There’s no doubt Shining Rock Classical Academy has been in the news a lot through the years.
Part of that is because Shining Rock is Haywood’s first major charter school. As such, people are interested in how it operates, develops and performs.
The Mountaineer covers all its board meetings and basically reports on the same issues we cover at the Haywood County Consolidated Schools board meetings.
That makes it easy for us to contrast the way the two governing boards do business.
For instance, when the Haywood County school board was eying a 10-acre tract of land near Tuscola this spring, The Mountaineer had several stories leading up to the eventual $605,000 purchase.
There was a vote to explore the possibility of approaching the property owner, an open discussion on why this particular property was needed to preserve potential growth options for the school and the final vote to purchase.
In contrast, Shining Rock had apparently been talking about a major public expenditure perhaps 10 times as large, and the first we ever heard about the proposal was when visiting the Waynesville Development Services office.
Red flags — and questions — arose all around the project to buy property and build an entirely new school, plans that were detailed in the public application.
What would happen to the existing campus that required a $2.9 million loan to build? Enrollment had been declining at Shining Rock, something the board considered in adopting its 2019-20 budget.
How could the school pay for an existing debt at a set interest rate of 7 percent and take on another one. When we compare that to the 2 to 3 percent interest rates for existing government debt in the county, it begs the question, who is profiting from public funds?)
Should the enrollment continue to decline, how would that impact future enrollment and the ability to repay the debt for a new school? Who would pay the debt if the charter school failed, which is not unheard of in the state.
In the end, the board scrapped plans for the new school because of the declining enrollment, but is still not talking about how much was spent bringing the proposal to the table.
At the heart of the not very public debate over how Shining Rock operates has nothing to do with school choice, a popular buzz word where parents argue for more options concerning their child’s education.
To us, it’s a matter of accountability for how taxpayer funds are spent and how the public’s business is conducted.
In the case of Shining Rock, it is virtually impossible for the public to have any say in those matters.
The school’s board is not an elected body and their typical response is to stonewall requests for information and interviews. The sterile discussions at their public board meetings indicate the real conversations about important decisions occur elsewhere.
During Shining Rock’s Aug. 1 board meeting, The Mountaineer presented a document outlining the open meetings and public records laws in North Carolina where vast sections had been highlighted to bolster our contention the board is operating outside the law.
We also asked for a more public dialogue about school decisions going forward.
The board proceeded to hold a three-hour closed meeting where presumably a decision was made to scrap land purchase and building plans due to a declining enrollment.
After ignoring public information requests from The Mountaineer since July 26, Shining Rock leaders, along with their attorney, have agreed to meet with news media outlets in Haywood to discuss pending public document requests.
If the public’s business is conducted with transparency, all is well with us. If it isn’t, we are prepared to take steps necessary to ensure that happens.