Republican state Reps. Charles Jeter of Huntersville and David Lewis of Dunn are still new to the business of having real power in the General Assembly. So it’s perhaps understandable why they’d support some legislative moves that are embarrassingly wrong.
The problem is, their party now is in power, and so mistakes can become law.
The latest bad idea coming from Jeter and Lewis, is preposterous, and represents nothing less than a slap in the face to the taxpayers of North Carolina.
Jeter’s clumsy idea is to block the public reporting of charter school salaries by name. He introduced the bill. Lewis defends it by saying allowing the release of the information creates a “hostile work environment.”
Clearly, Jeter heard from some charter school folks who wanted a favor because they desired to keep salaries hidden to some degree (they’re still public, but not with names attached) and so he just moved ahead.
But in March, when the Charlotte Observer requested names and salaries from 23 charter schools, Jeter was fine with it, saying, “You can’t pick and choose when it’s convenient. If they want to play in that arena they need to play by public law.”
Now, however, he says he’d like to separate salaries from names in all public schools.
This is outrageous. The public is funding conventional public schools and charter schools. Therefore, and it’s very simple, the taxpayers have a right to know who is getting paid what. That’s not an invasion of privacy; it’s simply providing public information to the public.
Public records laws are clear on this, but apparently the sticking point is that when those laws were established, the state didn’t have charter schools. Republican Sens. Jerry Tillman of Archdale and Bill Cook of Chocowinity introduced a bill that would have made charters subject to the same open personnel laws that apply to others who receive public money. Very simple.
And openness is important. Consider the case of a Charlotte charter that closed in its first year. There had been problems with academic performance and finances, and it turned out that the school had family members of the founder on the payroll. There also, in court filings, were questions as to whether those family members were qualified for their jobs.
That’s a prime example of why public access to information, in particular when public money is involved, is so very important. Thanks to Jeter’s proposal, such problems might go undetected. And without proper oversight, they’d likely be more common. There also could be inequities in pay that would never be known.
The debate over charters seems to have evolved in a distressing way. When they first came into the public scope in North Carolina about 20 years ago, proponents said they’d be laboratories that could explore ideas about teaching methods and courses outside the conventional rules. If their ideas worked, they could be moved into mainstream public schools.
So the schools were funded with public money, and the great experiment began. But in recent years, problems have been significant in some charters, with racial and economic imbalance, uneven academic performance and an indication that some charter proponents think of them as quasi-private alternatives to public schools, which is not what they are in the wildest stretch of imagination.