Members of a Hawaii Board of Education committee tasked with investigating the State Public Charter School Commission are recommending a more formal review of the agency’s performance after finding a “pattern of well-founded complaints” from charter school leaders.

The committee is “primarily concerned with why there are consistently similar complaints from a large number of charter school leaders and why there is a seeming disconnect between the perceptions of these leaders and those of the Commission,” it stated in a report.

The recommendation comes more than seven months after the BOE formed an investigative committee to decide if a review of the Commission was warranted. The full board is expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation at a meeting in September.

Queen Liliuokalani Building. Board of Education offices. 16 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Board of Education oversees the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Lawmakers created the Charter School Commission in 2012 as part of a broad overhaul of regulations aimed at strengthening academic and financial oversight of the schools. The BOE oversees the commission, but has not previously undertaken a formal evaluation.

BOE members conducted three listening tour events with charter schools in November and December.

Charter school leaders said then that the commission had been overburdening schools with reporting requirements, not doing enough to support the schools and failing to clearly communicate. Many expressed frustration with the new school contracts, which they felt were too uniform when they should be negotiated more individually with schools.

Charter School Commission members were not asked to attend the listening tour and did not get a chance to respond to complaints before the BOE published a report on the tour.

The BOE committee has since met with members of the Charter School Commission and its staff, but has not altered its position on the complaints of school leaders.

Despite months of discussions, the committee said that it “cannot report with confidence that the Commission will adequately and fully address the concerns, whether real or perceived, of charter school leaders.”

A BOE review of the commission would take four months, according to a special review process approved by the board in May.

The Charter School Commission used the criteria laid out in the BOE’s special review process to conduct its own performance evaluation this summer.

According to its own evaluation, the commission is meeting 17 out of 23 performance measures and partially meeting another four. The evaluation found the commission lacking in terms of having an adequate budget and having “strategic vision and organizational goals.”

“While the Commission’s mission is clearly established, there does not seem to be full alignment of vision between the Board of Education, Legislature, Commission, and charter schools regarding the vision for Hawaii’s charter schools and the role of the Commission,” the evaluation stated. “With an aligned vision, the Commission can better create a comprehensive strategic plan with goals and timeframes.”

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