A group of Wilmington-area charter schools missed a Monday deadline to provide information to the state about salaries earned by employees of a private contractor that work at the public schools.
But the private company contracted to run the four charter schools said it will give up the salary information under one condition – that it be considered a “trade secret” and withheld from the public.
“This is a simple yet reasonable approach, utilized frequently throughout North Carolina by state, county and local public agencies to protect confidential and proprietary mutual interests of CDS, DPI, SBE and their constituents, while preserving the sanctity of the RBA Confidential Information,” wrote George Fletcher, an attorney for Roger Bacon Academies in an Oct. 21 letter to John Ferrante, the chair of the schools’ non-profit board of directors.
(Scroll down to read the letter.)
Roger Bacon Academies, the company owned by conservative charter school founder Baker Mitchell Jr., has received millions in public funds as part of the company’s exclusive contracts to run four Wilmington-area charter schools – Charter Day School in Leland, Columbus Charter School in Whiteville, Douglass Academy in Wilmington and South Brunswick Charter School in Bolivia.
Nearly 2,000 students enrolled at the four tuition-free schools this year, which draw down federal, state and local education funds. Mitchell also owns a company that leases land and school supplies to the public charter schools. Close to $9 million has gone to Mitchell’s companies over the last two years, according to the Wilmington Star-News.
The schools are the only public charter schools that haven’t provided salary information for education management contractors to the State Board of Education following a pledge from Gov. Pat McCrory that charter schools would be held to the same disclosure standards as other public schools.
The looser regulations faced by charter schools were intended to spur innovative educational platforms, but critics have said the lack of regulation also opens up the public school funding to profiteering by companies and individuals.
Mitchell, who has donated to the campaigns of Republican lawmakers and used to serve on the state’s advisory committee for charter schools, has balked at the requests from the state education agency, arguing that the salary information is his private business information.
If not resolved, the State Board of Education could find the charter school is in financial non-compliance and withhold funding or shut down the schools.
Ferrante, the board chair of Charter Day Schools, had told DPI that the non-profit board of directors requested salary information, but that Roger Bacon Academy wouldn’t provide that information.
(Note: Ferrante, a Wilmington attorney, also serves on the New Hanover Board of Elections with Marlene Mitchell, Baker Mitchell’s wife. Both serve as the two Republican members of the three-person board.)
Salaries of staff of public schools, and all government agencies, are considered public records in North Carolina. Charter schools are public schools funded with taxpayer dollars but are run by private non-profit boards of directors that govern the day-to-day operations of the schools.