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Last week, I wrote about a bill that the General Assembly passed that would allow private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

That bill, SB 793, or ‘Charter School Modifications,’ also ended up with no protections for LGBT students at charter schools, even though an earlier version of the legislation did have that language in there.

So where’s the bill now? It’s currently waiting on Gov. McCrory’s signature, who has until Friday to sign it.

Previously he said he’d veto any bill that shielded charter school employees’ salaries from the public eye, but last we’ve heard from Gov. McCrory, he was working with his legal counsel to review just how good (or bad) a job this legislation does at keeping charter schools as transparent as their traditional public school counterparts.

Recently, eastern North Carolina charter school operator and profiteer Baker Mitchell has pushed back hard against having to disclose the salaries of his charter school employees, repeatedly batting away requests from local media and the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

He is also a frequent campaign contributor, having given $8,000 to Gov. McCrory’s campaign and $5,000 to Sen. Jerry Tillman, a principal sponsor of S793.

Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board and has a heavy hand in steering state-level charter school policy, submitted his resignation for his board seat to Senator Phil Berger last week, citing time constraints associated with too many commitments.

Along with fellow Board member Paul Norcross, who also submitted his resignation with a much more colorful letter, Mitchell has been a target of recent ethics complaints (see here and here), though no violations of state ethics law have been confirmed.

Stay tuned as we track this legislation.

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Education-budgetLate last night, lawmakers released a final budget deal brokered between the House and Senate that provides pay raises for teachers and a number of other education funding adjustments.

There’s a lot to process in the mammoth document, so let’s just get started with the basics on education, and I promise you — there will be more to come.

Teacher Pay

Lawmakers say they’ve provided an average 7 percent pay increase for teachers in this budget, but there’s widespread dispute over that figure since longevity pay has been wrapped up into the pay raises.

To see a side-by-side comparison of the old and new teacher pay schedules, click here.

Senator Phil Berger called the teacher pay raise the largest in North Carolina’s history, although the folks at ProgressNC fact-checked that claim and found it to be false.

Teacher Assistants

Lawmakers say TAs are “preserved” this year in the budget, but there are a few catches.

Lottery revenues will pay for a share of the funding for teacher assistants, and a portion of TAs will also be funded with non-recurring funds – meaning there will be another fight to keep them next year.

Also mentioned at Tuesday’s press conference– $65 million that was supposed to pay for TAs was moved back into funding for teacher positions. But local superintendents have the “flexibility” to move that money back over and save more TAs.

*However, that figure is not apparent in the budget’s money report. What we do know, however, is that in the certified 2014-15 budget, TAs were slated to cost $477,433,254 — but this latest budget spends $368.3 million.

Finally, while most state employees will get a $1,000 raise, TAs only get a $500 raise, along with public school custodial workers, cafeteria workers and other non-certified and central office personnel.

Higher Education

While lawmakers said on Tuesday they were able to preserve current funding levels for the university system, what actually is in place is a now slightly increased $76 million dollar cut that was in the original two-year budget passed in July 2013, but not in the most recent budget proposals.

This cut comes on top of years of cuts to the university system that have resulted in thousands of lost jobs and eliminated courses.

In 2011, the state’s universities had to cut $80 million, or 3.4 percent of its overall budget. Five hundred classes were eliminated, 3,000 jobs were cut and another 1,500 vacant jobs were eliminated. In the four years prior to 2011, state funding to the university system was slashed by $1.2 billion. Read More

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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.”

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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

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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