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Highlights

Almost 40 percent of all public school students in the District of Columbia (D.C. or District) were enrolled in charter schools in the 2010-11 school year. The D.C. School Reform Act established the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) for the purpose of authorizing and overseeing charter schools. Congress required GAO to conduct a management evaluation of PCSB. GAO addresses the following: (1) the mechanisms in place to review the performance and operations of PCSB, (2) the procedures and processes PCSB has in place to oversee and monitor the operations of D.C. charter schools, and (3) the resources available to charter schools for their operations and facilities. GAO interviewed officials from D.C. agencies and 7 charter schools and reviewed oversight procedures for PCSB and charter schools. GAO also reviewed the processes for providing resources to charter schools and analyzed data on these resources.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Executive Office of the Mayor 1. To ensure that the criteria for evaluating offers from charter schools to use surplus D.C. school buildings are clear and the reasons for denial of offers are communicated, the Mayor of the District of Columbia should direct the D.C. Department of Real Estate Services (DRES) to ensure the Request for Offers (RFO) on former D.C. school buildings clearly indicates all factors that may be considered by the selection panel.
Closed - Not Implemented
The District concurred with our recommendation, stating that the Mayor instructed the D.C. Department of Real Estate (DRES) to ensure that Requests for Offer (RFO) clearly indicate all factors that may be considered by the selection panel. In October 2012, DRES dissolved and the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) assumed responsibility for the RFO process. DME made several changes to the RFO process. One change was including scoring criteria for evaluating offers considered by the selection panel. According to a DME official, it outlines desired uses for each reuse site and clearly details all of the data points used to render a decision to ensure it is meeting the needs of its students and the larger community and to increase transparency into the process. In addition, respondents to the RFO have the ability to attend a pre-submission meeting where they can ask questions about the scoring criteria. Potential respondents are also encouraged to request previous successful RFO offers to see how scores are tabulated. However, the scoring factors do not include additional factors outside the stated criteria, such as "community development" as we specified in our report. The DME official noted that in cases where a factor such as "community development" could be considered, the offeror is made known of that factor.
Executive Office of the Mayor 2. To ensure that the criteria for evaluating offers from charter schools to use surplus D.C. school buildings are clear and the reasons for denial of offers are communicated, the Mayor of the District of Columbia should direct DRES to inform charter schools, in writing, of the reasons their offers were rejected or of the opportunity to request a briefing to obtain such information.
Closed - Implemented
The District concurred with our recommendation, stating that DRES has begun taking steps to improve documentation on why offers were rejected. This includes a more detailed memorandum on the evaluation of the offer based on the criteria listed in the RFO. The District also stated that it will ensure that charter schools are notified, in writing, of their opportunity to request a debriefing on the topic. In October 2012, DRES dissolved and the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) assumed responsibility for the RFO process. In FY15, DME reported that it had adjusted its practices to improve documentation on why offers were rejected, which includes informing offerers of the opportunity to request a briefing to obtain such information. DME now includes a more detailed memorandum on the evaluation of the offer based on the criteria listed in the RFO. Respondents that are not awarded are also notified, in writing, of their opportunity to request a debriefing on the topic. Respondents can request their scores and details about how the score was attained. At the debriefing, respondents are given an opportunity to explore how their particular offer missed points or did not meet the needs outlined in the RFO.

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