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
That was not the first time that elected officials have considered the interest of bankers in the District's charter network. One reason Congress dictated in 1996 that D.C. charter schools be initially authorized for 15 years -- three times as long as in most states -- was to help them secure long-term bank loans, according to the activists who prodded lawmakers to create the system.
In 2004, when then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams tried to cap facilities allotments to charter schools during a citywide budget crunch, the "vigorous opposition" of bankers who then had about $150 million in outstanding loans to charter schools persuaded the D.C. Council to overturn his efforts, according to a 2006 report by the pro-charter group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. The report noted that the council directed the mayor "to work out any future changes in the formula with public charter school representation and their creditor institutions."
Bankers and developers moved into early leadership roles on the city's charter bodies. Joseph F. Horning Jr., a D.C. real estate developer and a board member of City First Bank, was a founding member of the charter board who sometimes voted and deliberated on matters involving schools that did business with his bank. In response to questions from The Post, Horning said he did not consider his banking position a conflict because he was an unpaid director and he had no idea which charter schools did business with City First.
No banker has had more influence than Nida, 60, who grew up in Southeast and resides part time in an apartment in Northwest. He has lived much of his adult life in Front Royal, Va., where he owns a historic home and plays the drums in his church band, the Flock.
In the late 1990s, Nida joined City First Bank and pioneered lending to charter schools. He wrote an article in 2002 for a banking journal touting the profitability and exponential growth potential of lending to charter schools, charter developers and their investors. "With added public funding, including federal credit enhancement funding, this market will continue to grow," Nida wrote. "The market is there, or soon will be there. . . . In all, this is a lending opportunity worth pursuing."
After that article was published, Nida was sitting at his desk when the White House called. The executive branch has authority to name a slate of three prospective members for each vacancy on the D.C. charter board. A White House aide told Nida that his name had "bubbled up from a number of sources," Nida said in an interview. The mayor ultimately appointed him.
The D.C.-based Friends of Choice in Urban Schools took credit for nominating Nida to the charter board. Leaders of the organization described Nida as an analytical, hardworking man of integrity who pioneered charter lending and made a huge contribution to a system that has produced a number of high-quality schools that serve the District's poorest children.
"In D.C., as in many other cities, there are a small number of bankers, developers, contractors and business people who really took a risk on charter schools early on and made it possible for charter schools to grow and thrive," said Robert Cane, the group's executive director. "Tom Nida is one of the first. Without these people, we wouldn't have 35 percent of the kids in charter schools."
About six months after Nida began serving on the charter board in 2003, he changed banks. He worked briefly at Eagle Bank before United Bank recruited him, he said. United then began aggressively seeking charter business, records show.
Of the $55 million United has lent since then to charters, their landlords or developers, Nida has been directly involved in loans worth at least $35 million, as loan officer or a bank representative, according to records and interviews. United loans have paid for the purchase, refinancing or renovation of buildings used by at least 10 of the 60 schools that Nida regulates.
Charter schools are required to submit any contract worth more than $25,000 to the board for review and approval. Nida reviewed and recommended approving some contracts even when his bank was funding the school or its landlord, records show.
Nida said United Bank's charter school lending in the District is managed by a colleague, Thomas McCracken, whose office is a few desks away from Nida's. Nida said he acts as a "mentor as necessary" to McCracken's staff. Nida and McCracken serve together on the bank's credit committee, but Nida said he recuses himself from voting on loans involving charter schools. "Whenever there is a charter school deal that comes up," Nida said. "I opt out of the conversation, unless somebody asks me a question."