A school can be the anchor of a rural community. As such, some rural locations faced with dwindling populations and the possibility of losing their public schools to consolidations and closures are turning to charter schools as an option.
Starting a charter school can be a divisive issue in urban areas with failing public schools. However, in a rural area trying to keep its school alive, the chartering option can serve as a resource instead of a threat. Education experts say that to lose a school can be devastating for a rural area and that schools give such places their identity.
Schools and Rural Sustainability
Rural America has changed dramatically. It has higher unemployment than urban centers, its young people have moved out leaving a largely elderly population, and schools have had a hard time keeping up.
In a rural community, the school serves as a social hub, a binding agent for the residents, and can provide economic and political benefits as well. The 16 percent of charter schools that are operating in rural areas strive to be a connection between the students and their hometowns by nurturing a sense of place and community. Charter schools want to offer place-based education as an answer to the issue of rural sustainability.
In Logantown, Pennsylvania for example, the Sugar Valley Rural Charter School is teaching the region’s agricultural history to its student body. The school’s chief executive officer says that it is important for the students to have an appreciation of the local farming culture and how hard the people of Sugar Valley worked to create the local economy.
The lead teacher at Merrimac Community Charter School in Merrimac, Wisconsin, has neighbors volunteer to teach art, baking, and gardening lessons as part of the school’s place-based curriculum. The idea is that if children learn about the environment in which they live, they will develop a sense of caring for the community that will continue into adulthood.
Charter Schools and Controversy
Rural charter schools face the same issues that urban charters do – the charter application process requires knowledge of the complicated bureaucracy involved with starting a school from scratch, as well as time and money. Rural communities may be lacking in some or all of these areas. Critics say charters draw funding and students away from public schools already struggling for survival. Money is generally stretched tightly in a rural area so it is easy to see what is draining the supply if a charter opens for business.
Often charter schools are professionally managed by a for-profit Educational Management Organization (EMO) or a non-profit Charter Management Organization (CMO). According to 2014-15 statistics, approximately 44 percent of U.S. charter schools are run by EMOs or CMOs, but among rural charters, only 19 percent use professional management. Most often they are run independently by local community groups who have less interest in profit margins and more interest in the school’s success and that of the students – especially if the option is no school at all.
Form I-9 Immigration Audits and Investigations
Form I-9 must be completed for every individual that an employer hires regardless of the employee’s citizenship status. The form verifies the employee’s identity and employment authorization. Supporting documents must be presented by the employee and examined by the employer and the I-9 must be kept on record for a designated period. If at any time Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) wants to inspect an employer’s I-9 forms, they must be made available to authorized agents. Inspection may be carried out after a complaint or on the agency’s own initiative.
When an employer receives a Notice of Inspection (NOI) they are allowed three business days under the law to produce all the requested documents. Any employer who receives an NOI should immediately inform their legal counsel and all subsequent communications should be made through counsel. An NOI is a serious matter that could lead to significant penalties, both civil and criminal, should the employer be found to be non-compliant. Good legal counsel can help minimize the potential liability of an ICE inspection.
A qualified attorney should review all I-9 forms and other requested documents and use the three days granted under the law to make any allowable corrections. For any employee identified in the documents requested by ICE, there must be a corresponding I-9 form. Any employee listed on payroll and quarterly wage reports, or who was hired after November 6, 1986 must have an I-9 form.
Other documents ICE may request include:
- Quarterly payroll records
- Employee identification documents
- List of employees and independent contractors along with their personal information – full name, date of birth, Social Security number, and dates worked
- Corporate documents including quarterly tax documents
- Copies of E-Verify inquiry results
Before providing any documents, it must be verified that the employer has properly completed I-9 forms for all current and terminated employees. Always request a receipt for any records turned over to ICE.
Additionally, the job of legal counsel is to clarify with ICE any ambiguities in the NOI, and to get an idea of how long ICE expects the audit to last and what their expectations are for the investigation. After reviewing the provided documents, ICE may respond with any of the following notices:
- Notice of Discrepancies
- Warning Notice
- Notice of Inspection Results
- Notice of Suspect Documents
- Notice of Intent to Fine
If the employer receives a Notice of Intent to Fine, then it is important to prepare an appeal by requesting a hearing for a Notice of Intent to Fine.
Experienced legal counsel is important in helping a business be proactive about its I-9 documentation and remaining in compliance. For assistance with your business law issue, call MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or submit an online contact form.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
With all the recent allegations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, employers should be prepared for an increase in lawsuits across other industries as well. Now is a good time to review company policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to ensure that employees are protected and have safe avenues to report any incidents that may arise.
