Once the Commissioner approves your charter proposal, your Board of Directors will negotiate a contract with your sponsor. The contract authorizes the Board of Directors to operate a school, and specifies the outcomes the school will achieve. Care should be taken in drafting the contract, in terms of student performance and other measures of school achievement, as this is the document against which the school will be measured. Sponsors look to whether a school has met the terms of the contract for the purpose of determining whether to continue sponsorship after the stated term.
The basic requirements for the contract between the charter school board and the sponsor are set forth in the charter school law (Minn. Stats 124D.10, Subd. 6). The law covers the form, the timing and the content of the contract. The contract must be (1) in writing, (2) signed by the sponsor and the charter school board, and (3) completed within 90 days of the date of charter approval. The initial contract may last up to three (3) years. If a school fails to negotiate a contract with its sponsor, the school may not open. Developers should note that the 90-day requirement was enacted to protect schools, forcing sponsors to commit to charter sponsorship within a reasonable amount of time.
Minnesota Statute 124D.10, Subd. 6 specifically provides:
The sponsor’s authorization for a charter school must be in the form of a written contract signed by the sponsor and the board of directors of the charter school. The contract for a charter school must be completed within 90 days of the commissioner’s approval of the sponsor’s proposed authorization. The contract for a charter school must be in writing and contain at least the following:
- A description of a program that carries out one or more of the purposes in subdivision 1; [the six purposes are: to improve pupil learning; increase learning opportunities for pupils; encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods; require the measurement of learning outcomes and create different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes; establish new forms of accountability for schools; and create new professional opportunities for teachers];
- Specific outcomes pupils are to achieve under subdivision 10 [Pupil Performance]
- Admission policies and procedures;
- Management and administration of the school;
- Requirements and procedures for program and financial audits;
- How the school will comply with subdivisions 8, 13, 16, and 23 [these are, respectively, state and local requirements, length of school year; transportation; and causes for non-renewal or termination of charter school contract]
- Assumption of liability by the charter school;
- Types and amounts of insurance coverage to be obtained by the charter school;
- The term of the contract, which may be up to three years; and
- If the board of directors or the operators of the charter school provide special instruction and services for children with a disability under sections 125A.03 to 125A.24, and 125A.65, a description of the financial parameters within which the charter school will operate to provide the special instruction and services to children with a disability.
The contract must contain at least the elements stated in the law. It may also contain other provisions agreed to by the sponsor and charter school board. The contract for sponsorship should not contain terms relating to the provision of specific services (e.g., professional development), whether to be provided by the sponsor or a third party. Those activities should be covered by separate contracts.
The contract should give the school some flexibility to make changes as the new school is established. Moving from theory to practice does not always happen as anticipated, and the contract should be flexible enough so that it does not have to be amended in order for the school to make changes to refine and improve its program.
Typically, the charter developer, rather than the sponsor, does the initial drafting of the contract. The charter sponsor will then have the document reviewed by legal counsel. Although schools typically draft the initial contract, you do not have to start from scratch. Many organizations that sponsor multiple schools have developed contracts of their own (in most cases based on the state’s model contract), which they use as a starting point for their schools. In addition, you may be able to get sample contracts from MDE’s charter school office.
The heart of the contract is the section on pupil outcomes. The law requires that a charter school must “design its programs to at least meet the outcomes adopted by the state board of education for public school students.” (Minn. Stats 124D.10, Subd. 10) The contract should clearly identify student outcomes and how success in achieving those outcomes will be measured and evaluated. In addition, the contract might include provisions relating to the sponsor’s evaluation of the school’s effectiveness in attaining pupil outcomes and the steps the school will be expected to take if pupil outcomes are not being met.
A school’s objectives should be clear, specific and measurable in quantifiable and meaningful ways. Common measures include standardized test scores, attendance figures, and graduation rates, although other measures may be used as well. In setting up performance indicators, charter operators must agree to enough specifics to satisfy the sponsor and MDE, without over promising or committing to outcomes that are not relevant to their student population. This often repeated phrase is good advice: better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver. (For more guidance regarding assessment and accountability, see What Should We Do: A Guide to Assessment and Accountability 1.19 Mb, (Center for School Change), which includes examples of specific academic goals and ways of measuring progress, and the appropriate section of this handbook.)
A signed contract must be submitted to MDE within 90 days of charter approval. In practice, charter developers usually submit a final “draft” for MDE’s review before the 90-day deadline. MDE staff then review the contract to make sure it includes all required elements. After receiving comments from MDE, the school and sponsor make any necessary revisions, sign the contract and send a copy to MDE, together with the following five (5) attachments:
- Documentation of the school’s organizational structure, identifying the school as a nonprofit corporation (i.e., articles of incorporation) or a cooperative;
- Documentation providing evidence of the Commissioner of Education’s action approving the charter school (you will receive a letter from MDE to this effect);
- The sponsor’s Letter of Intent to Form a Charter School (discussed above);
- The school’s By-Laws; and
A certificate of insurance or equivalent document providing evidence that the school has liability insurance meeting the minimum requirements and liability amounts of M.S. chapter 466.
What Should We Do: A Guide to Assessment and Accountability 1.19 Mb (Center for School Change), available to download for free