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Baker Mitchell fails to disclose salaries of his for-profit charter school employees to the state, risking schools’ closure

Roger Bacon Academy, the private, for-profit education management organization (EMO) that runs four public charter schools in eastern North Carolina and is headed by prominent charter school advocate Baker Mitchell Jr., appears to have failed to comply with a state-imposed September 30 deadline requiring public charter schools to disclose the taxpayer-funded salaries of any staff who are employed by the private EMOs that manage them.

A directive issued on August 13 by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s CFO, Philip Price — on behalf of State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey – requested all NC charter schools who contract with private, for-profit EMOs to disclose the salary information of the EMO employees who operate or help staff their schools no later than September 30, 2014. Failure to comply with this directive would result in the state placing the charter schools in financial noncompliance status, which could set them on a path toward closure.

The non-profit organization that Roger Bacon Academy manages to oversee their four schools, Charter Day School, Inc., submitted documentation to DPI on September 30, but did not include salary information for employees of the private, for-profit company.

“CDS does not possess individual salaries paid by any private corporation that furnishes services,” said John J. Ferrante, chairman of the board of Charter Day School, Inc., in his September 30 letter to DPI.

North Carolina’s charter schools are public and receive taxpayer dollars to operate.

Last summer, the General Assembly approved legislation that allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

The bill, SB 793 Charter School Modifications, stipulated that the salaries of charter school teachers and those who sit on charter schools’ non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure – but left out of that requirement are staff who are employed by for-profit companies who manage the schools.

That bill coincided with Baker Mitchell’s months-long conflict with multiple media outlets that had asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools—teachers as well as employees of his for-profit EMO, Roger Bacon Academy. The Wilmington StarNews eventually filed a lawsuit against Charter Day School, Inc. for failure to comply with state public records law.

Gov. Pat McCrory said he’d veto any bill that shields charter schools’ salaries from the public eye – but ultimately he signed the legislation, qualifying his move by saying aid he’d ask State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey to ensure that charter schools’ contracts with private entities also require the disclosure of salary information.

Following passage of SB 793, Cobey, by way of CFO Price, directed charter schools to disclose the salary information of their for-profit management companies.

“After we looked at the law with lawyers, they ensured me it was our [the State Board of Education] authority to ask all charter schools, even for-profit education management organizations, to send all the salary info to us,” said Cobey.

Baker Mitchell operates four charter schools in eastern North Carolina, from which he has personally profited in the amount of 16 million taxpayer dollars in management fees over the past several years, according to IRS filings.

Mitchell is also deeply involved in charter school politics at the state level, having served on the state Charter School Advisory Board until his recent (and unexpected) resignation. He has also made campaign contributions to Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), a key charter school advocate who sponsored SB 793, which now allows for-profit education management companies to hide their employees’ taxpayer-funded salaries.

NC Office of Charter Schools director Joel Medley told NC Policy Watch he has forwarded Charter Day School, Inc.’s submitted documentation to CFO Philip Price and is awaiting word on next steps.

A spokeswoman for Roger Bacon Academy, Sawyer Batten, did not return a request for comment.

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