Madrone Trail board makeup is cause for concern

    Madrone Trail Public Charter School has much work to do to save its charter with the Medford School District. Test scores are far below state averages, and district officials have expressed concerns about finances as well. But the most glaring shortcoming is the makeup of the Madrone Trail School Board.

    The Medford School Board voted in February to renew Madrone Trail’s five-year charter when it expires in June, but only if the charter school submitted an improvement plan. But in March, Medford notified Madrone Trail it had 60 days to bring its board into line with state requirements or face losing its charter.

    Negotiations on the improvement plan could not proceed, the district said, until the charter school board “meets the terms of its charter and Oregon ethics practices.”

    Under state law, school district employees may not serve on school boards unless they leave their jobs. That is not the case for charter schools, but the Oregon School Boards Association discourages the practice of allowing school employees to serve on charter school boards.

    Three of Madrone Trail’s board members recently resigned, leaving five — the bare minimum required by the charter. But three of those five are teachers. That means they must abstain from any vote that could present a conflict of interest. If all three abstain, that leaves just two board members — not enough to do business.

    One example: Madrone Trail has a practice of granting teachers year-long paid sabbaticals. Leaving aside whether that is a prudent use of scarce resources, it’s an obvious conflict of interest for teachers to vote on the whether the practice should continue — which is a point of contention between the Medford district and Madrone Trail.

    Test scores are also a concern, although Madrone Trail’s Waldorf education model places less emphasis on test results than traditional schools. But differences over achievement numbers could be worked out in negotiations — as long as Madrone Trail has a functional board.

    The charter school’s new board president says three potential board members will be interviewed at the board’s Wednesday meeting. Restoring the board’s membership to eight with five non-teachers should be the bare minimum for negotiations with the district to resume.

    Ideally, charter schools would follow the same rules for board members as traditional districts and not allow employees to serve. Charter schools are already granted great leeway in designing their educational programs. Increasing potential conflicts of interest is asking for trouble.

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