Little: Charter commission’s closed-door meeting was probably illegal

(UPDATED, 12:02 p.m. Wednesday, with comment from Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families.)

The Public Charter School Commission probably violated the state’s open meeting law during a controversial closed-door session in June, Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday.

Little hasn’t discussed the issue with the commission or its staff, but he has discussed it with his own staff.

“Hopefully it’s a learning moment,” Little told Idaho Education News Tuesday morning. “I’m sure (the commission) won’t do it again.”

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is looking into multiple complaints about an executive session at the commission’s April 11 meeting. On Tuesday, spokesman Scott Graf said he did not know when Wasden would have a ruling.

The commission inadvertently released an audio recording of its entire meeting in June, including the two-hour executive session. Since then, charter school advocates have criticized the closed meeting, saying commissioners discussed issues that should only be addressed in an open session.

During the meeting, commissioners decried lax accounting and poor student performance at several charter schools. At one point, charter commission Chairman Alan Reed lamented that the state has not closed one charter under its purview, Heritage Academy in Jerome.

The charter commission has maintained that it discussed confidential student data sets in the closed meeting. But Heritage’s test scores, discussed during the meeting, are publicly available on the State Department of Education’s web site.

The problem, Little said Tuesday, is that the commission probably went too far afield in the April 11 meeting.

“Long executive sessions are the devil’s playground,” he said.

But Little also said the commission — comprised partially of gubernatorial appointees — does a great job performing a complex role.

The commission authorizes most of the state’s charter schools, including Heritage. And part of the commission’s job is to ask hard questions about student performance and financial oversight ­— as the commission has done in the case of two embattled East Idaho schools, Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center.

The commission reviews applications for new charter schools, but it also plays an oversight role, deciding whether to renew or terminate a school’s operating charter.

On Wednesday, the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families called on Little to clean house.

“I believe Gov. Little knows it’s both a matter of legality, but also trust,” coalition President Tom LeClaire said in a statement. “Trust can only be restored if those who said these hurtful, biased and wrong statements during this illegal executive session resign and are replaced by new public officials who are committed to supporting our charter schools and families. I believe Gov. Little is a good man and will do the right thing.”

Hours after Little’s comments, State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield also rebuked the charter commission. In a guest opinion, Critchfield called the comments from the executive session demeaning.

“Moving forward, the commission members and staff will receive training about Idaho’s open meeting law and how to have appropriate discussions about school performance, student data and education quality,” Critchfield wrote.

The charter commission operates under the State Board of Education.

Little sidesteps Boise State diversity flap

Meanwhile, Little said little about another brewing controversy — regarding diversity and inclusivity programs at Boise State University.

Twenty-eight House Republicans have urged new Boise State president Marlene Tromp to disavow a series of diversity programs — saying the programs drive up the cost of college and separate and segregate students.

Through spokeswoman Marissa Morrison, Little issued a short statement Monday: “The governor’s office is reviewing whether any legal or policy issues need to be examined with the State Board of Education and Idaho’s public universities.”




Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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