Golden Eagle sued over publication of salaries
An internal dispute involving the publication of employee salaries at the Golden Eagle Charter School spilled over into Siskiyou County Superior Court on May 10 when a non-profit watchdog group filed suit against the school.
In a press release, Executive Director Robert Fellner with Transparent California, which publishes a website involving salary data for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, alleges that Golden Eagle broke the state’s open records law when it refused to provide the information.
GECS Director Shelly Blakely, who is also named in the lawsuit, said Golden Eagle already planned to join the state salary reporting system for the 2019-20 school year.
Fellner said withholding that data even from a member of the school’s own board of directors was unprecedented. The specific employee’s salary in question has never been publicly identified. The request for information was first made by former board member Edra Chamberlin, who later resigned.
Other board members to leave the school include former president Amy McMaster, who similarly stepped down at last month’s meeting.
Both Chamberlin and McMaster allege that they have been subject to acts of retaliation and bullying as a result of their actions.
“Providing financial oversight is a fundamental part of being a board member,” Fellner with the policy institute said. “Of the over 2,500 public entities I have interacted with, this is the first time I have ever seen a public entity refuse to provide public pay data to a member of its own board.”
Blakely disputed that Golden Eagle was “rife with scandal and dysfunction” as stated in the press release.
“This could not be further from the truth,” she said. “GECS has established a history of stability, integrity, fiscal responsibility, and good educational practice.”
Also coming to Blakely’s defense was Phoenix Isler, governance council president.
“We as a council have all the salary information we need ... in order to carry out our fiduciary duties of financial oversight,” Isler said. “None of this has ever been established as having anything to do with the kids or the successful functioning of the school.”
The dispute highlights one of the differences between charter schools and public schools even though both are publicly funded.
Charter schools have argued in the past that they are exempt from California’s open record laws. But a recent California Attorney General opinion has ruled that charter schools are required to comply. That could put Golden Eagle on the hook for the opposing counsel’s attorney fees if they lose in court.
Blakely said inflammatory and misleading statements about the school have also hurt morale.
“This issue has caused hard feelings, mistrust, and misunderstanding within our school and parent community,” she said. “At its core this stems from the desire of a certain board member to see individual salaries linked to staff names.”