Charter school operator Baker Mitchell Jr. filed a defamation lawsuit last week against the former Brunswick County superintendent, claiming Mitchell’s reputation was tarnished by statements critical of his business interests in charter schools and public charter schools in general.
Mitchell is a founder of Charter Day School in Leland and his company Roger Bacon Academies receives millions in public dollars to run four charter schools in the Wilmington area.
He’s seeking more than $100,000 in damages for statements made by former Brunswick Superintendent Edward Pruden about charter schools, including that “public charter schools assist in ‘dismantling’ North Carolina’s system of public education,” according to this article in the Port City Daily. Mitchell contends that Pruden made false statements that damaged Mitchell’s reputation.
Pruden, who openly questioned the amount in public funding that went to schools run by Mitchell, was fired by the Brunswick County school board late last year, seven months short of the expiration of his contract. No reason was given by the school board for the early termination.
From the Port City Daily:
In the lawsuit, Mitchell claims Pruden, while acting as superintendent of the Brunswick County school district between 2010 and 2014, made a series of false claims against Mitchell and Roger Bacon Academy. The Brunswick County Board of Education fired Pruden in November, seven months ahead of his previously announced retirement date.
“Pruden has falsely stated to third parties that public charter schools assist in ‘dismantling’ North Carolina’s system of public education…and that public charter schools have ‘morphed into an entrepreneurial opportunity,’” according to the suit.
Mitchell alleges that Pruden demonstrated his “combative attitude” toward the charter school system in a variety of formats including a YouTube video, “published to thousands of third parties” in 2013, in which Pruden argues that Brunswick County Schools is “superior to the ‘competition’” because it “does not ‘operate for a profit.’”
Further, Mitchell claims when Roger Bacon Academy applied with the state Office of Charter Schools in 2013 to open South Brunswick Charter, Pruden began an “obsessive public campaign to derail approval” of the new site.
Mitchell says Pruden intentionally caused his Local Education Agency Impact Statement–a document submitted to the state as part of the charter approval process–to be published by the media.
“The Impact Statement contains numerous statements that, when considered as a whole, maligns Mitchell and [Roger Bacon Academy] and casts dispersions on Mitchell’s honesty, character and moral standing in the community.”
In that statement, Pruden accused Mitchell’s “private companies” of profiting from taxpayer dollars in the amount of $16 million.
Pruden told the news site that he wasn’t worried about the lawsuit and “I will say that the absolute defense is truth.”
Mitchell, whose business network of running charter schools was extensively documented in this ProPublica article last year, was recently involved in a stand-off with the State Board of Education over the disclosure of salaries of personnel at the public charter schools.
That information was eventually disclosed, but not until after the state board threatened to take disciplinary action against the schools.