House lawmakers approved legislation Friday that allows private, for-profit management companies that run charter schools to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.
The bill also fails to provide protections for LGBT students, even though an earlier version did.
While the bill, SB 793, or Charter School Modifications, clarifies that the salaries of charter school teachers and non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure, employees of for-profit companies that are contracted to manage the operations of charter schools would not be subject to those rules.
In a prior version of the bill, language simply required charter schools to publicly disclose all employees’ salaries.
The change comes at a time when one prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., has been fighting media requests for months that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools – teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy.
Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board that is tasked with approving and monitoring charter schools, operates four charter schools in southeastern North Carolina through his for-profit company.
Roger Bacon Academy has raked in millions of dollars in profits that consist of public funds since 1999 – and Mitchell himself has profited to the tune of at least $16 million in management fees over the past several years.
While debating the conference report of the charter school bill, Cotham told fellow lawmakers this bill protects Mitchell and others like him who are free to hire family and friends through a private company that runs charters, and then pay them anything they like with public funds.
“Is that transparency?” questioned Cotham.
Mitchell has promised to disclose all salaries of employees associated with his charter schools next week, noted Cotham – but once this bill becomes law, he won’t be obligated to do that.
Governor Pat McCrory has previously said he’d veto any bill that prevented public disclosure of charter school salaries.
Another contentious provision included in the conference report stripped prior language that would protect LGBT students.
Rep. David Lewis defended the latest version of S793, saying that this version relies on language from state law that protects all students.
But Rep. Marcus Brandon asserted that the LGBT community is not a protected class in North Carolina, prompting the need for a previous amendment that drew on language from federal law, but was stripped in a conference committee.
The new language says that a charter school shall not discriminate against any student on the basis of ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability.
“This is a public charter school, and we can’t say that we’re going to protect all children?” said Rep. Rick Glazier at a press conference last night, when House Democrats sought to raise awareness over the problems associated with the latest conference report.
The Senate must act on the bill before it goes to the Governor.