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Utah's charter schools are poised to increase in number thanks to a new law passed by the Legislature.
The new law funds 5,000 additional students in charter schools for the 2008-2009 school year, which would allow the system to expand by about seven to 10 schools, a 20 percent increase.
More state charter school staff are funded through the bill to manage the booming schools, and administrative dollars per student sharply increase.
"It brings funding closer to being equitable," said Marlies Burns, the new director of charter schools.
Utah's charter schools have been under scrutiny in the past few months as a series of reports chronicled their financial health, management, oversight and future. An audit released in January raised questions about whether state officials were doing enough to monitor schools after they opened. State auditors discouraged the approval of more schools until recommendations from their report were implemented.
The new funding will allow the state to hire the equivalent of up to three more full-time staff in the state charter office allowing for more training, assistance and oversight, Burns said.
The new law also calls for more transparency in governing charter schools. Charter school board members must disclose their relationship if a relative is being considered for a job. With some exceptions, charter school board members and their relatives are prohibited from having "a financial interest in a contract or other transaction" with the school.
The board chairwoman of Summit Academy, a charter school in Draper, recently resigned after questions were raised about her simultaneous ownership of a private, for-profit preschool housed at Summit. The lease agreement between the preschool and the charter school was never approved by the board, according to the then board secretary.
Other charter school legislation passed in this session includes a law that will allow schools to obtain low-rate financing through the state to pay for building leases.
All these changes come as the state charter school office is going through a leadership shift. After more than two years on the job, John Broberg has stepped down as director and will be replaced by Burns, an education specialist in his office who worked on federal grants. Burns, 33, was previously a principal at Uintah River High School, a charter school, a principal at a K-8 school and a high school biology and chemistry teacher.
"To me it's really an opportunity to affect more change," she said of her new position.
Broberg, 61, is ending a 35-year career in education whose final chapter was spent overseeing the charter school movement. He said it had been exciting to be part of such a boom.
With many new things for charter schools on the horizon, Broberg felt it was a good time for a new person to take the helm.
"Things are going to be different, which I applaud," he said.
Having been the principal of a charter school himself, Broberg said he remained a strong believer in choice in public education and believes the state is moving in the right direction when it comes to charter schools.
The outgoing director plans to move back to St. George with his wife where he will volunteer. As he goes out the door, Broberg said he is pleased with who will replace him.
"You want to leave it to someone who's going to take it beyond where you ever did," he said.
* JULIA LYON can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8748.