SREB encouraged NC state employees to switch to private email, lied about existence of merit pay documents

A Southern Regional Education Board email obtained this week shows that when public information requests for documents related to the NC Human Capital Roundtable were filed this past spring, the Atlanta-based nonprofit immediately asked Roundtable members–including at least four North Carolina state employees–to switch to Gmail “in order to make sure the private meeting notes are kept private.”

SREB then falsely claimed the meeting notes didn’t exist.

In April I began researching the origins of the controversial Pathways to Excellence teacher licensure/compensation reform scheme. I was interested in learning more about how the merit pay proposal had come to be.

I soon discovered that all roads led back to the Human Capital Roundtable, a mysterious group of mostly public officials and state employees which had suddenly popped up in front of the NC State Board of Education in early 2021 with a draft proposal to completely change how all teachers in North Carolina are licensed and paid.

Soon that proposal–which would make North Carolina the first state in the country to completely scrap an experience-based teacher pay scale and replace it with merit pay for all–was placed in front of the Professional Educator Standards and Preparation Commission (PEPSC).

PEPSC was created by the state legislature in 2017 to make recommendations on teacher licensure and preparation. Since spring 2021, shortly after that HCR presentation to the State Board, PEPSC has been fine tuning the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay proposal. There have been no significant changes to what the Roundtable created. Pathways to Excellence will likely be approved and sent on to the State Board of Education this fall before eventually making its way before the General Assembly to become state law.

SREB’s website indicated the Human Capital Roundtable had been working on the project since 2018, so I was certain there must be lots of records of what occurred, what was said, and who was present in their meetings.

Since the Human Capital Roundtable included two high-ranking employees of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and a member of the State Board of Education, I assumed that the group’s meeting minutes would be held by DPI’s Communications Department.

I immediately filed a records request to retrieve them:

Here’s the reply I got:

I noted that PEPSC Commission Chair Dr. Patrick Miller was a member of the Human Capital Roundtable and figured I’d try him next.


The last house on the block was SREB’s Project Manager Megan Boren, who facilitated the work of the Human Capital Roundtable from the very beginning. So I emailed her the same request.

I didn’t get an immediate reply. However, that same day Ms. Boren sent the following email to Human Capital Roundtable members, including two representatives of Governor Cooper and employees of NC Community Colleges and the University of North Carolina:


In her capacity as SREB’s Project Manager, Boren appears to be asking state employees to switch from public email to private email so they could continue conducting official business in private without having to worry about the nuisance of nosy citizens like myself.

It’s important to understand that North Carolina’s public records law covers the transaction of public business on any platform, not just state email. If a state employee uses private email, WhatsApp, text message, Facebook message, etc. to conduct official business, all of those communications would still be subject to public information requests. So SREB’s suggestion of a switch to Gmail reflects a lack of understanding of how North Carolina law regarding public records works.

At any rate, at least one of those state employees was uncomfortable enough with SREB’s request to decline.

Dr. Lisa Eads, who serves as NC Community Colleges VP of Academic Programs, sent Boren this reply:


A week after she suggested the switch to private email, SREB’s Project Manager responded to my request.

Incredibly, Boren claimed the Human Capital Roundtable had never taken any notes of their meetings. She actually wanted me to believe this group had spent three years drafting an official policy to fundamentally change how North Carolina’s teachers are licensed and paid and never wrote anything down.

If you’re not familiar with the Southern Regional Education Board, SREB is a nonprofit based in Georgia which operates in 16 southern states, making recommendations on education policy. Although SREB’s work on the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay scheme was funded by the Gates Foundation, the nonprofit is getting nearly a quarter of a million dollars from North Carolina taxpayers this year for granting SREB membership to the UNC system.

That seems like a whole lot of taxpayer money to give to an organization that does such dishonest, unethical work in our state.

A few days ago I shared this new revelation about SREB encouraging state officials to switch to private email with Attorney General Josh Stein, State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis, and the four NC state legislators who serve on SREB’s legislative advisory council. (You can read that email here).

None of them bothered to reply to the email, although Rep. Graig Meyer mentioned on Facebook that SREB was now “done with their role in the process.”

The records indicate otherwise:

Of course, the records always tell the truth. That likely why SREB has resorted to scheming and lying to ensure that North Carolinians never get the full story on the work the Human Capital Roundtable did. It’s why the Roundtable followed a standing Vegas Rules policy (WHICH THEY LITERALLY PUT IN WRITING!!) to ensure that their work to draft what they intended to eventually become state law would remain secret.

I am convinced those three plus years of Human Capital Roundtable records contain information that powerful individuals do not ever want to see the light of day. I’m convinced that it’s a gross miscarriage of justice to try to hide these documents from the North Carolina public. And I am going to keep pursuing the transparency that all of us deserve.

