D.C. charter board member has $195,000 contract with D.C. charter school

A member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board is receiving $195,000 to do consulting work for a network of schools that the board is responsible for overseeing, according to a list of recent contracts the board published on its Web site.

Barbara Nophlin, who joined the board in July 2013, already received $85,000 last year for consulting work with the Friendship Public Charter School network, according to the board’s published list of contracts. Nophlin, a former charter school leader, said her work with Friendship involves coaching principals.

The arrangement meets the legal requirements of D.C. School Reform Act, which prohibits board members from being employees of a city charter school, said Scott Pearson, the board’s executive director. But he acknowledged that Nophlin’s relationship with Friendship is unusual and said the board has asked the city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to issue an advisory opinion on whether it is appropriate.

“We felt in this case it was important to get BEGA’s opinion on it,” Pearson said. “That's what they’re there for.”

Board staff members are prohibited from working for city charter schools without Pearson’s written permission, a provision added to the employee handbook after Jeremy Williams, the board’s former chief financial officer, was accused of using his position to aid an alleged fraud scheme at Options Public Charter School.

Many board members have some professional connection to schools the board oversees. Board Chairman John H. “Skip” McCoy, for example, works for the nonprofit Fight for Children, which distributes grants to schools, and member Sara Mead works for Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit that advises charter schools, among other clients.

Pearson said it would be impractical to limit the seven-member board to people without any connections to charter schools.

“What we have found over the years is that when you get a board that has the kind of expertise that we want, very often that expertise comes from the fact that they’re in education, so they may have some involvement with charter schools,” Pearson said.

All board members are required to recuse themselves from votes that directly affect schools with which they have an outside connection, Pearson said. Because Nophlin is receiving money directly from a school, she is further restricted. She may not take part in or listen to any board discussions about Friendship.

“If there’s a board conversation about those schools, I can’t be in it, I can’t vote on it, I have to recuse myself from anything that has to do with it,” Nophlin said.

Nophlin said that as long as she recuses herself from those decisions, she doesn’t think her work with Friendship poses a conflict. But, as a board member, she can vote on policies affecting schools that compete with Friendship for students and on policies that affect all schools. Pearson said it wouldn’t make sense to keep board members with specific conflicts of interest from voting on sectorwide policies.

“It would effectively render the board, in many cases, without enough members to vote on the matter,” he said. “The only alternative would be to get board members who have nothing to do with any charter schools in the District of Columbia, which we think would deprive the board of the expertise we want.”

Nophlin disclosed her work with Friendship before Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) nominated her for appointment to the board and before the D.C. Council confirmed her, according to Pearson and a copy of Nophlin’s résumé made public at the time.

Pearson said Nophlin — the only board member who has led a charter school — has been an important addition to the board. She retired from Paul Public Charter School in 2009.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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