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Public records laws must apply to charter schools

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Last month, a bill was introduced in the General Assembly to ensure public records laws that apply to the state’s public schools include charter schools.

Last week, that proposed bill was altered in the Senate education committee to “remove the provision that the charter school and its board of directors are subject to public records and open meetings laws.”

Should the bill as it is written now become law, it would be an affront to all state taxpayers — especially those of us in Brunswick County, which is about to see its second charter school open later this summer.

Charter schools, like all other public schools, are funded by state tax dollars. There is absolutely no good reason why taxpayers, regardless whether they have children who attend public schools, should not be allowed to see how their money is spent in any public school.

The Roger Bacon Academy apparently disagrees. The academy, which operates Charter Day School Inc. in Leland along with the two other area charter schools, has not released the names, positions and salaries of its staff as requested by another media outlet more than a month ago.

When a public body or official skirts or breaks the law, in letter or spirit, it is news.

This matter certainly does not in any way discount the success the academy’s schools have enjoyed and which has been reported in the Beacon, such as its multiple awards for providing quality education and the academic and athletic achievements of its students. The demand for what these schools offer is growing in Brunswick County. It is obvious they are doing something right and should be applauded for it.

The academy expects to build upon that success when it opens South Brunswick Charter School in Southport in August.

Meanwhile, two of its schools — Charter and Columbus Charter School in Whiteville — are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General. A third school, Douglass Academy in Wilmington, is on probation for low enrollment and will lose its charter unless it has 65 students enrolled by August. And the academy’s founder, Baker Mitchell, is the subject of a complaint filed May 23 with the North Carolina State Ethics Commission regarding his state Charter School Advisory Board seat.

We want all educational institutions, especially those in our county, to succeed. But success at any cost makes for a hollow victory and sets a bad example, particularly for students.

The fact is if the academy does not comply with state public records laws, it fails its schools, its students and our community.

We think it would be a shame for those schools to cease operations because the academy’s leadership refused to follow the most basic rules of transparency that apply to taxpayer dollars — at least for the moment.