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.

Nope!

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:

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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:

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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.




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

  1. Thank you for revealing this vile, dishonest use of public taxpayers’s money!!!! I am about to retire in 1.5 years as a public school teacher for 25 years and currently employed under the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) in Cherokee NC.

    I am VERY concerned as an educator and tax payer. If there is anything I can do to assist, I would love to “jump on board”. Being a transplant from Florida (where dishonestly and deceit is rampant today), I care deeply about our educational system.
    I once had a special ed lawyer tell me “you are damn good” and should have been a lawyer (as I won a manifestation determination for our 17 year old son)
    Please consider me when needing additional assistance and support.

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