LL just caught Tom Nida, the chair of the Public Charter School Board, ahead of the board’s monthly meeting tonight.

Asked about Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton‘s demand that, in the wake of the Washington Post‘s reporting on alleged self-dealing, he resign his post, Nida said, “I serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”

Asked if he would resign should Mayor Adrian M. Fenty ask him to, Nida said, “I’m a volunteer.”

Nida said he had no plans to address the Post story at the meeting: “I’m in no-comment mode right now.”

Indeed, at meeting’s start, David Holmes, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from North Lincoln Park, strongly rebuked the board for various issues, including those raised in the Post report. Neither Nida nor any other board member said anything, and the board moved straight into its agenda.

UPDATE, 8:30 P.M.: In fact, ANC 6A is calling for the resignations of PCSB members and administrators and calling for additional reforms by the council. Letter after the jump.

Public Charter School Board – Request for Council Action

Based on the recent Inspector General’s report and the Washington Post two-part series regarding the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), we have requested the following from the DC Council. First, the resignation of the Executive Director and members of the Public Charter School Board. Second, adoption of the Inspector General’s recommendations from the December 4, 2008 report -most notably, to revise the D.C. School Reform Act to require charter school applicants to identify sites when they submit applications to open public charter schools. Third, amend the School Reform Act to require that PCSB members be residents of the DC as well as place the PCSB under the Chancellor of the DCPS.

We make these requests due to our community’s involvement with AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation (AppleTree) when they decided to site a charter school in a residential neighborhood at 138 12th Street, ME. During the course of our work, we uncovered several issues. One, the PCSB is subject to the Advisory neighborhood Commission’s Act (Attorney General report dated April 5, 2007). Two, the PCSB does not notify the AMCs of events affecting their neighborhoods, as required by the ANC Act (Office of the Inspector General report dated December 4, 2008). Three, that Charter Schools were not expressly covered in the zoning regulations (zoning code was written before charter schools). As a result of our efforts, the Zoning Commission amended the zoning regulation so that a charter school is no longer able to purchase a building in a residential zoned district and open a charter school as a matter of right. Four, the Washington Post two-day series (December 14 and 15) on the PCSB found conflicts of interest involving almost $200 million worth of business deals, at more than a third of the city’s 60 charter schools. Several of those deals involve Thomas A. Nida, who chairs the PCSB and is also a senior vice president at United Bank.

If it wasn’t for AppleTree’s decision to site a charter school at 138 12th Street, NE as a matter of right under outdated zoning regulations – none of these issues might have been uncovered. While we may have lost the battle regarding construction of a charter school at 138 12th Street, AppleTree still needs PCSB approval to open a charter school at this location. In our efforts to force transparency regarding this pending AppleTree charter school application, a Washington Post series justifies our belief that the PCSB is not an unbiased board but instead one that appears to be more motivated by the business of real estate and loan transactions rather than the education of our children.

Given the flagrant violation of law, disregard for public input, and apparent automatic approval of increased enrollment requests to accommodate larger charter school loan financing, how can we believe the current PCSB will now accept public input into the decision making process? Several of the PCSB members do not live in our city, and one works for the banking industry that finances the very land purchases and construction resulting from their decisions. We need a clean start with new board members and changes in law to provide transparency and local accountability.

Joseph Fengler, ANC Commissioner 6A02
David Holmes, AMC Commissioner 6A03