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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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Buried deep in a House technical corrections bill unveiled yesterday is a provision to allow staff of for-profit charter school management groups to serve on the boards of the public charters schools that contract with them.

The N.C. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the 55-page technical corrections bill today. The legislation would also have to gain approval in the Senate. (UPDATE: The House voted and passed the bill Friday, and it is now headed to the Senate.)

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academy, Inc. (Photo by Sarah Ovaska)

The technical corrections bill unveiled Thursday is supposed to be way for lawmakers to tweak laws but it often becomes an under-the-radar way to push through controversial changes and “asks” from powerful lobbying groups.

The one-sentence addition to charter school rules would prohibit the State Board of Education from dictating who can and can’t sit on the board of the publicly-funded charter schools.

That issue popped up last year when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told a politically-connected charter school operator he couldn’t sit on the board of the school he works for.

“The State Board of Education shall no impose any terms and conditions that restrict membership of the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation operating the charter school, but shall require the board of directors to adopt a conflict of interest policy,” the new language in the technical corrections bill states. (Click here to view the corrections bill, charter school language on page 39.)

Baker Mitchell, who founded Charter Day School in Brunswick County, owns an education management company called Roger Bacon Academy that is contracted to run four charter schools in the southeastern part of the state.  Last year, the State Board of Education told Mitchell that neither he nor other Roger Bacon staff could be voting board members of the charter schools, a decision that bothered both Mitchell and the charter school board members.

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UPDATE: State board members voted to not renew the charters for PACE Academy and Coastal Academy, meaning the schools will close at the end of the school year. The board’s decision can be appealed to an administrative court.

The State Board of Education decided today to not renew support for  today whether a handful of charter schools up for renewal should continue to operate, including charter schools in Carrboro and Morehead City that have been flagged by state education staff as problematic.

Staff from Office of Charter Schools are recommending that the state board terminate charters held by the Coastal Academy for Technology and Science (formerly known as Cape Lookout Marine Science High School) in Morehead City and PACE Academy in Carrboro.

“Both schools had patterns of noncompliance, low academic performance, and concerns related to the financial sustainability of each school,” DPI staff wrote in materials provided to state board members. “The nonrenewal votes of the CSAB were unanimous in both instances.”

The state board is expected to make its decision later this morning. (UPDATE: The state board voted late Thursday morning to not renew the school’s contracts.)

To find out what happens, you can listen to audio of the meeting here, read public documents about the renewal process here  or follow N.C. Policy Watch education reporter Lindsay Wagner, who is at the meeting, on Twitter here.

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There’s a lot of education news this week, so here’s a roundup of happenings for your Tuesday morning.

Guilford County suspends tablet program

A significant number of defective tablet computers has forced Guilford County Schools to suspend their highly anticipated technology initiative that would put tablets in the hands of thousands of middle school students.

GCS spent more than $3 million in federal Race to the Top funds on the one-to-one technology initiative. Amplify supplied the 15,000 tablets, of which thousands developed broken screens, came with unsafe chargers causing tablets to melt, and students reported problems with cases.

Read the News & Record’s story here.

K12, Inc. outsources student essay grading to India

The Idaho Virtual Academy, operated by K12, Inc., outsourced thousands of student essays for grading by reviewers in India, reports Idaho Education News.

This isn’t the first time K12, Inc. has been outed for outsourcing instructional work to laborers outside of the U.S.

K12 said this was just a pilot program to offer teachers more support. Another K12 teacher in Pennsylvania discussed how she was overwhelmed trying to grade the papers of the 300 students she was assigned for just one term.

State Board of Education member calls for increasing teacher pay to the national average

Veteran school board member John Tate called for a resolution at last week’s school board meeting to raise teacher pay to the national average.

Board chair Bill Cobey called his move out of order and tabled it for discussion at next month’s meeting.

North Carolina was in the middle of the pack for teacher pay as recently as 2008, according to the National Education Association. Today the state ranks 46th in the nation.

Are Charter Schools a Threat to Traditional Public Schools?

This WFDD story considers the conflict between state support of charter schools and the needs of the public school system in advance a WFDD-hosted community forum on school choice, charters and vouchers.

The forum is tonight at 7 p.m. at the Kulynych Auditorium in the Wake Forest University Welcome Center.

Election Day school bond

It’s Election Day, and the contentious $810 million Wake School bond is on the ballot for voters to decide on today. The bond would provide funds to build new schools, renovate others and provide for improved technology as the district looks forward to increased population growth.

Opponents of the bond question the accuracy of the county’s enrollment projections and worry that residents will be burdened by both the 10-percent property tax increase and the additional debt they’ll incur if the measure passes.

The News & Observer has loads of coverage on the bond issue here.

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The State Board of Education convened for its monthly meeting today in Cullowhee, where members decided they will release 2012-13 test scores without adjusting them to reflect last year’s new rigorous standards.

Last year was the first in which students were subject to curricula and exams based on the state’s revised Standard Course of Study, which incorporates more rigorous learning goals. Academic achievement standards, or “cut scores,” are the scores that determine whether or not a student’s performance on End-of-Grade tests is considered passing.

Statewide, test scores for 2012-13 were significantly lower than in years past, which was expected and typical when states introduce tougher educational standards.

Board members considered implementing transitional cut scores for 2012-13 that would have allowed a phase-in of expectations for more rigorous standards. Today members decided against doing that.

Educators and board members are worried that the message sent to parents and students will be that schools are not doing a good job of educating their students. At September’s meeting, board member and vice chairman A.L. Buddy Collins said that the new, raw cut scores “will be a tremendous blow to our teachers.”

Based on NC Department of Public Instruction analyses, schools and parents will see drops as high as 30 to 40 percentage points in terms of the percentage of students scoring proficient or above.

“North Carolina students didn’t lose ground in their learning last year, but they are being measured against a higher standard with more rigorous expectations for applying knowledge and skills to real-world problems,” said State Superintendent Atkinson. “In order for our students to be competitive upon graduation, we have an obligation to expect more from them.”

Local and school district scores will be released Nov. 7 at next month’s Board meeting. For a look at the statewide impact of the standards, click here.