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20 Charlotte-area charter schools fully disclose pay

The Observer has been working to get salaries from charter schools that serve Mecklenburg students since March. Twenty of 22 have provided the requested information, while two contend they’re allowed to redact names.

The Charlotte area is seeing the state’s fastest charter school growth, with 10 new schools approved to open in August.

The Observer has for years published salaries for employees of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as well as other payrolls from state and local governments. The 22 charter schools serve about 15,500 students from Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools serve 142,612 students.

A spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction initially said charter schools weren’t required to disclose salaries, but top education officials later said salary disclosure is a requirement of the charters because they receive public money.

Lincoln and Sugar Creek charter schools, represented by lawyer Richard Vinroot, have not yet fully disclosed their records. They provided salaries but withheld names of most employees. Vinroot, a pioneer in North Carolina’s charter movement, contends that state laws do not require charter schools to disclose names with salaries.

Sugar Creek Director Cheryl Turner says disclosure by name undermines charter schools’ ability to recruit based on market conditions and award raises based on performance. “Salary flexibility, to us, meant you wouldn’t tell anybody,” she said.

Observer Executive Editor Rick Thames said that both state education officials and the legislature’s legal counsel have made clear that charter schools are subject to the same disclosure of salary information as traditional public schools under the state Public Records Act. Therefore, the Observer will continue to pursue those records, he said.

“All schools that are publicly funded should understand and respect the very real need for transparency,” Thames said. “Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent.”

StudentFirst Academy, which was part of the Observer’s initial salary request, closed in April amid reports of academic shortcomings and financial irregularities. Among the allegations: Founders had inflated their own pay and administrative staffing and put relatives on the payroll.

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