Anti-harassment policies can protect both employees and employers by proactively establishing a zero-tolerance policy. Ideally, the policy should be crafted with the input of experienced legal counsel. Such policies should be clearly defined and easily accessible to all employees. It is important to be able to demonstrate that workers have been informed about the company’s policies.
An effective policy against sexual harassment will clearly state the zero-tolerance rule and define what qualifies as harassment, including examples of what is prohibited. Employees should be provided with several options to report sexual harassment that they have experienced or witnessed, and they should be encouraged to report incidents immediately. All reports should remain confidential and there should be an avenue available to report incidents that does not involve a direct supervisor, should that person be the subject of a complaint. The policy should include a promise that there will be no retaliation for reporting workplace harassment.
Employers should provide anti-harassment training for all employees during orientation. In many states this is required by law. The training should cover the company policy on sexual harassment as well as how to prevent it. Managers should be thoroughly familiar with what procedures to take when a complaint is brought.
Respond to Complaints Swiftly
Typically, human resources should get involved immediately when a complaint is received, and the incident should be investigated without delay. The investigation should be led by trained human resources professionals or managers, and legal counsel should be informed of any matters under internal investigation. It is important to have the employee give a full written account with as much detail as possible in order to be able to follow up on every allegation. The investigation should include all pertinent communications including text messages and emails. During this period, the employee should be removed from any scenarios that involve working together with the alleged offender. Every effort should be made to keep the matter as confidential as possible while still fully investigating the complaint.
A key component of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace is demonstrating that it will not be tolerated with consequences for those who violate the company’s policy. The appropriate action should be taken immediately. This can range from written warnings to suspension, ordering mandatory training, demoting, or terminating the offender. After documenting the steps taken, follow up with the employee to let them know what is being done to prevent future incidents of harassment.
For assistance with any employment related matter, call MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or submit an online contact form.
Benefit Corporation Basics
Corporate Social Responsibility has been taken a step further by the advent of Benefit Corporations. Maryland was the first state in the U.S. to pass benefit corporation legislation and now 33 states plus the District of Columbia allow for companies to be registered as benefit corporations.
A benefit corporation is a for-profit organization that is legally required to create a positive impact upon society, its workers, and the environment. The mission of the corporation and its specific public benefit purposes are decided together by the directors and shareholders. This social and environmental mission is then a core business objective in addition to the goal of making a profit.
There are currently around 1,800 registered benefit corporations in 50 countries. Among them are well-known ventures like Patagonia, Klean Kanteen, and Etsy. Etsy is a benefit corporation that ultimately became a publicly traded company. Their 2016 second quarter earnings report showed revenue of $85.3 billion, and is a premier example of how a socially responsible company can also be profitable.
Advantages of Benefit Corporations
Choosing to be a benefit corporation is purely voluntary. By declaring a mission that will benefit the public good, benefit corporations provide an opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs to invest and help build businesses that have profit as a goal while remaining socially and environmentally responsible.
The United States Forum for Responsible Investment (USSIF) reports that their members represent more than $3 trillion in assets being invested in socially responsible companies. Benefit corporations are attractive to investors and employees alike. Surveys by the Nielsen company indicate that 56 percent of North Americans would rather work for a company that gives back to the community. The same survey found that 64 percent of North Americans would prefer to buy from companies that give back to the community, demonstrating that consumers are also drawn to benefit corporations.
Becoming a Benefit Corporation in Pennsylvania
An established business entity that wishes to become a benefit corporation may do so by a two-thirds vote of the shareholders. Those wishing to form a benefit corporation must file an application with the Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations. The application must include the Articles of Incorporation, a docketing statement, as well as the following information:
- Signatures of all incorporators and their names and addresses
- The corporate name, which must be available for use
- The corporate address, which may not be a P.O. box, however, a Commercial Registered Office Provider’s address is acceptable
- The purpose of the corporation
- The stock share status
- A statement declaring benefit corporation status
The intent to file must be published in two newspapers of general circulation – one of which should preferably be a legal journal.
Every benefit corporation must also file an annual report with the state that assesses their operations by a third-party standard. This report describes their efforts to create public benefit during the preceding year and must be distributed to all shareholders.
Certified B Corporations
A Certified B Corporation is a benefit corporation that meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, as set forth by B Labs. There is no requirement for benefit corporations to be certified, but certification adds to a company’s credibility and is considered a best practice. Well known Certified B corporations include Eileen Fisher, Fetzer Vineyards, and Badger Bodycare.
MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser is well versed in the complexities of benefit corporations and can provide you with highly skilled representation. Contact us online or call 484-318-7106 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.