It’s like a colleague of mine at school says when faced with a child who doesn’t want to do the right thing:

One of us is gonna get tired, and it’s not gonna be me.

SREB notes on PEPSC meetings show desire for shadowy Human Capital Roundtable to control NC licensure/compensation reform

Newly obtained public records give insight into the shadowy Human Capital Roundtable’s desire to control PEPSC’s licensure/compensation reform effort.

The 26 pages of notes on the second round of PEPSC subcommittee meetings were taken by the Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB) project manager Megan Boren in April 2021 and provided to Roundtable members.

Ms. Boren also took notes on the first round of meetings, but that document is locked up tighter than Fort Knox to prevent the public from seeing it:

The meetings covered in SREB’s notes began just a couple of months after HCR presented the Pathways to Excellence merit pay framework to the State Board of Education. (Pathways was then handed over to PEPSC to serve as a starting point for its work.)

SREB’s meeting notes paint a very different picture from the HCR’s public narrative–suggested by marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan in documents I have previously published–that Human Capital Roundtable members “…are not experts on PEPSC’s proposal. We are simply following PEPSC’s work and support its foundational ideals.”

It’s really important to remember that, despite its obvious control issues, the Human Capital Roundtable had no legal authority to influence PEPSC’s work.  

PEPSC was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017 to study and make recommendations on licensure.  

The Human Capital Roundtable’s origins are secret, but it’s crystal clear the group–which includes a State Board of Education member, high ranking DPI employees, and Governor Cooper’s Education Advisor–does not have any legislative mandate whatsoever. That makes its attempts to influence the policy development process while pretending it’s just watching from the sidelines extremely troubling.

I’ll embed the entire notes document at the end of this piece but wanted to highlight a handful of sections that stood out to me.

1: The notes mention SREB sending a “never made public” Roundtable salary chart to Governor Cooper’s Education Advisor Geoff Coltrane during the Budget and Compensation meeting.  It sounds like the Human Capital Roundtable and SREB were literally trying to direct PEPSC’s subcommittee work from the outside in real time.

2. SREB’s Project Manager throws shade at subcommittee co-chairs Van Dempsey and Aaron Fleming, indicating neither has an appropriate understanding of the Human Capital Roundtable’s wishes.  (Dempsey and Fleming have since been selected as chair and
vice chair of the PEPSC Commission.)

3. Boren suggests that subcommittee co-chair Maureen Stover or (now retired) DPI employee Robert Sox may need to limit the input of UNCC’s Laura Hart in the meeting.  That seems bold to say the least.

Side note:  I’ve searched through the thousands of public records I’ve accumulated over the last six months and cannot find the secret Human Capital Roundtable salary chart mentioned in point 1.  It’s likely among the many official state records SREB is withholding from the North Carolina public on the Google Site it set up for HCR members back in 2018. 

A June 2021 email indicates Boren continued her practice of taking notes on subcommittee meetings for the Human Capital Roundtable, so many more documents such as this one likely exist. Those records would shed more light on how this secretive, unauthorized group of public officials influenced the development of the controversial merit pay proposal which is now poised to completely upend how North Carolina’s teachers are licensed and paid. 

But until the Southern Regional Education Board, the State Board of Education which holds its strings, and the four North Carolina legislators who serve on SREB’s Legislative Advisory Council have a change of heart on their responsibilities regarding transparency for North Carolina, we will remain largely in the dark.

You can read SREB’s complete notes on the second round of PEPSC subcommittee meetings below:


Marketing firm advised NC Roundtable behind merit pay proposal to avoid making stakeholders feel “decisions have already been made without their input.” They had.

Newly obtained records reveal some of the earliest advice Raleigh-based marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan gave to the secretive group which created the controversial Pathways to Excellence teacher merit pay plan currently making its way toward the State Board of Education.

That advice included a focus on convincing stakeholders that licensure reform was necessary and being aware of the danger of people feeling that “decisions have already been made without their input.”

Eckel and Vaughan was hired by non-profit Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) using grant funding from the Belk Foundation in the fall of 2020. (SREB facilitated the work of the Human Capital Roundtable to draft the licensure/compensation reform proposal)

In a December 2020 email to Human Capital Roundtable members, Eckel and Vaughan provided a “holding statement” to guide members as they spoke with stakeholders about the proposal to change how North Carolina teachers are licensed and paid.

