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Parents may gain clout at charter schools

Parents at all Utah charter schools may have a voice on their school governing boards if the state approves a proposal that requires a charter's leadership to include parents.

The State Charter Board has approved a governance rule to ensure opportunities for greater parental involvement in decisions in the schools. They want each charter to have at least one parent on the school's governing board by next year.

It awaits final approval by the State Board of Education.

"The spirit behind the (rule) is not to alter what is, but there are parents in every school that want the opportunity to have a voice," said David Moss, charter board president. "Granted it might only be one seat, but the important thing is every school will have parent representation."

The decision comes after parents at Summit Academy, a charter school in Draper, made complaints to the State Charter Board about not having a voice in the school's decisions.

After a change in Summit's charter last summer, the school would have been run exclusively by founding members only. However, in September the charter board voted to require that Summit Academy's board of trustees have two elected members.

Since then the board has heard from a few other schools whose parents would like a place in the governance of the school.

So state charter leaders felt it best to take action in the least invasive way possible.

The rule just calls for at least one parent as a voting member of the school's board but allows the charters to design their own procedure for selecting those representatives — that is, those members could be either appointed or elected.

"We are not going to tell them how to do it because we want them to maintain their autonomy," Moss said. "But we have to address the fact that parents should be involved — that's the reason many of them went to those schools."

Moss said he didn't anticipate much opposition from the charter schools since most already have parental representation on their governing boards. Charter board members just wanted to ensure the schools' governance is in line with the spirit of charter law — parents being involved in the operation of schools, Moss said.

The charter board also approved a rule that would require charter applicants to complete mandatory pre-application training in order to apply through the state charter board.

It would provide applicants the ins and outs of things like fiscal procedures, budget, auditing, curriculum, licensing, accountability, special education and No Child Left Behind.

If approved, charter leaders who have been under a year in operation or are working toward operation would also be required to attend the workshop.

The State Board of Education will vote on the two proposed rules in January.