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Fully disclose the salaries at charters

It’s disappointing that officials of some N.C. charter schools are trying to evade full disclosure of who gets paid what at the schools. Charters are “public” schools and should be subject to the same transparency requirements as all other public schools.

Republican State Rep. Charles Jeter and State Sen. Jeff Tarte, both of Mecklenburg County, get that. Said Jeter, who has children at Pine Lake Preparatory charter school: “You can’t pick and choose when it’s convenient [for disclosure]. If they [charter schools] want to play in that arena, they need to play by public law.”

Tarte wrote in a newsletter: “When any organization that receives state funds refuses to comply with state laws, their state funding should be withheld.... Paraphrasing Thoreau, civil disobedience has consequences.”

We hope neither backs away from those common sense positions as some charter schools try to carve out spurious exceptions.

That’s what Richard Vinroot, a former Charlotte mayor who is working with Sugar Creek and Lincoln charter schools, and others are doing by selectively deciding how they will disclose salary information. He claims that releasing the information as traditional schools do “would create disruption within [the charter schools]” because charter schools link pay to performance.

That’s a specious argument. Advocates for pay for performance tout it as an admirable incentive to boosting performance. Why hide how it plays out in the workplace? And why would it cause disruption unless its fair application is in question?

In truth, traditional public schools can raise the same argument. Employees are evaluated and paid in some part based on their performance. And N.C. lawmakers approved changes last year ending teacher tenure and instituting steps toward a pay-for-performance plan for all traditional public schools.

N.C. public records law requires that public bodies disclose names, salaries and positions of employees, even in cases where most of the personnel file is deemed confidential. To receive a charter, charter school governing boards must agree to abide by public records and open meetings laws.

So, while it may be uncomfortable for charter schools to release this information – as it is for traditional public schools – it is the law. The employees are public employees, and as such their salaries are open to public scrutiny.

Still, even the N.C. Department of Public Instruction got it wrong when the Observer contacted officials in March about access to the salary information. They said then that charter schools were exempt from disclosure. But state schools superintendent June Atkinson said last week there was miscommunication, and salary disclosure is required.

Yet some charter schools said last week they don’t know to “what extent” they’re obligated to follow the law. Thus they are withholding the names of many employees to protect their privacy. It’s a middle ground they think is legally defensible.

We don’t think so. But the N.C. Attorney General’s Office can clear that up. AG Roy Cooper says his office will provide a written opinion on charter school salary disclosure if “any government official” requests one. The Observer has asked Atkinson and state school board chair William Cobey to request such an opinion. They should.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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