The standoff between Baker Mitchell Jr, whose company runs four Wilmington-area charter schools, and North Carolina’s education agency is continuing.
The state has demanded – but has yet to receive— details from Charter Day Schools, Inc. about the salaries paid out to Roger Bacon Academy employees who work in the four public charter schools run by the company.
Owned by Mitchell, Roger Bacon Academy has exclusive contracts to manage and run four schools in Southeastern North Carolina — Charter Day School in Leland, Columbus Charter School in Whiteville, South Brunswick School in Bolivia and Douglass Academy in Wilmington.
The board chair of the non-profit in charge of the schools recently claimed that the private company owned by Mitchell won’t give the salary information to the schools’ board of directors.
John Ferrante, a Wilmington lawyer and chair of the non-profit Charter Day Schools, Inc., told Phillip Price of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction last week that the non-profit board of directors can’t get detailed salary information of headmasters and assistant headmasters from Roger Bacon Academy.
Price, DPI’s chief financial officer, summarized his Oct. 17 conversation with Ferrante in an email to State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey and several DPI employees. N.C. Policy Watch received a copy of that email through a standing public records request it has with DPI.
“He [Ferrante] indicated that he had requested that information and they had responded that it was confidential and not available,” wrote Price in the Oct. 17 email. “Mr. Ferrante was concerned that his schools would be punished for something that was out of their control (and parents were expressing concern).”
The Charter Day Schools, Inc. board of directors governs the four charter schools –– and has the ability to hire and fire Roger Bacon Academy, Mitchell’s private company. Mitchell also owns another company that leases land and buildings to the charter school group.
Public charter schools are funded with public education dollars, but run by separate non-profit groups outside of traditional school districts and not subject to public purchasing and contracting rules. The salaries of public school employees are routinely disclosed under state laws.
Gov. Pat McCrory and others have pushed for more transparency about how public money is spent in charter schools, including disclosure of the salaries of private contractors working in the schools.
The Wilmington Star News reported in June that $9 million in public funds has gone to the companies owned by Mitchell in the past two years. ProPublica published a lengthy investigation earlier this month into the charter school network and the millions in public education dollars that have flowed through to Roger Bacon Academy and Mitchell over the years.
In their Oct. 17 conversation, Price advised Ferrante that the board, which governs the school, could require disclosure of salary information from Roger Bacon as part of the ongoing contract with the company. Ferrante said he’d try that approach and was given until next Wednesday to provide the information.
Plenty is at stake for the four charter schools if the information isn’t provided, with the State Board of Education able to sanction or even revoke the charters of the schools for financial non-compliance.
Mitchell, the founder of the Charter Day Schools and politically-connected figure in the state’s charter school movement, has maintained that information should not be public and successful student test scores should be assurance that public money is being well spent.