The marketing firm advised it was important to convince people that the primary causes of North Carolina’s teacher shortage are problems with the licensure process and not enough options for career advancement:

The single best thing we can do to improve education in North Carolina is focus on keeping great teachers in the classroom and encouraging more to enter the profession. Right now, the path to become a teacher and limited avenues to advance as a professional discourages talented teachers from entering and staying in the profession.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The *actual* reason we can’t get people to become teachers in North Carolina is because for over a decade, leadership in our General Assembly has passed law after law making a career in teaching less and less desirable:

➣ Stripped master’s pay
➣ Removed longevity pay
➣ Eliminated due-process rights
➣ Cut retiree health benefits
➣ Uncapped class sizes grades 4-12
➣ Took away state funding for professional development
➣ Cut 7,000 teaching assistants
➣ Slashed taxes repeatedly, reducing available education funding
➣ Consistently passed raises that are far outpaced by inflation

Eckel and Vaughan also suggested “it’s in [HCR’s] best interest not to share details of the RT’s proposal” and that the primary goal at this point in the process was to “gain positive support and instill confidence in the RT’s work.”

The firm emphasized the importance of getting stakeholders to “feel heard and a part of the creation process”:

Approaching these early conversations in a collaborative manner without revealing everything the RT has already thought through will ultimately help create stronger buy-in and support from our stakeholders because they will get to see the process unfold, rather than feeling as if decisions have already been made without their input.

The Human Capital Roundtable would present its draft proposal of Pathways to Excellence to the State Board of Education less than two months after this email was sent.

Just weeks after HCR presented to the State Board, subcommittees of the NC Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) began working on licensure/compensation reform with the HCR proposal as their foundation.

PEPSC subcommittee members have consistently complained that their input on Pathways to Excellence has been ignored, and that any changes allowed have been cosmetic at best.

Almost as if decisions had already been made without their input.

It’s important to note that the Human Capital Roundtable had no legislative authority to carry out the work that it did.

PEPSC, on the other hand, was created by the state legislature in 2017 to “make rule recommendations regarding all aspects of preparation, licensure, continuing education, and standards of conduct of public school educators.”

The Pathways to Excellence proposal is now in the hands of the PEPSC Commission. That body will likely vote on it this fall before sending it on to the State Board of Education for approval.

You can read the Eckel and Vaughan email in its entirety below:


“Guiding Principles” document shows Human Capital Roundtable’s desire to control PEPSC work on teacher licensure and compensation

Today’s merit pay public records release is a document developed for the Human Capital Roundtable (HCR) by Eckel and Vaughan and SREB called “PEPSC Guiding Principles.”

This March 2021 document was created after the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal the Human Capital Roundtable had drafted was turned over to PEPSC but before the PEPSC subcommittees began working on the plan.

The document lays out guardrails that are intended to guide the work of those PEPSC subcommittees, demanding “subcommittee members will refer to these guiding principles to ensure that the goals of this work remain in the forefront.”

Principles which subcommittee members are expected to abide by include maintaining the Human Capital Roundtable’s “output-driven” focus (meaning that scrapping the experience-based teacher salary schedule that NC and the 49 other states currently use is non-negotiable).


(You can see the original email this document was attached to here.)

Why this document matters:

PEPSC was created by state legislators in 2017 and given a vague mandate to “make rule recommendations regarding all aspects of preparation, licensure, continuing education, and standards of conduct of public school educators.”

The Human Capital Roundtable’s origins are much more murky, but it appears to have been dreamed up by SAS and the Gates Foundation.  The group is not authorized by state law to do anything at all, much less direct PEPSC’s work. 

After HCR drafted the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal, gave it to PEPSC to serve as the foundation of subcommittee work, and (apparently) imposed parameters on subcommittees, SREB and Eckel and Vaughan wanted the group to retreat back into the shadows and pretend it had nothing to do with the plan.

In April 2022, Eckel and Vaughan sent this memo to Human Capital Roundtable members, advising them to say “We are not experts on PEPSC’s proposal. We are simply following PEPSC’s work and support its foundational ideals” as if all of this were PEPSC’s idea.


Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Not only was this proposal created by the Human Capital Roundtable, PEPSC subcommittees have been prevented from making significant changes to the model.  

In a statement released last month, the NC Colleges of Teacher Education voiced concern about just that:

From the beginning, the proposal seemed to be driven by DPI personnel. Right or wrong, DPI  personnel became the “go to” people to interpret the proposal, answer questions, take  minutes, schedule meetings, and synthesize the feedback. It was clear that DPI personnel had  been involved in the Human Capital Roundtable meetings and had been tapped as the ones  now to push it through. At the first subcommittee meetings, members were told in explicit  terms that their role was not to change the proposal but only to figure out a way to implement  it. What was the point in even holding subcommittee meetings if no feedback for potentially  improving the model would be accepted? 

This might be a good time to mention that Department of Public Instruction Director of Educator Recruitment and Support Dr. Tom Tomberlin–who often acts as if he’s the facilitator of PEPSC subcommittee meetings–is a member of the Human Capital Roundtable.

It’s unclear what the final version of “Guiding Principles” looked like, how HCR’s demands were communicated to PEPSC, and how they were received.

