Reading the fine print

Some parents of students at Madrone Trail Public Charter School are critical of the school's board of directors, and they've asked the Medford School Board to intervene. Doug Breidenthal, Madrone Trail board chairman and a Jackson County commissioner-elect, says the parents are in the minority and are dredging up old issues.

A minority they may be, but some of their criticisms have merit and should be addressed.

Madrone Trail began operating in 2007 with the permission of the Medford School District. It moved into the former West Side Elementary School building in 2010. Starting with kindergarten through second grade, the school has added one grade each year since, and now comprises grades K-7. Eighth grade is scheduled to be added next fall.

Before that happens, the Medford School District must grant a five-year renewal of Madrone Trail's charter.

Parents critical of the school's management have questioned whether it is complying with its bylaws, which require that at least two board members have "experience or training in teaching the Waldorf educational curriculum." The Waldorf method incorporates music, art, drama and handwork into the curriculum.

It's not clear why that is even a concern, given this sentence in same bylaws: "All operational matters, and especially all matters concerning the implementation of the Waldorf educational curriculum, and the Waldorf approach to education, are program issues and decisions that must be left to the executive director / principal and teaching staff of the school, and may not be set or altered by the board of directors."

Medford School Board members have expressed concern about another clause in the bylaws stating that to become a member of the Madrone Trail board, a person must be nominated by a board member.

We would add this concern: The board not only nominates all candidates for board membership, it elects them, and can vote to remove them, with or without cause. Board members supposedly serve one-year terms, but the bylaws appear to state that members are expected to continue serving until replaced, although each member is limited to six years before taking a one-year break.

A charter school operates independently of the district that grants its charter, but it is still a public school, supported by tax dollars. Its operations should be as open and transparent as any other public entity.

Parents concerned about how a charter school is operating should be able to seek board positions or promote their own candidates for the board. A board that nominates and selects its own members makes that virtually impossible.

The Medford School Board should insist that the Madrone Trail bylaws are thoroughly revised before agreeing to renew the school's charter.

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