school’s board of directors has failed to provide public notice of meetings and has not followed proper procedures for closed sessions.

“We sent them a letter placing them on Governance Cautionary Status,” Medley said in an interview.

Medley stressed that the reduction in the school’s charter extension does not mean the charter has been revoked or terminated.

 “The school will be open and operating next academic year,” Medley said. 

The letter also cites numerous instances in which the board of directors violated its own bylaws, including instances of voting in executive session on matters under deliberation and not giving those wanting to comment on the matter a chance to do so.

 “The board has not allowed parties present and requesting to be heard and opportunity to speak before voting,” Medley wrote in the letter.

The letter, dated June 13 and addressed to Joseph Featherstone, chairman of the school’s board, cites numerous examples between June 11, 2013, and March 11, 2014, in which the board did not provide proper public notice for meetings or follow proper procedures for closed sessions.

The board has been ordered to participate in training related to the state’s Open Meeting Law and to review the board’s bylaws.

“While we understand that bylaw amendments may be forthcoming, the nonprofit board cannot operate under different bylaws until they are approved by the State Board of Education,” the letter states.

Medley said that based on answers given by school officials on June 10, it is unclear what policies the board has adopted.

He said the board must vote on official policies for board member conflicts of interest, criminal history checks, grievance policy and the hiring, firing and non-renewing of employees.

The board must provide proof of the Open Meetings Law training and policy adoptions by September 30 in order for the Governance Cautionary status to be lifted. 

“The Office of Charter schools needs documentation that these policies have been approved,” Medley wrote.

Medley’s letter cites other examples of the board violating state law, including not keeping official minutes for meetings with a quorum present on March 11, March 15 and March 19.

The meetings were also “improperly noticed” in the Board of Director’s Feb. 11 board meeting minutes to state that these were “closed working sessions.”

On Jan. 14, the board meeting minutes state that the board went into closed session without providing one of the nine legal reasons for going into closed session.

Also on Jan. 14, according to the board’s meeting minutes, the board approved some personnel items and “concealed the subject of the action.”

The move to reduce the school’s charter extension to three years comes on the heels of a review launched by the state Office of Charter schools after parents complained that the board does not follow the state’s Open Meeting laws and is not transparent in its decision-making.

It’s been a tough few months for the school, which saw students lead a boycott of morning classes last month after the contracts of school founder and high school principal Tim Dugan and popular teachers were not renewed.

Shortly after, executive director and middle school principal Richie Mitchell resigned.

The board has named veteran educator David “Dave” Malechek high school principal and interim executive director.

The school was granted a five-year charter renewal in December.

 Medley told The Herald-Sun at that time that Kestrel Heights’ five-year charter extension was contingent on the school’s remaining “compliant in all areas, including no audit exceptions, through June 30, 2014, or the charter term decreases from 5 years to 3 years.”

According to the December minutes of the state Charter School Advisory Board, the school had a “history of noncompliance findings in the areas of exceptional children, accountability and Title II” and in “2012, the school had a significant financial change in which they failed to meet industry standard for unrestricted days cash for two consecutive years.”

Kestrel Heights received a three-year charter renewal in 2011 with the stipulation that the school remain in compliance in all areas for three consecutive years.

The charter extension was topic of discussion on the school’s public Facebook page.

“Maybe this will open the eyes of the board members,” wrote Roberta Essom Parrott. “It would be great if they could take this and become not only a legal board but a moral board as well.”

Others worried about the possibility of the school closing.

“I think you'll find that the silent majority of the parents want to keep the school open and are willing to work with the Board to make sure that happens,” wrote Sarah Hall Kaufman. “I am unsure how a state charter board that a month ago stated that the Board had done nothing wrong now reduces our charter's renewal period without comment.”