Senate committee says charter schools subject to NC public records law

kcanada@newsobserver.comJune 11, 2014 

— Charter schools have to comply with the state’s public records and open meeting law, according to a bill that passed out of the Senate education committee on Wednesday.

Because the schools receive public education money, they’ve always been subject to the law, but some charters weren’t following it.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale and the bill’s sponsor, said charter schools and public schools should be held to the same standards.

The rules pertaining to charter schools came under scrutiny in March, when a Charlotte Observer reporter asked charter schools to submit salary information and was told by a state spokeswoman that the schools were not subject to the Open Meeting and Public Records law.

State education officials later said she was wrong. The language clarifying that they must comply was then added to a charter school bill already before the legislature.

Eddie Goodall, executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association, said in a phone interview that it’s illogical for charter schools and public schools to operate by the same laws.

Unlike public schools, charter school administrators have the option of negotiating contracts with employees. If the bill becomes law, Goodall said it could cause discord among faculty with unequal pay contracts.

“When you have a small business, and you negotiate in confidence with someone, everybody’s happy,” Goodall said. “When the curtain opens, and people see what everyone is making, it disrupts some of the chemistry that makes charters work very well.”

Additionally, schools may choose to change their salary structures as a potential result of the bill, he said. Some charter schools already follow a standard salary schedule, Goodall noted, and the bill could drive more charter schools to abandon negotiated contracts.

“The unintended consequence of Sen. Tillman’s bill is that it will take away employers’ power to negotiate contracts and draw them back into being like public schools,” Goodall said.

The proposed bill also allows a charter school whose mission is single-gender education to limit admission on the basis of gender. Generally, charter schools are not allowed to discriminate among applicants. The bill is expected to be heard by the full Senate next week.

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