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Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) sent a letter on Monday to Gov. Pat McCrory, asking him to veto legislation sent to him last week by the General Assembly that allows private, for-profit charter school operators to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds. 

“While this bill requires that charter schools disclose the salaries of direct employees, including teachers, it creates a dangerous loophole that would allow Charter School Management Companies to take advantage of taxpayer funds by hiding payments to the very people and entities for which disclosure is most necessary,” Cotham wrote to McCrory.

Governor McCrory has previously said he would veto any legislation that shielded charter school salaries’ from the public eye.

“I still share my previous concerns with transparency for charter schools, not just for teachers, but for board members and all employees. Lawyers are currently reviewing the interpretations of this new law and I won’t take action on the legislation until we have a clear interpretation on transparency,” McCrory said in a statement last Friday.

Rep. Cotham delivered an impassioned plea to fellow House lawmakers last week to reject SB 793, ‘Charter School Modifications’. Not only did the bill suddenly contain a provision that shielded the salaries of charter school staff who are employed by the parent for-profit company of a school, it also jettisoned an earlier version of the bill that contained protections for LGBT students.

The additional provision to SB 793 comes following months of fighting between prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., and local media outlets that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools—teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy. Mitchell has refused to disclose his for-profit employees’ salaries.

In addition to operating four charter schools in eastern North Carolina, Mitchell is also deeply involved in charter school politics at the state level. He sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, which approves and monitors new charter schools across North Carolina. 

Mitchell has also given thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph), a key proponent of charter schools.

In her letter to McCrory, Rep. Cotham asked McCrory to keep his word about transparency.

“Now is not the time to play politics, to play word games, or to only listen to donors. Now is the time for ethical leadership and for unwavering commitment to the principles you earlier said you support. I call on you to keep your word and veto this bill.”

House lawmakers approved legislation Friday that allows private, for-profit management companies that run charter schools to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

The bill also fails to provide protections for LGBT students, even though an earlier version did.

While the bill, SB 793, or Charter School Modifications, clarifies that the salaries of charter school teachers and non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure, employees of for-profit companies that are contracted to manage the operations of charter schools would not be subject to those rules.

In a prior version of the bill, language simply required charter schools to publicly disclose all employees’ salaries.

The change comes at a time when one prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., has been fighting media requests for months that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools – teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy.

Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board that is tasked with approving and monitoring charter schools, operates four charter schools in southeastern North Carolina through his for-profit company.

Roger Bacon Academy has raked in millions of dollars in profits that consist of public funds since 1999 – and Mitchell himself has profited to the tune of at least $16 million in management fees over the past several years. Read More

Barbara Dell Carter

Second grade teacher Barbara Dell Carter

Do you remember Barbara Dell Carter?

She’s the second grade classroom teacher at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School in “little” Washington, who I visited late last summer while she dutifully prepared her classroom for the first day of school.

As she straightened up her books (many of which she procured through her own means), Carter told me of her fears of facing yet another year without a dedicated teacher assistant (TA), not to mention how to cope with a state budget that dealt significant cuts to other areas of the classroom.

She is worried. Not the back-to-school jitters kind of worried; she has deep-seated concerns about the challenges she will face this year as educators grapple with a public school budget that spends $500 million less than what was spent in 2008.

Five years ago, the teacher assistant who is now sitting in Carter’s classroom preparing instructional materials would typically spend the entire day, every day, with Carter during the school year. That teacher assistant would help her manage 21 or 22 seven-year-old children who need to go to the bathroom, get fed, learn a lesson at a slightly slower or faster pace, or go to the nurse’s office, among many other possible situations, all throughout the day.

Now, that teacher assistant will be shared among four or five other classrooms. So maybe Carter will have a colleague help her manage her classroom for just an hour each day.

Maybe.

Read More

Gov. Pat McCrory, previously a Common Core supporter, signed a bill into law Tuesday that could set the stage for North Carolina to Common Core picrid itself of the more rigorous academic standards—although he doesn’t quite see it that way.

“It (the legislation) does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards,” McCrory said in a press release indicating his support for the legislation. “It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards.”

Lawmakers began moving toward a repeal of the Common Core standards months ago, which are a set of guidelines that that the state adopted in 2010 which outline what students should be able to know and do in mathematics and English language arts.

The House passed legislation that would repeal the standards and force the State Board of Education to consider alternatives that would not include the Common Core. But the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Tillman, keeps the door open for Common Core, allowing a review commission of mostly political appointees to recommend to the State Board some or even all of the standards currently in place.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which were developed by local stakeholders, the National Governors Association and The Council of Chief State School Officers, of which North Carolina’s State Superintendent, Dr. June Atkinson, is president-elect.

But states have recently begun to step away from the standards. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have repealed Common Core, and numerous other states have expressed their intention to renege on their promise to implement them in various ways.

North Carolina has spent many millions on implementing the Common Core, using mostly federal Race to the Top (RttT) funds. The state has spent at least $72 million of RttT money on transitioning to the Common Core, and an additional $68 million was spent on building local districts’ technological capacity to be able to deliver on the new standards.

Outside of RttT funds, local school districts have also spent their own money on CCSS implementation – and it’s difficult to even put a figure on that cost.

While Sen. Tillman’s legislation seems like a compromise, potentially allowing Common Core to stay — it should be noted that Tillman has been a vehement opponent of the standards, telling some folks at a news conference last May that Common Core is a sellout and “we’ve sold our soul.”

“Well, they dangled $430 million dollars out there, Race to the Top. Good old easy money, bought us off…But we got some powerful people fighting this thing. And so I want us to stop it [Common Core],” said Tillman.

Tillman will likely play a role behind the scenes in suggesting who will sit on the Academic Standards Review Commission, which will comprise four appointees selected by Senate leader Phil Berger, four appointees selected by Speaker Thom Tillis, 2 members of the State Board of Education and one appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory.

Stay tuned to learn who will sit on that commission, which is designed to determine the fate of the Common Core standards in North Carolina.

 

On the heels of its Raleigh job fair in May, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is once again looking to poach North Carolina’s school teachers to come work in Texas for much higher pay. The Texas school district will be holding job fairs this week in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.Houston

The available jobs in Houston, according to Greensboro’s News & Record, are in “critical shortage” areas including bilingual education, secondary math and science, special education and career and technical education.

HISD, which is headed by former Guilford County Schools superintendent Terry Grier, advertises a starting salary for teachers of $49,100. In North Carolina, the starting salary for teachers is currently $30,800. The advertisement says the Houston school district is “prepared to make job offers on the spot.”

North Carolina currently ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, and there has been no shortage of attention to the fact that teachers, who haven’t seen a significant pay increase in six years, are leaving the state in large numbers.

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in a budget battle over how much more to pay teachers, proposing anywhere from a 6 to 11 percent pay raise and bringing the starting salary for teachers up to $35,000.

But those salary increases may come at the expense of teacher assistants, who could be laid off in large numbers this fall to pay for the pay bumps.

See HISD’s job fair advertisements here, here and here.