Nona Richardson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said staff members believe that Chairman Thomas A. Nida voted against an enrollment increase for William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts on Feb. 21, 2006. Mark Lerner, who is chairman of the Doar school's board and attended the 2006 meeting, said Nida voted against the increase. The board's official minutes of that meeting do not reflect that vote but instead show that Nida joined in a unanimous approval of the increase, as The Post reported in a Dec. 14 Page One article and an accompanying graphic. Richardson said a memo asserting that the minutes are incorrect would be added to the charter board's file. Nida did not respond to requests from The Post for comment on his vote.
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Public Role, Private Gain
Another public official whose private business overlapped his public position was Karl Jentoft, a developer who has served on both the credit enhancement committee with Hart and on the public charter board with Nida. Jentoft became a charter school developer seven years ago with the help of a bank loan he secured through Nida.
Jentoft joined the credit committee in 2006, and last year moved to Nida's charter board. In that capacity, he reviewed and recommended a lease benefiting a controversial charter school project opposed by residents in the Brady Hall neighborhood, not far from Catholic University. Within weeks, the developer hired Jentoft as a consultant on that and another charter project and began paying him $14,000 a month.
Once hired, Jentoft tried to assuage the concerns of residents who feared that moving two charter schools to a single building in their neighborhood would lead to a big increase in traffic and noise. He logged on to a local Internet discussion group last March and introduced himself as the "owners' representative" on the project. "We are working to resolve some of the obvious traffic flow issues," Jentoft wrote.
A stunned homeowner, Steve Lowe, shot back questions: Was he the same Karl Jentoft who sat on the charter board? If so, "why did you fail to mention this?"
"I did not include this or additional hobbies/projects because I do not think they are relevant to the current project," Jentoft responded. "I am not acting in my capacity as a Public Charter School board" member on this project.
Nida also had ties to the Brady Hall project. He was an unpaid board member for the developer, the Charter Schools Development Corp. His bank, United Bank, also was financing the project with loans that eventually totaled $9.2 million.
The charter board green-lighted the Brady Hall project in May, with Jentoft and Nida recusing themselves. Jentoft, who recently resigned from the charter board and moved to London, said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Post: "Any potential conflicts of interest were discussed with the organizations involved, have been documented as part of the public record, and have been acted on appropriately."
More Kids, More Cash
For all their educational goals, D.C. charter schools are businesses navigating market realities. For each child it enrolls, a charter school receives a minimum of $11,879 annually in tax money. The need to borrow large sums to buy or renovate real estate drives many charter operators to expand as quickly as possible to maximize taxpayer funding: more kids, more cash.
The growth of charter schools coincided with a decline in the number of school-age children in the District. Competition from charters accelerated the exodus from the traditional public school system and left school buildings with acres of empty classrooms.
Some District school officials have been resistant to sharing space with charters, and some charter operators preferred to find their own buildings to avoid the city bureaucracy. As a result, only about 25 percent of charter school campuses lease space in public schools or other government buildings. Most of the rest bought their own buildings or lease from private landlords.
Some charter school critics have complained that the system allows taxpayer funds to be used for private gain. The D.C. Council responded two years ago with a requirement that if a charter closes down, its net assets, including real estate, must be turned over to the city. However, the law contains so many loopholes that District taxpayers are unlikely to recoup their expenditures. It also does not prevent a charter from selling its building, keeping the proceeds and moving somewhere else.
The law also protects banks and other creditors, mandating that outstanding loans be repaid before any assets are returned to taxpayers.