Despite a decision out this week clarifying the definition of charter school management companies as most definitely public officials (because they run public schools funded by public dollars), the debate over charter school accountability is far from over.
The ruling by Franklin County Judge John Bender sprang from a lawsuit filed by 10 schools suing their manager, White Hat. White Hat is one of the largest for-profit charter school management companies in Ohio. Last year, the schools sued, saying White Hat wouldn’t share how it was spending as much as 96 percent of their money.
Judge Bender’s opinion says the schools are clearly public entities. So, by extension, the management companies that run them are public officials – even if those companies are privately held.
Cleveland area lawyer David Marburger says if this ruling sticks, it would redefine how much scrutiny charter managers come under.
He says, “it would seem to me that those management companies are going to have to be far more open and accountable not just to the public but also to government agencies like the department of education than they have ever been.”
Marburger says this opinion also raises a bunch of new questions about the responsibilities of charter school managers.
“If the management company is truly a public office or a public official of a public office what kinds of things does it have to comply with? Prevailing wage laws? Does the state retirement system apply to it?” Marburger asks.
But he says precedents are set at the appellate level, not at trial court where this decision came from. Unless a settlement is reached, he predicts years of continued court fights before any final conclusions are reached. Judging by the comments from White Hat’s lawyer Charles Saxbe, it doesn’t sound like this opinion is the end of this case.