Monday, June 30, 2014

Charter name ban: Think it through

A parent recently emailed me with concerns about a soon-to-open charter school in Charlotte.  She's considering enrolling her child,  she said,  so she has been asking questions about staffing,  attending board meetings and researching the new director.  Material she found from the two charter schools where that director worked previously led her to doubt whether the new school's board had made a wise hire and accurately represented the director's experience.

I'm not including specifics because I haven't had time to verify this information.  But my first step was obvious:  Email the two N.C. charter schools where the director worked and ask for details of her work history,  including her titles, dates of employment and whether she resigned or was dismissed.

Under a charter bill passed by the state Senate on June 17,  that information would be indisputably a matter of public record.

Under the amended version the House passed last week,  that's far less clear.

Jeter
There's no indication that Rep. Charles Jeter,  the Mecklenburg Republican and charter school parent who introduced the amendment,  and the 64 other House members who voted for the amendment want to block parents and reporters from getting this kind of information.  Instead,  Jeter said he wants to stop newspapers from requesting and publishing names and salaries of charter school administrators,  teachers and other staff,  as the Observer and at least one other N.C. newspaper have done recently.

But the amendment doesn't limit itself to certain types of requests or certain categories of employees.  It simply says that names of charter school employees  "shall not be open to inspection,"  apparently putting names into the same category of confidentiality as job evaluations.

I asked public records and personnel experts at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government how this might play out.

"It appears to prohibit the release of the name of an employee,  presumably for any purpose. That seems to be a broader limitation than what might have been intended,"  said Professor and Associate Dean Freyda Bluestein,  after reading the amendment and consulting with a colleague.

Most charter schools name their administrators on their web sites,  and some name their full faculty.  Employees often make presentations or are included in announcements at charter school board meetings,  which are public and whose minutes become public records.  Would this kind of disclosure be forbidden?

"It seems to me that it might prohibit the release of the name for any purpose, as I mention in my email,"  Bluestein responded.

The bill that passed the Senate on three readings and the House on the first two puts charter school employees under the same personnel privacy protections and disclosure requirements as other public schools.  That spells out 11 personnel items that must be made public for each employee,  including name, employment date, terms of contract, current position, salary  (including benefits,  incentives and bonuses) and information about promotions, demotions, transfers and disciplinary actions.

The amended version that passed the House on third reading removes names from that list.

That creates another puzzler:  If someone  --  whether a journalist,  parent or prospective employer   --  requests the public information for an individual employee by name,  can the school release it?  And if so,  are they required to do so?

"I suppose technically,  if you somehow had the list of names already and asked for their salaries, (or any other type of information that is public under that statute),  they might be required to provide the salaries and other information since this would not involve the school actually making the names open to inspection (since they were provided in the request),"  said Bluestein.  "I'm not sure exactly how this would work as a practical matter,  if enacted."

Bear in mind that this legislation came about because of confusion about what the law requires.  Even charter leaders who said they thought public disclosure was appropriate hesitated to release information in the face of mixed messages from state staff.  If something as basic as publicly naming the director of your school is potentially breaking the law,  I predict some of the public money going to charter schools is going to be spent on legal advice.

Here's hoping that as the Senate and House reconcile the two versions of the bill,  they think this through carefully.

27 comments:

Bolyn McClung said...

.
THIS ISN’T ABOUT CHARTER SCHOOLS

Underpinning this charter school information battle are the echoes of 1600’s England, 1700’s France and 1791 America. They’re called bills of rights.

“…the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and exercise of religion; the right to fair legal procedure and to bear arms; and that powers not delegated to the federal government would be reserved for the states and the people.”

This isn’t about some charter school director or how much one school spends on toilet paper. It’s about the unbroken thread of protecting citizens from their governments. It’s an always changing battle front.

The most recent assault of these freedoms, The Patriot Act, is slowly being overturned. Even reporters find their blessed Freedom of Press not so iron clad every once in a while.

