RALEIGH — According to Kevin Campbell, a former president of the North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association and former president of Smart Kids Child Development Center, there are serious governance and transparency issues with the state’s early education program.
In a previous story, Campbell cited governance and responsibility issues with how N.C. Pre-K is run by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).
Among some of those issues is the appearance that some school districts also seem to be “poaching” both teachers and Pre-K students from private providers. Campbell said it varies county by county, but that in some counties “almost 100% of these kids go into the school system.”
“The school systems poach,” said Campbell. “It’s kind of like saying you’re taking our four-year-olds, and you don’t have enough classrooms for your own kids; you have trailers out in the parking lot.”
“Several years ago, I lost a classroom,” said Campbell. “There were no issues with it, they just took it away from me because they said there wasn’t a demand. The local committee, based on a recommendation by the contract administrator and the school district, moved it to the public elementary school just two blocks away and then they turn around and hired my teachers.”
As an example of a more balanced approach between district and outside providers, Campbell cited Wake County, saying he has heard positive things about their model. But he said they have had “lots of problems in Mecklenburg.”
The apparent lack of uniformity across the counties in the applications and approvals for Pre-K classrooms can also be an issue.
“Each local committee can determine their own policy,” said Campbell. “And in some counties, the conflict-of-interest statement says simply that if you have a conflict of interest, you can’t speak or vote.”
He also says outside providers are underrepresented and seem to rarely have a voice on the county committees.
In one instance, he says as far as he knows, those providers are not given a chance to appeal or revise if an application has errors.
“It really should be a much more supportive process than just an application,” said Campbell. “DCDEE should develop providers to do it.”
Transparency also is lacking within county committees, according to Campbell. An example he gave came from a time when he served on a Pre-K committee in Gaston County. One of the meetings he was involved in had video that was supposed to be posted to the Gaston County school system’s website; however, it wasn’t a video, it was audio only, which made it hard for listeners to follow the meeting proceedings.
Another transparency issue was obtaining documentation from a subcommittee. Campbell said that after making repeated requests, DCDEE and the school district wouldn’t send him the requested information but instead directed him to come into the office to view the documents.
Campbell recounted a similar situation obtaining meeting minutes from a Pre-K committee meeting in Mecklenburg County. DCDEE directed Campbell to ask the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District to obtain the minutes.
“I went to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, they made me talk to their attorney,” said Campbell. “The attorney wouldn’t talk to me. So, my attorney talked to them and said, what’s going on?”
Campbell said he continued to get the run around, including stonewalling from the Division of Child Development. He shared part of an email, which he felt proved his point, from the Amber Davis, the assistant attorney general representing the Division of Child Development and Early Education.
“While I understand the buyer’s request for some assurances regarding an intended NC Pre-K contract, and Mr. Campbell’s drive to obtain it for them, that assurance cannot come from the Division. CMS is who will enter into the agreement,” wrote Davis. “There is no privity of contract between Mr. Campbell and the Division and there will not be any privity of contact with the new owner in terms of operating an NC Pre-K site.”
Campbell said that he believes Davis’ response illustrates how DCDEE has ducked responsibility for the program and is giving too much authority to the school districts.
“All I wanted is a copy of a public record and I never did get that one,” Campbell said. “And see, that’s where I really have a problem with the Division of Child Development, because it’s their program, they should be responsive to providers if there’s a conflict at a local committee. They should step in and fix it or not.”