Chavez charter schools saga draws calls for greater oversight

Cesar Chavez Schools Network in Pueblo delivered another chapter in the story of corruption that has been making headlines for months. This week, recently fired executives are seeking severance pay and threatening lawsuits.

Education experts observing the wreckage are now suggesting possible charter school reforms.

Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, told Education Week that the months-long saga points to a need to ensure charter school boards aren’t beholden to administrators. (The Chavez Schools Network board included an administrator’s secretary and the school uniform supplier.)

Van Schoales, urban education program officer for the Denver-based Piton Foundation and a member of the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ board, also highlighted a need for unbiased information about charter school performance. He pointed out that good information can be hard to come by, since relationships between a local school district and a charter school network can be contentious. By definition, a school district loses money when a charter school is successful in wooing students.

“There was an understanding the school district had a strong financial interest in making sure the school didn’t grow and thrive,” he said. “Sometimes it was hard to tell what was true. There was no honest broker about what was going on there.”

The Cesar Chavez Schools Network, which educates over 2,500 students  in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver, and online, decided Friday to fire its top executives. The firings follow weeks of fiery conflict and state investigations into executive salaries and testing practices at the network.

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