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As the Wilmington Star News reports this morning, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has told Baker Mitchell’s Charter Day School, Inc. to turn over required salary information of face the possibility of sanctions. This is from a letter from DPI chief financial officer Phillip Price:

We have reviewed your submission in response to my August 13, 2014, request for specific salary information for your EMO/CMO employees reassigned to work directly with a charter school. The provided information was incomplete and does not contain the requested details outlined by my letter.

Our request is for the actual individual salary detail for all EMO/CMO employees assigned to work at the charter school. As outlined in my letter and in Paragraph 12.1 of your charter document, compliance to this request is required based on enacted legislation and the chartering documents for operation of charter schools. Failure to comply with these requirements is considered a violation of the Uniform Education Reporting System (UERS) and will result in financial non-compliance per State Board of Education policy TCS-U-006. Failure to comply is also a violation of the provisions of your charter.

The letter goes on to say that if the information is not received by next Wednesday, the noncompliance will be reported to the State Board of Education for possible sanctions.

As has been reported by NC Policy Watch here and on several other occasions and, more recently, by the national nonprofit news service ProPublica, Baker Mitchell is a controversial conservative activist and businessman whose “nonprofit” charter schools are run completely by a for-profit company he controls.

Click here to read the DPI letter.

Commentary

One of the most interesting parts of the Pro Publica report  in the News & Observer today about the huge profits from taxpayer money made by charter school operator Baker Mitchell is the story of how Mitchell lobbied the General Assembly for a tax break for himself and then denied it.

Mitchell was intimately involved in seeing the bill through as chairman of a pro-charter lobbying group, the NC Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Asked about the tax break and whether he had pushed for provisions that would directly benefit him, Mitchell told ProPublica, “There was another group that pushed that through. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

But a lobbyist for Mitchell’s group, Debbie Clary, said, “It was our bill. I was the only lobbyist working on it.” Clary added, “The person most engaged was Baker (Mitchell).”

Whoops. It’s bad enough that Mitchell is raking in millions in taxpayer money with his questionable operation and apparently violating the law by not releasing financial details about his schools.

He at least ought to own up to his role in passing the legislation that is helping make him a wealthy man.

Commentary

The national nonprofit news site Pro Publica has a lead story out of North Carolina this morning about Baker Mitchell — the arch-conservative political operative who runs a chain of charter schools. This is the lead from the story, which is also front-paged this morning on Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.”

The story goes on to explain in great detail (much of it previously reported on NC Policy Watch) about how Mitchell has figured out a way to merge his right-wing political views with a skill for making boatloads of money at the public trough.

All in all, it is another powerful indictment of how the originally benign phenomenon of charter schools has been largely captured by the far right and money grubbers and thereby corrupted and perverted.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

News

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.

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News

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction received 40 applications this month to open up new charter schools in 2016, down from last year’s applicant pool of 71.

N.C. Office of Charter Schools director Joel Medley acknowledged the applicant numbers are down this year.

“It may be the application fee was raised from $500 to $1000. It may be that the timeline was moved forward a couple of months. It may be that some groups are waiting to submit using the new Fast Track Replication process,” Medley told N.C. Policy Watch, adding that he couldn’t give an accurate reason for why the numbers are fewer this time around.

Fourteen of this year’s applicants (click here for a spreadsheet listing the applicants) have indicated they plan to contract with education management organizations (EMO). For-profit EMOs were thrust into the spotlight during last summer’s legislative session, when 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.

At least ten of the forty applicants are re-submissions from prior years, Medley told N.C. Policy Watch.

According to the Office of Charter Schools, there are currently 148 charter schools in North Carolina—a figure that expanded quickly when lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap on how many charter schools could operate in the state back in 2011.

But last year, the pace of charter school approvals slowed down considerably. While the State Board of Education approved 23 charter schools to open in 2013 and 27 schools to open in 2014, only 11 out of 71 applicants were green-lighted to open in 2015, a figure that prompted a heated debate between Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) members tasked with reviewing the applications.

According to the Charlotte Observer, CSAB board member Alan Hawkes of Greensboro emailed his fellow members to chastise them for being “judgmental and punitive” in rejecting plans that would have expanded charter school enrollment.

“The plan was to have operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape for the better and in quantity,” said Hawkes, a founding board member of two Guilford County charter schools run by the for-profit National Heritage Academies. Hawkes also indicated that he received heat from Sen. Jerry Tillman about the low number of approved charter school applications.

Reviewers of charter school applications may prove to be more cautious now, in light of the fact that a few charter schools have abruptly closed thanks to poor financial management and other governance problems.

Most recently, Concrete Roses STEM Academy in Charlotte shut down 20 days into the school year. The school had its funding frozen by the state after the school failed to submit required financial forms. The school’s sudden closure left families of the school’s 126 students scrambling to find new schools, while taxpayers likely lost the $285,170 the school already withdrew from the state’s coffers.

For some who wish to open a charter school in North Carolina, there’s still another option for submitting applications for 2016. Thanks to legislation passed last summer, a fast-track process has been put in place for successful charter schools wishing to replicate themselves and for charter chains wishing to expand their presence in the state. The State Board of Education must adopt rules for the fast-track replication process no later than December 15, 2014.