It’s easy to see where this is headed. For a while the laws shielding charters schools will be in effect. Then another school will crash-and-burn like the typical story of a minister who uses his church as his personal piggybank. The charter school information shield will be lifted.

That process is similar to how we got our Bill of Rights. Those amendments were needed afterthoughts to the creation of the Constitution. They recognized that as the country had freed itself from England, it then needed to free its citizens from its own government’s tyranny.

Preserving that process is what this is all about.

Bolyn McClung
Pineville
.

Anonymous said...

http://www.scribd.com/doc/221993993/Charter-School-Vulnerabilities-to-Waste-Fraud-Abuse

Wiley Coyote said...

Nice read Bolyn, but you could have summed up the problem in three letters:

IRS

EuroCat said...

Ann, you say:

"There's no indication that Rep. Charles Jeter, the Mecklenburg Republican and charter school parent who introduced the amendment, and the 64 other House members who voted for the amendment want to block parents and reporters from getting this kind of information. Instead, Jeter and sponsor David Lewis, R-Hartnett, said they want to stop newspapers from requesting and publishing names and salaries of charter school administrators, teachers and other staff..."

Well, if anything, that makes the actions and the intent of Lewis and Jeter that much worse and that much more unconstitutional (under the United States Constitution...these idiots already seem to have crumpled up and discarded the North Carolina Constitution with their "voucher" scam that is patently in violation of the NC Constitution).

So the information is not confidential in their minds...it should be available to parents and others...but their intent is that newspapers shouldn't be allowed to publish that public information? Please. What part of "Congress [and by the 14th, state governments] shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." don't these people understand?

Republicans are oh-so- fond of carrying around their little pocket copies of the US Constitution and waving them around periodically. Perhaps these hypocrites should spend a little less time waving the constitution and try actually reading it some day.

I won't hold my breath.

Anonymous said...

The "problem" is the IRS? Investigating politically-oriented organizations filing for tax-exempt status intended only for "social welfare" groups is the "problem," Wiley?

No. The problem is organizations masquerading as something they are not, then demanding protections to hide their identity.

Anonymous said...

there are obvious reasons as to why Jeter doesn't want this information made public. Can you imagine what will happen at many of these charter schools when one teacher finds out that another teacher is making more money? Hard feelings, jealousy?

secondly, they also don't want the public to know just how bad the turnover rate is with many charter schools. Seldom will you find a charter school that lists the staff/faculty and when you consider the turnover rate, one can understadn why. At some charter schools keeping up with the constant staff changes on the school website would take a full time position.

Please see Carolina International and Cabarrus Charter Academy as prime examples, teacher turnover has been extreme. But sadly, parents who are considering these schools would never know of the issues because charter schools are protected by self serving politicians such as Jeter!

Wiley Coyote said...

8:37

Republicans are taking a page out of the Democrat's playbook...

Next, they can take another page by playing dumb and say they just heard about on the news.

Public money, public scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

Teacher Tenure is a JOKE

Teaches have no rights. If the principal or the bullies in the Ivory Tower want you out, then you are GONE. With or without a constitution.

Anonymous said...

not sure if many of you knew this or not, but one of the strongest advocates for Charter schools in this state is a democrat, Eddie Goodall. He is also against releasing information about charter school employee salaries. Many of the voucher advocates are also Democrats, as such I would caution against making this purely about political partisanship.

Wiley Coyote said...

9:47

You missed the boat entirely.

Start with Bolyn's comment then mine.

What we're seeing with the IRS is lack of scrutiny from the mainstream media and no transparency or accountability from the very government that touted transparency to get elected.

Anonymous said...

If charter schools want public money then they have to follow the same rule with regard to personnel matters as any other public school.

That being said, there is no rationale for publishing names next to public sector salaries. Government employees should not have to suffer to fulfill the public's voyeuristic itch or the Observer's desperate need for click bait. The public only has a right to know a position's title, pay and its comparative market value.

You don't have a right to anyone's personal data simply because they work for a government agency.

Shamash said...

