News

Attorney General Roy Cooper files suit against eastern North Carolina charter

604-chartN.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has filed suit against an eastern North Carolina charter school, contending that leaders of the now-closed Kinston school mismanaged public funds.

Cooper’s office released the details of their complaint against Kinston Charter Academy Tuesday, which named the school, CEO Ozie L. Hall and the school’s board chairwoman, Demyra McDonald-Hall, as defendants.

“Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars to educate students and they have a duty to spend them wisely,” Cooper said in a statement. “There are many excellent charter schools but North Carolina needs more tools to protect families who choose charter schools.”

From Cooper’s statement:

Currently state law fails to adequately provide how North Carolina can fully recover taxpayer dollars from charter schools that fail or become insolvent.  Legislators should put safeguards in place to protect public education resources, Cooper said.

The complaint filed today in Wake County Superior Court alleges violations of North Carolina laws on deceptive trade practices, non-profit management and false claims. Cooper is asking the court to freeze the defendants’ assets and order them to repay misspent state funds as well as pay damages and civil penalties.

As alleged in the complaint, Hall and McDonald-Hall:

  • Falsely inflated the number of students Kinston Charter Academy would enroll so they could get more tax dollars, even though they knew the school would not be able to stay open for the 2013-2014 term.
  • Failed to disclose the school’s problems to students and their families, recruiting new students to enroll in the school while on the verge of closing it.
  • Took out risky loans with exorbitant fees and interest rates, borrowing $170,000 for less than two months at a cost of $60,000 which put the school in worse shape financially.
  • Used public money intended for educational purposes to enrich themselves and their family.

A January, 2015 report released by the State Auditor revealed many of the financial improprieties alleged in the lawsuit, including more than $11,000 in payments made to the defendants for unused vacation time and unspecified reimbursements and $2,500 to a daughter for a website that didn’t work—all while Kinston Charter Academy owed $370,825 for teacher salaries, insurance, retirement and other payroll obligations.

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News

Report details the struggle to recruit at NC’s low-performing schools

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson

“You are confirming what, anecdotally, we all would expect,” said A.L. Collins, vice chairman of the N.C. State Board of Education.

Expected, perhaps, but no less troubling, it would seem. Collins’ words came shortly after staff with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction presented a report to the state board Wednesday that quantified, in bitter detail, the apparent struggle for North Carolina’s low-performing schools to recruit high-quality teachers.

Based on the report, presented by Tom Tomberlin, director of district human resources for DPI, the attrition rate for teachers at low-performing schools and their counterparts has been surprisingly similar since 2013. Since then, both designations have seen about 22 percent of their teachers depart.

But replacing those losses at low-performing schools, according to Tomberlin, is clearly a tall order.

Teachers are evaluated on their students’ performance, he said, falling into three classes that indicate whether an educator met expected growth, exceeded expected growth or did not meet expected growth.

Of the new hires at low performing schools in the 2013-2014 academic year, nearly a quarter, 24 percent, did not meet expected growth. That number rose to 28 percent in 2014-2015.

There’s a stark difference compared to non-low performing schools, where only about 13 percent of new hires in 2013-2014 did not meet expected growth and 19 percent fell short in 2014-2015.

And while he could only speculate about why, Tomberlin said it seems that gifted teachers, even if they begin work at a low-performing school, are likely to eventually seek employment at a more academically burnished school. Low performing schools, he said, are left with less experienced or effective teachers, based on the data.

“If this trend continues, these schools have very little chance of emerging from low-performing status,” he said.

Given the state’s very public struggles with retaining teachers in recent years—at least partially because, by 2014, the state was ranked a dismal 47th in the nation in teacher pay—education leaders say the trend must be reversed.

State board member Olivia Holmes Oxendine said DPI staff should prepare policy recommendations for them to consider at a future board meeting. Most board members Wednesday seemed to agree.

“To me, it is a systems problem, not a teacher problem,” said June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction. Atkinson said teachers need more instructional support and development opportunities.

Tomberlin said he expects to have recommendations prepared for the board in March.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Difficult to discern coherent economic strategy in the Connect NC Bond Act

The Connect NC Bond Act does not appear to be driven by a single coherent vision of how to use state investments to support economic growth. As can be seen below, the House and Senate versions put out over the last month have varied enormously over the total size of the bond and the type of projects to be funded. Concerns over cutting taxes while going farther into debt aside, the bond act shows that there is no single guiding star by which the legislature is sailing.

BOND PROPOSAL - pie charts2-LAND

To be fair, some of this is just the legislative process in action. When you’re making a multi-billion dollar sausage, there’s going to be lots of back and forth on the ingredients. Still, while the bond bill outlines how important investments are to our economic future, it reveals relatively little consensus on what those investments are or how to make them.

Here are a few of the major changes to the bill compared to what the House presented last month (For a complete breakdown of how the bond package has changed, see the document below): Read more

Uncategorized

Pay at N.C. charter schools often below already-low public school salaries

Charter schools in the Charlotte area tend to pay teachers less than if they worked for traditional public schools, while the administrators of the privately-run schools make similar salaries to what public school principals earn.

The Charlotte Observer, in an article published Saturday, analyzed salary information from 22 charter schools in Mecklenburg County, a request that touched off a brief controversy about whether salaries for the state’s privately-run but publicly-funded schools could be disclosed.

Ultimately, the N.C. Department of Public Instructions’ Office of Charter Schools reiterated that salary information is public.

Charter schools have more flexibility when it comes to pay, and aren’t beholden to the state salary structure that made North Carolina teachers among the least-paid in the nation. A controversial state Senate plan unveiled last week would dramatically increase North Carolina teacher salaries but also cut teacher assistants and force teachers interested in a salary boost to give up tenure protections.

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Uncategorized

QEA, Winston-Salem charter school, continues out-of-state basketball recruiting

A Winston-Salem public charter school is continuing its efforts to bring in elite basketball players from around the nation and world, and recently saw three of its out-of-state players recruited to play next year at Division 1 colleges.

All three of the players who signed collegiate letters of intent came from outside North Carolina to attend Quality Education Academy, a charter school that is part of the state’s growing system of schools that are privately run by non-profit boards but funded with local, state and federal education dollars.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools, which monitors the 127 charter schools in the state, has previously raised concerns about QEA’s controversial basketball program, but neither DPI nor the N.C. Board of Education have taken any significant steps to curtail or stop the out-of-state recruitment. The school and it basketball team were the subjects of an N.C. Policy Watch investigation last year (scroll down to read more about that report).

June Atkinson, a Democrat elected to head the state’s K-12 public education system, said last year that charter schools have to accept students from North Carolina but the laws governing charter schools are silent as to whether that means the school is open to only North Carolina residents.

Meanwhile, the  basketball program’s efforts to look outside North Carolina don’t appear to be slowing.

Isaac Pitts, the basketball coach for Quality Education Academy, recently referred to his ongoing efforts to pull in players from overseas on his  Instagram account.

“Evaluating overseas talent and liking what I see! Wow,” Pitts wrote on March 28 as a caption to a screenshot of several youth playing on an outdoor basketball court.

QEAoverseas

QEA basketball coach Isaac Pitts comments via Instagram on overseas recruiting efforts.

In another photo of what appears to be the same video, Pitts wrote, “Just sitting here looking at game film of kids we’re interested in.”

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