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Madrone Trail comes through with board restructuring

Madrone Trail Public Charter School deserves credit for restoring its board membership to a functional level and removing teachers from voting membership, which prompted Medford School District officials to say the district would not negotiate a charter renewal. That would have forced Madrone Trail to shut down.

Now it’s up the Medford district to make sure its oldest charter school continues to live up to other requirements, including regular compliance reports, and to reach agreement on measuring and improving student achievement.

Madrone Trail’s existing charter expires at the end of June. State law gives local districts authority to grant charters, and to make sure charter schools are meeting state assessment standards.

Madrone Trail’s situation became precarious when it lost three board members, leaving it with the bare minimum of five required in its bylaws. Three of those five were employed as teachers, meaning they were required to abstain from any vote that might present a conflict of interest. If all three abstained, that would leave only two board members — not enough to legally conduct business.

As an example of such a conflict, Madrone Trail has a policy of granting teachers year-long paid sabbaticals. If the board were to vote on whether to continue the sabbatical policy, that would have been a clear conflict of interest.

State law bars school district employees from serving on school boards. That rule does not apply to charter schools, but the Oregon School Boards Association discourages it for obvious reasons.

Not only has Madrone Trail appointed three new board members, it has designated faculty members as officers who advise the board but do not vote. That’s a wise move and should be emulated by all charter schools.

Charter schools offer an opportunity to provide public education in a smaller setting, using approaches different from traditional public schools that may benefit some students. Allowing flexibility in instruction methods and curriculum is an important part of the charter school approach, but the rules should not be loosened so much that ethical standards are compromised.

Madrone Trail is to be commended for recognizing that and responding to the school district’s reasonable demands.