Flawed bill that would require charter schools to comply with CPRA and open meeting laws scheduled for hearing next week

Legislation that purports to require charter schools to adhere to the requirements of the Brown Act, Bagley-Keene Act and the CPRA will be heard on Tuesday, Jan. 9 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 806 by Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Walnut Creek) would create several substantial loopholes that would allow the boards of charter schools to meet and act in secret. The bill also contains a provision that would allow charter schools to charge a requester of information the actual costs associated with producing the information even if the requester wants only to inspect the record.

SB 806 is opposed by CNPA, the California Teachers Association and several education groups who, last year, were successful in convincing the Judiciary Committee to vote against its passage. Immediately after the bill failed passage, the author requested reconsideration which the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), granted.

Specifically, SB 806 would allow a charter school governing body to meet at a charter school facility or at a teleconference location if it is available in at least one charter school facility and within the physical boundaries of each county in which any of the charter school’s facilities are located.

This would allow the board to have discretion to meet by teleconference anywhere within the county where the charter school is located. This provision would permit, for example, the board of a charter school located in Pomona to meet by teleconference at its charter school located in Malibu. Both locations are in Los Angeles County but the community served by the charter school in Pomona would have to travel to Malibu (over 60 miles away) to participate in the meeting.

Moreover, since there is no requirement in the bill that there be at least a quorum of the board physically present – only that “a teleconference location is available,” – those traveling from Pomona to Malibu could be limited to just listening and speaking to a phone set up at the charter school facility with all of the members of the governing body physically located in San Francisco.

Charter school boards seeking to avoid scrutiny or simply sidestep controversial or unpopular items they are considering could seriously abuse these provisions to their advantage at the expense of the public.

SB 806 also exempts committees of the charter school from the requirements of the Brown Act unless the committee is comprised of a majority of the members of the governing body of the charter school. This could be used by a charter school governing body to delegate much of or all of its work to committees to prevent the public from commenting or being present when the decision-makers develop consensus on a controversial item they may be considering.

The bill also would allow a charter school to take up to 20 days from receipt of a request for information to determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in possession of the charter school. Under current law, an agency has 10 days to make this determination. Nonetheless, requesters of information continually experience significant delays in obtaining information under the 10-day standard.

The author and the bill’s sponsors have reached out to CNPA in an attempt to address the concerns raised in opposition to SB 806 and while consensus has been reached on a few provisions in these discussions, several other issues remain unresolved.