I owe Rep. David Lewis, R-Hartnett, an apology.
My recent front-page article on a charter-bill amendment introduced by Rep. Charles Jeter and a follow-up blog post (now revised) indicated that Lewis had spoken in favor of that amendment. I just learned from the Associated Press that the comments attributed to Lewis referring to a hostile work environment were in fact made by Jeter, a Mecklenburg Republican.
Lewis emailed me to say the quotes were wrong.
"While I, along with 64 other members, did vote for the Amendment, I have never commented publicly on the subject," he wrote. "I do agree largely with Rep. Jeter's argument that the public is not harmed by withholding the charter teacher's name while fully disclosing everything else. I only bring this to your attention because I am proud of my efforts to increase transparency whenever possible and this article, which has been picked up by periodicals statewide, implies I vocally supported and helped carry the amendment which seems to be contrary to that effort."
I've been covering issues related to charter school salaries and compliance with the state's Public Records Law since March. When political reporter Jim Morrill told me about the amendment, I checked the legislative records, did a phone interview with Jeter and wrote the story. I added quotes from the AP article, believing they had a second voice speaking strongly to the issue. After I forwarded Lewis' email to the AP, they confirmed that Jeter's remarks had been erroneously attributed to Lewis, who did not take part in the debate.
Lewis forwarded a 17-minute audio clip of the debate, which provided some interesting details. Several representatives, including Jeter and Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg, said they'd like to see future discussion of removing even more personnel information from public view, either for charter employees and/or for teachers in traditional public schools. Jeter's argument is that salary rosters such as the Observer publishes for employees of school districts, public universities, city, state and county governments create strife when the same is done for charter schools because charter teachers are not on the state pay scale. In charter schools -- and in many Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools that are involved in merit pay programs -- teachers with similar experience and credentials may earn different salaries.
In introducing the amendment, which simply states that names of charter school employees are not subject to public disclosure, Jeter said that "Charter school teachers are not state employees. Charter school teachers do not get to participate in the state pension plan."
Two legislators noted that charter boards actually decide whether their employees participate. One of them suggested "displacing" the amendment to get clarification, but Jeter declined, saying the pension issue is not critical. "Teachers' names should not have to be published for ridicule," he said.
It's now up to the Senate and House to reconcile their different versions of the charter bill, which addresses several issues other than disclosure of names. Gov. Pat McCrory has threatened to veto the whole bill if the amendment shielding names remains.
However it's resolved, it looks like we can expect more efforts next year to scale back the amount of public information that's subject to public review.