N.C. charter school advocates Baker Mitchell, Paul Norcross resign from advisory board

By: - July 31, 2014 4:49 pm

Two members of the state’s advisory board for charter schools unexpectedly submitted their resignations yesterday.

Both Baker Mitchell, of Wilmington, and Paul Norcross, of High Point, co-founded charter schools and have been some of the more prominent advocates through the N.C. Alliance for Public Charter Schools for the privately-run but publicly-funded schools. They also both own companies that have contracts to run public charter schools in the state.

State Sen. Phil Berger appointed Sherry Reeves of Pamlico County to fill the unexpired term of Baker Mitchell. Reeves served on the board of Arapahoe Charter School in 2011-12. Berger appointed Phyllis Gibbs of Guilford County to fill the unexpired term of Paul Norcross.

The state Senate approved those replacements today. The charter school advisory board reviews applications for charter schools and makes recommendations about approvals and rules governing the schools to the State Board of Education.

Mitchell and Norcross had been the target of recent ethics complaints, though no violations of state ethics law have been substantiated.

This spring, Eddie Goodall of the N.C. Association of Charter School’s filed complaints with the N.C. Ethics Commission against the two. Goodall’s complaint takes issue with Norcross and Mitchell not recusing themselves from a May charter school advisory vote to approve a school  that’s a member of the alliance organization that Mitchell and Norcross have affiliations with.

Mitchell and Norcross submitted their resignations to Sen. Phil Berger within an hour of each other Wednesday afternoon, according to copies of their resignation letters obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

In his resignation letter, Norcross, who had recently worked for the unsuccessful Congressional campaign of Berger’s son, said he was being unfairly criticized for his work to push charter schools in the state.

On Tuesday, the Greensboro News & Record ran a story about an additional ethics complaint that had been filed against Berger, the state Senate leader, by a Greensboro political activist in relation to recent legislation about charter school salary disclosures. The complaint, which has not been substantiated, indicated that Norcross would have benefited from the law.

From Norcross’s resignation letter:

Senator Berger,

I walked into my fourth meeting of the day at 10:30 this morning and was greeted with “did you read the paper this morning? Man these people love abusing you…ha-ha-ha.” After the meeting I got into the car just starting driving and thinking, what kept swirling around in my head is a comment that an Australian friend that lives in Sydney made to me recently: “what’s the matter with your country mate? You punish people that do good things and reward bad behavior”.

Sadly he is right. For those of us that have been willing to step out on a limb and do the right thing, make the sacrifices and fight the fight, we are targeted and vilified to diminish us and the cause that we are fighting for, facts be damned. Ultimately there comes a point in which it is no longer worth it when your energy is focused on fending off attacks and abuse rather than accomplishing the mission at hand.

I am blessed to be in a position where my wife, children and I can make a very positive impact though providing books to libraries, literacy programs, innovative educational programs, therapeutic programs and scholarships with local, regional and global reach. This brings us great joy and I am very fortunate that working together we have the ability to do these things. What does not bring us joy is being used by nefarious sorts that wish to achieve personal gain or notoriety, and are focused on derailing the progress we have worked so hard to accomplish over the past several years with educational choice.

There is simply no reason for me to continue putting energy into this when I have larger projects to focus on that will have far greater impact, therefore I would greatly appreciate it if you could please appoint someone to replace me effective immediately on the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board. I appreciate your initial appointment and thank you for your confidence and support.

With best regards



Paul J. Norcross

In his resignation letter, Mitchell said he had other commitments and couldn’t dedicate as much time to the advisory board.

From Mitchell’s resignation letter:

Dear Senator Berger,

Upon reflecting on the very successful legislative year that is nearing its end, I want to say first that the terrific work of the NC Charter School Advisory Board and the dedication of its members have enhanced the quality of NC charter schools and broadened the freedoms of parental choice throughout the state.

After reviewing the commitments that I have on several other organizations, I also recognize that with the many challenges in the upcoming months, you should feel free to determine whether the Advisory Board can continue to be well served by having another Senate appointee on this important Board who can devote more time. After four years of traveling to Raleigh as a Senate appointee to these Boards, it is time that I retire and allow the Senate to select a new member.

The charter schools with which I am associated have compiled outstanding records, both academically and financially over the last fourteen years, and my first priority must be to ensure that they continue their progress towards improving education for their nearly 2,000 students.

The Charter School Act states in its Purpose,  to “[h]old the schools established under this Part accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.”

So long as we all keep our focus on moving from rule-based to performance-based accountability, the children of North Carolina will inevitably be best served.

Therefore, please accept my resignation effective immediately from the NC Charter School Advisory Board.

Best Regards,

Baker Mitchell


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Sarah Ovaska-Few

Sarah Ovaska-Few, former Investigative Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch for five years, conducted investigations and watchdog reports into issues of statewide importance. Ovaska-Few was also staff writer and reporter for six years with the News & Observer in Raleigh, where she reported on governmental, legal, political and criminal justice issues.