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ONLY ON 3: DPI released private information of charter school management company

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The debate over whether certain information about private companies that manage charter schools in North Carolina is part of the public record has taken another turn.

The Department of Public Instruction recently released information to a media outlet regarding the salaries of staff at Rocky Mount Preparatory. The problem is the information had been submitted with the agreement it would not be released because it is protected proprietary information for the management company involved that is not considered public record under law.

Doug Haynes, president of Mastermind Prep Learning Solutions, the company that manages Rocky Mount Prep, told WWAY the school’s board had complied with DPI’s request for salary information for employees of management companies that work in charter schools across North Carolina, but only with the understanding it would be kept private.

“They are confidential trade secrets,” Haynes said. “We are in a competitive market.”

DPI spokeswoman Lynda Fuller confirmed the incident Friday, but said she could not comment on what had happened.

“Our comment is we are looking into the situation,” Fuller told WWAY. “As soon as we have comment, you’ll be the first on our list.”

Haynes said he and his team found out about the issue Friday from DPI attorneys.

“They were very concerned that confidentiality was violated,” Haynes said. “We did all that we were asked to do, and apparently something did go wrong. Our attorney had a discussion with their attorney. We trust they will do the right thing. It apparently was disclosed in error.”

The incident could have an impact on other charter schools in North Carolina. DPI recently notified Leland-based Charter Day School, Inc., which holds the charter for four schools in the area, that information it submitted Sept. 30 to fulfill DPI’s request was incomplete. In its submission CDS failed to include the salaries of school personnel who work for and are paid by its management company Roger Bacon Academy. CDS says the information belongs to RBA, and CDS does not have access to it, even though CDS and RBA were both founded by businessman Baker Mitchell and share a bank account.

In documents obtained today by WWAY, an attorney for RBA responded to the state request in a letter last week by saying it “appears to overreach the specific charter language asserted.” The attorney also argued audits the schools must undergo should satisfy any state and federal requirements. He did, though, say RBA would be willing to submit the information either under a confidentiality agreement with DPI or, if given more time to wait for a legal opinion and time to review, submit it without a confidentiality agreement as trade secrets protected under state law.

Haynes says he’s not sure the issue Rocky Mount Prep has had with DPI’s release of its private information should have a chilling effect on other charter schools.

“Everybody has to make their own decision,” Haynes said. “North Carolina is behind other states as far as growth of charters. It’s one part of innovation coming into education. I think good organizations can provide leadership and capital to charter schools.”

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