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Conflicted trustee must pick a school


Board members must represent unconflicted loyalty to the interests of the ownership. This accountability supersedes any conflicting loyalty such as that to advocacy or interest groups and membership on other boards or staffs. This accountability supersedes the personal interest of any Board member acting as an individual consumer of the organization’s services.

– From “Board Members’ Code of Conduct,” East Allen County Schools

The sad irony surrounding Stephen Terry’s position on the East Allen County Schools Board is that his electoral district was established expressly to ensure students in southeast Fort Wayne had effective representation on a board that too often favors local interests over student success.

But Terry has not acted in the best interests of students, neither those in southeast Fort Wayne nor those in the East Allen district overall. His active participation in securing a charter for his employer – the Timothy L. Johnson Academy – is a clear conflict of interest. Abstaining from votes involving the charter school does not go far enough in separating his financial interests from East Allen interests. He should choose one position or the other.

Terry did not respond to phone messages seeking comment on his dual roles.

East Allen board member Chris Baker acknowledged last week that he attended a meeting at Johnson Academy to hear about the option for the district to authorize Johnson Academy’s charter.

Ball State University, which has overseen the school for the past decade, announced last month that its charter would not be renewed.

Terry told the board that Johnson Academy’s first choice for an authorizer was the school district, a clear indication that he has been involved in discussions that place his two positions in conflict. What is best for his employer is not necessarily best for East Allen County Schools.

Indiana’s original charter school law granted school boards the authority to grant charters, but it is telling that only three of the state’s nearly 300 districts have chosen to do so.

All the good intentions in the world have not made the Johnson Academy a success. To continue its charter would be to benefit Terry and other adults with a personal interest in maintaining its operation.

The school has had more than a decade to raise academic achievement. It represents a continued drain on state tax dollars and – contrary to the spirit of the charter law – keeps students away from more successful schools.

In the 2011-12 school year, 293 of the Johnson Academy’s 305 students were black or multiracial, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Ironically, racial imbalance was the very problem that Timothy L. Johnson cited as a challenge for Harding-area schools when he became the district’s first representative in 1998. He died unexpectedly in 2001, and the charter school was named in his memory.

Johnson recognized that segregation did not serve Harding-area students well, so it is particularly disappointing to see his successor promote it even as East Allen begins to make progress in racial balance.

If Terry is committed to the charter school’s unsuccessful approach, he should step down from his EACS role, and the board should direct its energies to offering the best instruction possible to all students.