That’s because the vast majority of the documents the Human Capital Roundtable generated during more than three years of behind-closed-doors meetings going back to December 2018 are still being withheld from the public by SREB, the group that oversaw and facilitated HCR’s work.

SREB has even gone so far as to lie about the existence of records (see images below).

Because SREB is withholding these records, instead of having a complete picture of how this teacher licensure/compensation reform proposal was developed, North Carolinians have to rely on a combination of Eckel and Vaughan’s slimy marketing and the documents I’m able to scrounge from a handful of sources–documents which often paint a very different picture from the one being presented publicly by Eckel and Vaughan, DPI, SREB, and the State Board of Education.

If you believe SREB should release the Human Capital Roundtable records, you can contact North Carolina’s members of SREB’s Legislative Advisory Council and State Board of Education chair Eric Davis below and urge them to use their influence to bring us the transparency we deserve.

SREB Project Manager absurdly claiming HCR never took notes
The same SREB Project Manager informing HCR members about meeting notes

Here’s an exclusive sneak preview of the upcoming NC merit pay marketing campaign

Draft graphics from Eckel and Vaughan’s marketing campaign

If you missed yesterday’s Facebook and Twitter news, here’s your sneak preview of a draft testimonial video of 2020 NC Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover singing the praises of the North Carolina Pathways to Excellence teacher licensure and compensation overhaul:

Retrieved via public records request, the video is part of an upcoming Eckel and Vaughan ad campaign intended to garner support for the switch to merit pay.

Eckel and Vaughan and SREB provided this video to Human Capital Roundtable members in October 2021, asking for feedback and cautioning “Please don’t share this version with others.” 

For context, Eckel and Vaughan is the Raleigh-based marketing firm who infamously advised DPI staff to “always speak about the [Pathways to Excellence] plan in a positive manner” and to avoid discussing its “complexity or the burden it may put on districts to manage.”

The first half of the video is about Stover’s struggles with getting credit for graduate degrees and years taught in Florida when she began teaching in North Carolina.  

Without providing any supporting data, Stover claims that this is a widespread problem, saying “Many teachers who transfer from another state are not given credit for the years that they have taught outside of North Carolina.” 

Without evidence it’s hard to know how many teachers experience that problem.  For me, getting credit for out-of-state teaching was just a matter of filling out and submitting DPI’s verification of experience form. Comments on my Facebook post of this video indicate plenty of other NC teachers who came from out of state had no difficulty with this issue.

It’s also unclear why this very specific problem would require us to completely scrap our whole experience-based pay scale and move to merit pay for all North Carolina teachers instead of simply fixing issues with reciprocity.  

The rest of Stover’s testimonial focuses on the need to provide teachers with pathways to career advancement besides going into administration.  She says it would be “incredible” to give teachers the “opportunity to lead not only in their classrooms, but also among their peers by providing mentorship to other teachers that are also working in their schools.” 

Of course, NC teachers already mentor colleagues–we just aren’t provided with time or compensation for doing so.  Here again there’s a relatively easy policy fix.  State legislators just need to commit additional resources to public schools to solve the problem.  Of course it would require more legislators who value public schools over tax cuts.

Stover also says that “The consequences of not having a clear advancement and development process for our teachers is that we will begin to lose teachers from our classrooms.”  

There’s no “begin to lose teachers” about it.  We’ve been losing teachers for years, and it has very little to do with their frustration over options for career advancement.  It’s because they’ve had enough of the low pay, lack of respect, and unsustainable workload that are primarily the result of bad policy by our General Assembly.  This merit pay proposal isn’t the answer to any of that.

When Pathways to Excellence goes to the State Board of Education for consideration, likely this fall, Stover’s video will be used as part of a flashy Eckel and Vaughan marketing campaign to drum up public support for the deeply unpopular merit pay plan.  

More recent documents indicate Stover’s video is now being finalized and that videos by Pitt County Asst Superintendent Steve Lassiter and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt will be a part of the marketing campaign as well.

You can view Dr. Lassiter’s draft video, in which he asserts that “We need to move away from a test-based licensure model to an effectiveness model,” below:

Of course the merit pay proposal Dr. Lassiter supports uses standardized test data to determine whether teachers are “effective.”

Both Stover and Lassiter will also sit on the Board of Directors of the UpliftEd Coalition, a group being assembled by Eckel and Vaughan and the secretive Human Capital Roundtable to serve as the public face of the campaign to reform how North Carolina teachers are licensed and paid.

In addition to Stover, Truitt, and Lassiter’s video testimonials, an email by State Board of Education member Jill Camnitz reveals a plan to have the current NC Regional Teachers of the Year also create videos in support of the proposed policy.

Both Stover and current NC Teacher of the Year Leah Carper will speak at the invitation-only September 7 Best NC Innovation Lab, which is shaping up to be a Pathways to Excellence love fest.