It looks like the board of James Island Charter High may have committed the unforgivable sin.
That is, it has brought bad publicity to charter schools in general. And around here that just won’t fly.
Last week, the charter school’s board put Principal Bob Bohnstengel on paid administrative leave indefinitely. The board says it can’t get specific about its reasons, but Bohnstengel’s attorney and others close to the school say it’s superficially about, well, football.
Basically, the board wanted input in hiring a new football coach, and perhaps a new athletic director — because, as everyone knows, football has everything to do with the quality of education.
Truth is, this issue runs a tad deeper than all of this. It’s really all about a power struggle. At least that’s what insiders say. And it makes sense because that’s exactly what this looks like.
If it’s not, then the board had better speak up quick. Otherwise, this is going to do nothing but reinforce some unflattering stereotypes critics have of charter schools.
All because Wando and West Ashley cleaned their clock this season.
A charter school is a public school that’s run by a board of parents, educators or community members.
This board sets policy for the school and approves its curricula. And, most importantly, it doesn’t have to take direction from the county school board.
That’s all great — viva la academic freedom — but the fact is, charter schools are basically playing private school with public tax dollars. That freedom is a privilege, and it comes with a responsibility to the public to be transparent.
Clamming up when the going gets tough isn’t helping the cause. And it’s not technically legal. Critics of charter schools are going to say all that again after this fiasco.
Word is that the James Island Charter High board wanted a larger hand in hiring a new football coach. That 2-8 record didn’t set well with them, apparently. But that’s just the last straw; some people have had differences with Bohnstengel for a while. That happens after a principal spends years at one school.
Trouble is, the school’s charter says that the “leadership team” — the principal, department heads and staff — make the hires. According to the charter, the board shall “employ and contract with non-CCSD teachers, administrators, and principal from recommended candidates presented by the Leadership Team.”
Not candidates hand-picked by the policymakers.
If board members are trying to weasel their way into hiring coaches, well, it makes them look like a homeowners association. You know — busybodies with a little power that’s gone to their heads.
Charter schools do a lot of good work. The idea is to make it all about the education, without the politics.
If that’s the case, this board may want to think twice about sullying its reputation, and that of other charter schools, by acting like mall cops.
Because this looks like junior varsity politics.
Out of the frying pan
James Island Charter High may even find it is on shaky legal ground here.
See, Bohnstengel and some other employees who were there before it was a charter school have their contracts with the district. So the board may be able to get Bohnstengel out of the school, but not fired.
And it doesn’t sound like Superintendent Nancy McGinley sees any problem with Bohnstengel.
“Bob is a dedicated professional. He cares about his school and faculty and makes decisions for the right reasons,” McGinley says. “He is a leader who has integrity and does not compromise his values.”
McGinley says she doesn’t know what has happened at the charter school, but lauds his track record and says she would hate to see Bohnstengel’s career end this way.
It would be a shame, not just for him but for the entire school. After all, what good is it to break free of micromanagement from the school board only to have the staff micromanaged by someone else?
Fact is, it sounds very much like Bohnstengel did these folks a favor by not letting them subvert the school’s charter. If the board violates the school’s charter, it can be revoked.
That would be a sad fate for education at James Island Charter High, especially if this really is about trying to win a football game.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org