It is almost three years now since the governing boards of 10 charter schools in Akron and Cleveland filed suit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas trying to get White Hat Management to show them how it used operating funds for the schools. They notched another victory last week that should get them closer to the goal.
The boards had contracts that required them to turn over 96 percent of their state funding to White Hat to operate the schools. The boards, which are accountable to the state, argued reasonably that they have a responsibility to oversee the use of public funds flowing through the schools to the for-profit education management company owned by Akron businessman David Brennan.
White Hat refused to provide the requested records. It said the records were proprietary and confidential and that the law only required it to provide summary information. It argued also that public funds cease to be public once they pass through a private company to pay for services.
The trial court disagreed. In decisions in 2011 and in 2012, it sided with the schools and ordered White Hat to open its books, concluding that charter schools are public entities and the funds that a management company receives remain public funds. White Hat appealed the order. Last week, the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus in turn rejected the company’s claim of confidential and proprietary records. It affirmed the lower court’s order to release detailed financial information to the boards. With an option to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, White Hat could evade essential transparency for a long while yet.