Washington, D.C. Public Charter School Board


The D.C. Public Charter School Board pledged yesterday to reexamine its policy on conflicts of interest as some elected officials called on Chairman Thomas A. Nida to resign and said the city should tighten regulation of its burgeoning charter school system.

The District's attorney general, Peter J. Nickles, said he has begun examining the official conduct and business ties of two unpaid panels that oversee one of the largest charter systems in the nation.

The pledges and calls for reform followed a report by The Washington Post, which found that key members of the two panels have taken part in official decisions that stood to benefit themselves, their colleagues, employers and companies with which they have business ties…

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called for the resignations of Nida and Barbara "Bobbie" Hart, the chairs of the congressionally mandated charter school board and the D.C. Public Charter School Credit Enhancement and Direct Loan Funds Committee, respectively.

Norton called The Post's revelations "astonishing, acknowledged and systemic conflicts of interest and financial self-dealing." She said she would reintroduce a bill that would give the mayor and D.C. Council more authority over charter board appointments…

Nida, chairman of the seven-member charter board, is a vice president of United Bank and an expert on charter school financing. During his tenure on the charter board, United Bank has lent more than $55 million to D.C. charter schools, their developers or landlords. Nida has been directly involved in about $35 million of those loans, The Post found…

The Post found that the Hart-chaired credit committee, which has awarded $47 million in taxpayer loans and guarantees to more than 30 schools or their developers, has also benefited banks and companies that have ties to the committee. Hart has declined to comment…

The charter board also has come under the scrutiny of the D.C. office of the inspector general, which recently issued an audit report concluding that the board has failed for years to give the required notification to elected neighborhood officials before voting on matters such as allowing a charter to move into a neighborhood. "As a result," the audit said, "the Commissioners did not get the opportunity to voice their concerns."…

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When a band of Brookland neighbors packed a public meeting to try to stop one of the District's public charter schools from moving to their quiet cul-de-sac, their pleas seemed to receive a warm reception.

Thomas A. Nida, chairman of the board that supervises one of the nation's largest charter school systems, encouraged testimony from the group on that summer evening in 2007. "And anything else you've got to say, put it in writing and we'll take it," Nida said, noting that the charter board would not decide on the move for a month. "That way we will give everybody a chance to express their views."

What Nida failed to mention was his own stake in the matter. As a senior vice president at United Bank, he had been working on a $7 million loan to the Elsie Whitlow Stokes charter school to finance the very relocation that neighbors opposed.

By the time the D.C. Public Charter School Board approved the move in August 2007 -- with Nida recusing himself from the vote -- the loan deal was done. Nida's employer would receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments for years to come.

Homeowners on the losing end of that dispute had encountered one of the hidden financial conflicts of interest in the city's burgeoning charter school movement. Key members of the public bodies that regulate and fund the schools have taken part in official decisions that stood to benefit themselves, their colleagues, employers and companies with whom they have business ties, The Washington Post has found.

The Post's review found conflicts of interest involving almost $200 million worth of business deals, typically real estate transactions, at more than a third of the District's 60 charter schools. The conflicts are documented in thousands of pages of internal charter board documents, land records, tax returns, audits and other records reviewed by The Post.

In the 12 years since Congress authorized charter schools in the District to spur competition and improve urban education, charters have burgeoned into an independent and parallel public school system. They are private, nonprofit businesses operating under a public "charter" and largely funded by taxpayer dollars. D.C. students can attend for free. An independent seven-member charter board now oversees about 26,000 students, more than one-third of the city's public school population…

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[Nida was appointed to the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 2003 by Former Mayor Anthony Williams]

WHO IS TOM NIDA? March 2, 2007, The Washington Examiner

Short answer: A banker.

Complicated answer: Chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which will govern 58 public schools and a third of D.C. students come fall…

Which brings us back to Thomas A. Nida, chairman of that board. Former Mayor Anthony Williams appointed him to the charter board in 2003. He became chair in 2005. Williams reappointed him to another four-year term in August, so Nida will be running things until 2010…

Nida has no expertise or training as an educator. He got into charter schools by financing them “in the frontier days,” joining the board of the Arts and Technology Charter School, then the charter board.

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