In a ruling just released, the Ombudsman, Prof Ron Paterson, has found that the Ministry of Education had “no good reason” for refusing to release the names of organisations expressing an interest in setting up a charter school.
The “indications of interest” process was run by the NZ Model of Charter School Working Group, chaired by Catherine Isaac, and preceded the formal authorisation process currently underway by the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board, also chaired by Ms Isaacs.
NZEI National President Judith Nowotarski says it shows that there is a need for more transparency instead of the secrecy that has surrounded charter schools so far.
NZEI took the complaint to the Ombudsman following the Ministry of Education’s earlier refusal to release the names and identities of the organisations.
In its submission to the Ombudsman, the Ministry claimed there was no strong public interest in the release of the information at this stage in the process.
It said it was concerned that those who had expressed an interest would be lobbied by charter school opponents and would receive news media enquiries. It said that there was no necessity for applicants to submit an initial expression of interest therefore those who did would be at a disadvantage.
The Ombudsman’s report was also critical of the fact that Authorisation Board chair Catherine Isaac had earlier assured two organisations that their identities would remain confidential.
Judith Nowotarski says that the Ministry of Education and charter school proponents need to be reminded that there is strong and valid public interest in this issue, with taxpayer’s money and the health of the public education system at stake.
“We strongly believe it is important to have the discussion and debate before the final decisions were made. But it would appear that the Ministry preferred to keep public debate and information to as minimum level as possible.”
She says while the Ombudsman’s findings may be a win for openness and transparency in this case, the secrecy surrounding Charter Schools will continue because they will not be subject to the Official Information Act despite being publicly funded.
The Ministry told the Ombudsman it plans to publish the names of the organisations on July 31st on its website, once final decisions on approved charter school applications have been made.