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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.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies, with students.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academies, with students.

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.

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The UNC Board of Governors heard from several top lawmakers Thursday as part of an attempt by the system’s governing board to improve relations with the elected officials that fund them.

So, what advice did they get?

Bring more conservative voices to campuses, keep cutting administrative costs and, when you are asking for more funding, make your case quickly and clearly.

Republican state Reps. John Bell, Tim Moore of Kings Mountain, and Nelson Dollar of Wake County spoke Thursday afternoon with members of the UNC Board of Governor’s public affairs committee.

Dollar, the top budget writer in the House, said in his opening remarks that he and many of his Republican colleagues want to see conservative voices welcomed on the 17 campuses that are part of the UNC system.

“We want to make sure that diversity on campuses means among other things … that more conservative voices have a hearing as well and (are as) welcome at the campuses,” Dollar said.

The conversation Thursday comes as the UNC is preparing its budget requests for the next two years, which the state legislature will take up in its long session beginning in January. Though it avoided significant cuts for this year, public colleges and universities in the state have weathered deep cuts in prior years that trimmed nearly a half-billion dollars in 2011.

Bell, who is finishing his first term, said he hears from constituents and others who think the university system is still too top-heavy.

“Let’s start streamlining some of this bloated administration,” he said, adding that he think there are too many academic centers at various university campuses.

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It’d be hard for find anyone in North Carolina unaware of the upcoming Nov. 4 election, with the political television and radio advertisements currently blanketing the state.

The end is now in sight. vote

Today marks the first day of early voting, and you can look up your counties’ early vote locations and times here.

For those of you in Boone, the early voting location at the Appalachian State University’s student union is open, after a flurry of decisions yesterday by state appeals courts and elections board.

Finally, if you face problems at the polls, receive a mailing or hear announcements with misinformation intended to mislead voters, you can call Democracy N.C.’s North Carolina Election Protection hotline at 888-OUR-VOTE (888-687-8683).

And if you’re looking for some context about what’s happening to voting rights across the country, read this piece N.C. Policy Watch’s courts and law reporter Sharon McCloskey wrote about voters in North Carolina and other states striking out at the U.S. Supreme Court.

From the N.C. Policy Watch article:

When the dust settled, attorneys, legal experts and court watchers had plenty of sorting to do, trying to make some sense of orders – handed down unsigned and without opinions — that directly impacted the rights of hundreds of thousands of voters.

The court’s seemingly routine manner of handling the cases miffed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in her Texas dissent called her colleagues to task for ignoring clear evidence of voter discrimination and suppression.

“She’s not going down without a fight,” election law expert Rick Hasen wrote “and if this dissent stands for anything, it’s for the proposition that even if the court opts to erode the right to vote by way of unsigned orders at dawn, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not let it be invisible to the rest of us.”

Read more here.

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The standoff between Baker Mitchell Jr, whose company runs four Wilmington-area charter schools, and North Carolina’s education agency is continuing.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies, with students.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies, with students.

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.

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North Carolina’s new economic development partnership– a quasi-public group funded largely with public money – started up in earnest last week,  a significant move that privatized how employers are recruited to the state.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina has received $500,000 so far in private donations and $17.5 million in public dollars.

Partnership leaders have not yet identified the donors, as was reported this article published yesterday.The new group is subject to public record laws, as well as various reporting requirements.

John Lassiter, a Charlotte attorney appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to chair the partnership’s interim board, spoke with N.C. Policy Watch Wednesday after the piece was published.

He reiterated that the group will likely release the identities of donors before the end of the month – but may not specify how much each person or company gives.

That’s because enabling legislation requires the group to keep a list of donors and an “aggregate amount” of donations, he said.

He said he viewed releasing some of the donor information now, instead of at the end of  the year, will be going beyond the transparency requirements.

“Let’s strive to exceed what’s required in statutes,” he said.