A Vista charter school’s practice of having employees, particularly the superintendent, serve on its board creates “potential and/or actual conflicts of interest, according to lawyers hired by the Vista Unified School District to investigate complaints about conflict of interest at the school.
The fact that Bob Hampton, who became the superintendent of Guajome Park Academy this summer, sits on the school’s executive board is problematic for several reasons, said Dina Harris, an attorney with Best Best ;amp& Krieger, the firm retained by the district.
In the past, employees felt nervous about questioning decisions made by their leader because the superintendent had to authority to terminate employees and sat on the board, Harris wrote. They also “felt there was no one to turn to … because the same individual held position(s) at three levels of the complaint process.” And the executive board also handles the superintendent’s contract.
Harris recommended that Guajome Park remove employees from its board and instead create an advisory board for employees. She singled out the superintendent in particular as a problem. Hampton wrote in a statement that “we respectfully may not agree with some of their commentary and conclusions.”
This is an issue that has divided attorneys and educators for a long time. It also cropped up in the series I wrote about charter school guru Michael Hazelton, whose schools were criticized along the same lines.
Charter schools have argued that they should be able to have employees on their boards; school districts have countered that doing so violates the law. There is no agreement on whether a key code that would bar employees from sitting on boards applies to charter schools or not. A proposed California law seeks to settle the question, making charters fall under the law, but it has yet to be passed.
Hampton said he was open to leaving the executive board, but that the decision had to be left to Guajome Park, which is reviewing the ideas internally. He argued that Vista Unified approved the charter that outlined how Guajome Park would work, which planned for employees sitting on the board, and shouldn’t have a major role in school decisions after approving or renewing the school charter.
The report also included a slew of other findings, including that Guajome Park approved a contract four years ago that a board member had a financial stake in. It also found “some occasional violations of the Brown Act” which mandates that meetings be open to the public, and that the school violated its own rules by choosing an interim superintendent who didn’t have the credentials listed in its founding charter.
“We feel there has been a good faith effort to this point to correct the violations we did see,” Harris told the Vista school board.
Silvia Peters, a Vista parent who once sent her child to Guajome Park, called the report “watered down,” alleging that it didn’t reflect other complaints about the school curriculum and how it handles special education. “I think you’re trying to play the patsy,” Peters said.
Hampton said he just wanted to move forward. “I’m not so much concerned about what took place in the past,” he said. “The focus is on the present and the future.”