Charter schools are public schools, financed with your tax dollars. Yet when Ball State University – a public, taxpayer-subsidized school – hears appeals from three local charter schools trying to save their Ball State-authorized charters, the hearings will be secret.
No public, no video or audio recording of the hearing. Period.
Why? A Ball State spokeswoman says the university considers the hearings – which are part of the schools formal appeals of Ball States decision to revoke their charters – an administrative matter that is similar to a personnel or disciplinary hearing.
But they arent. The hearings will determine the fate of Timothy L. Johnson Academy, Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway. The revocation has garnered much public interest, and the public has every reason to hear details on why Ball State revoked the charter – especially since at least one school, the Johnson Academy, is already seeking a charter from another authorized sponsor.
By all appearances, Ball State was correct in revoking the charters, but it has an appeal process in place. The universitys Office of Charter Schools has developed a very detailed process for hearing an appeal, including listing who may attend. But it does not specifically bar the public.
Sadly, because Ball State President Jo Ann Gora will appoint the hearing panel, it appears to fall outside the scope of the states open meetings law.
Even worse, such exceptions to the open meetings law are too typical. While the essence of the law is solid, it includes far too many loopholes and fails to include some government boards – such as Ball States charter appeals board. And though the law specifically instructs judges to liberally construe the law in favor of openness, that is not always the case.
Indeed, in far too many areas, Indiana continues to foster a closed government atmosphere.
Earlier this week, the Sunlight Foundation – an advocacy group for open government sunshine laws – gave Indianas General Assembly a D in grading its transparency. And this isnt one of those grading reports that every state scores poorly on: Eight states, including Texas, earned As, and 10, including Ohio, received Bs.
And the legislature is moving toward making the open door law a little worse, with the House voting to add exceptions to allow closed meetings to discuss strategy for litigation and for school boards to negotiate directly with teacher unions. The House approved another bill that would allow local governments to charge up to $20 an hour if a request for public records requires more than two hours of public employee work.
Also this week, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management announced it would no longer send news releases and other information by e-mail and instead directed interested Hoosiers to a complex website calendar that is frustrating to navigate. And this is an agency that wants to use the Web for legally required public notices.
Ironically, this is National Sunshine Week, designated to draw attention to the need for government open to the public.
In Indiana – and particularly at Ball State University – the need is great.