Sorry, but we've seen enough fly-by-night charter schools run by folks with checkered pasts to make it MANDATORY that everyone knows who is behind these schools.

If they have something to hide, then let them hide it in PRIVATE using PRIVATE money ONLY.

Anyone who doesn't support transparency in these charter schools probably has something to hide.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jeter,
The real gist of this misdirection, flip flop, change of heart is "follow the money." It makes no difference which party, vendor, hedge fund manager, etc. helped Mr. Jeter find a new religion in the name of educational superiority, he clearly was told what to do in the fumbleruski flip flop of the week. That's the definition of transparency these days,
Marionettentheater, puppets on strings.

Anonymous said...

Where's Larry?
Where's Larry?
Where's Larry?
Where's Larry?
Where's Larry?
Where's Larry?
Where's Larry?

Anonymous said...

What is with all the venom towards Charter Schools? It seems like there is a negatively slanted article written about Charter Scools almost weekly. It would be nice to see some that actually praise the good Charter schools in the area. The number one ranked elementary/middle school in the state is a Charter school from Charlotte but you'd likely never know that from reading these articles and their comments.

Anonymous said...

If Charter School employees should be subject to the same rules as public schools because they receive taxpayer money then complete the argument.

Charter school employees should be eligible for the state retirement & health insurance benefits, step pay increases and yes, tenure. Of course that additional money would have to come from existing public school funding but the goal is to make everything equal, correct?

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Anonymous said...

Shamash is correct, and they are not all fly by night folks either, Baker Mitchell being a prime example.

Even though I am not an advocate of charter school as a whole, I still believe the parents who are exploring the charter option are entitlied to know the truth. If I knew that a certain school had a very high teacher turnover, I would probably want to know why and then consider my options. But when schools like Cabarrus Charter Academy are allowed to cover up this information, how is that fair to anyone, least of all, the children.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:16,
This article is not slanted against charter schools and I haven't seen any venom posted so far. People are merely making some very valid points as they do with many issues with CMS.

transparency is a major concern with charter schools and politicians like Jeter are not helping the issue.

Anonymous said...

4:03, you don't know what you are talking about. Many of the charter schools are on the state retirement plan, Lake Norman Charter for example. Some charters decline to enter their employees into that because it would cost them more. By not doing it, the administrators can pay themseleves more. Listing of public employee salaries should never even be debated.....it is that fundamental. It shows how foolish the current legislature is they would even think about it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the readers are aware of the large number of CMS employees who send their children to local private, charter and Union county/Fort Mill schools. The number is quite large.

Wiley Coyote said...

10:39

Which might explain CMS demographics at 42% Black and 30.8% White, which is not reflective of Mecklenburg County demographics as a whole.

If they reside in Mecklenburg County and send their kids to Union County or Ft. Mill schools, I think that might be a problem.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:16,

The reason there is so much venom aimed at charter schools is politics. Charter schools represent a threat to the statist Democratic model of one-size-fits-all county schools. The popularity of charters among the citizenry only reinforces their unpopularity among Democrats.

Like most newspaper reporters, Ann Doss Helms is a Democrat. She would not admit that on this blog, but it's clear from the slant in her writing.

Ann Doss Helms said...

3:16, I'm registered unaffiliated and have never been active in any political party or campaigns.

Carol S. said...

Many CMS employees live in Union county and SC and choose to send their kids to those schools, and not take the CMS option.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this is an issue. Teachers are public employees. The charters take public money. Show the pay... Public school teachers names and pay has been in the open for years. Where was this bill before? What a joke!! Where does NC keep finding these clowns.

Shamash said...

It's not just the teachers and their pay that concerns me.

It's the people behind the scenes and/or running the show.

We need to know WHO they are and their history.

The Rev. Ozie Lee Hall, Jr. comes to mind as a prime example of someone I'd want to know was involved in a school.

He keeps showing up in the oddest places for some reason.

Anonymous said...

Letting government pic and choose is wrong. What kind of Republicans are these? These are games usually played on the other side of the fence..