The Beaufort County Board of Education, meeting in its regular monthly meeting October 25, approved joining a legal consortium led by the NC School Boards Association to challenge or "clarify" recently adopted changes to NC's public records law.
Here's how they handled it:
This law (HB 961) was the infamous Ethics Reform legislation which passed the Legislature in the closing days of the session. It passed the House on a vote of 105 Ayes and 0 Noes, with six not voting. Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort voted for the bill. It passed the Senate with a concurrence (S169) of 37 Ayes, 1 No, 6 not voting and 7 excused absences. In other words it passed both houses with overwhelming with bi-partisan support.
Now here's the issue.
In the past about the only thing that a school system could release about an employee's background was their name and current assignment. Under the new law the idea is that an employee's work history would be a public record. Here's what it says:
Certain records open to inspection.
(a) Each local board of education shall maintain a record of each of its employees, showing the following information with respect to each employee:
(3) Date of original employment or appointment.
(4) The terms of any contract by which the employee is employed whether written or oral, past and current, to the extent that the board has the written contract or a record of the oral contract in its possession.
(5) Current position.
(7) Current salary.
(8) Date and amount of most recent each increase or decrease in salary, with that local board of education.
(9) Date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification with that local board of education.
(10) Date and general description of the reasons for each promotion with that local board of education.
(11) Date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons taken by the local board of education. If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the local boardeducation setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.
(12) The office or station to which the employee is currently assigned.
(b) For the purposes of this section, the term "salary" includes pay, benefits, incentives, bonuses, and deferred and all other forms of compensation paid by the employing entity.
(c) Subject only to rules and regulations for the safekeeping of records adopted by the local board of education, every person having custody of the records shall permit them to be inspected and examined and copies made by any person during regular business hours. The name of a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program established pursuant to Chapter 15C of the General Statutes shall not be open to inspection and shall be redacted from any record released pursuant to this section. Any person who is denied access to any record for the purpose of inspecting, examining or copying the record shall have a right to compel compliance with the provisions of this section by application to a court of competent jurisdiction for a writ of mandamus or other appropriate relief."
The key sections that are causing the School Board Association heartburn are Sections 10 and 11.
So our School Board is apparently going to join in the group that is contesting this information be made public.
The reason this law was passed was twofold. First, as a result of the investigative work of the News & Observer in some of the recent scandals in Raleigh. Specifically the mess in the Highway Patrol. The second, more pertinent, case was the teacher in Pitt County who was accused of having an illegal sexual relationship with a student. She had been previously disciplined in New Hanover County but when she applied for a job in Pitt County they were not told about her past record.
So the apparent reason for the change in the law was to prevent a teacher or other school employee from getting into trouble in one school system and then moving on to another school system without them knowing the teacher's record. New Hanover schools took the position that the law prohibited them from releasing the information that she had been disciplined for improper behavior. There have been other such cases of an educator getting into trouble in one school system and then just moving on to another.
But we understand what has really bent some school people and board members out of shape is the portion of the new law that requires the school board to give a "general description of the reason for each promotion with that local board of education..." and "...If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the local board of education setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal."
So there you have it. Just one more example of our School Board wanting to hide behind closed doors in conducting the public business. They'll even waste our money to go to court once again, in spite of the fact that they've lost just about every time they've tried this "cover-up" routine. Heaven only knows how much money they've wasted on lawyers in the last few years.
Now we accept that the board was told that they were not voting to put money into this. But listen carefully to the video. Their lawyer is involved and we'll bet she is not working this issue for nothing. Nor are the other lawyers who will be the spear carriers on this. They'll get paid well by the School Board's Association and guess where the School Board Association's money comes from. Yep, that's right. Straight out of the pockets of the Beaufort County taxpayer.
Click here to download HB 961. (temporary broken link)
This is a simple matter actually. The question is whether an educator's record should be fully disclosed if they get into trouble in one school system to a school system that may be considering hiring them. The answer should be an unequivocal "yes." Our School Board should be leading the charge for full disclosure.
And it is pure hogwash that they don't want to give a reason for a person been promoted or dismissed and make that reason public. Remember the Eastern Transfer case and the Southside Riot cases.
When are these people going to wake up and realize they are public servants not potentates who rule behind closed doors. They are doing the public's business and it should be done in public.
They should want to know if a teacher has been guilty of a serious offense in a former position. Why on earth would they join a crusade to allow that to be hidden? Have they not wasted enough money losing legal battles?
Bless us and save us.
Delma Blinson writes the "Teacher's Desk" column for our friend in the local publishing business: The Beaufort Observer. His concentration is in the area of his expertise - the education of our youth. He is a former teacher, principal, superintendent and university professor.