Every once in a while, I come across a public record that surprises me. That’s what happened in late 2009 as I was reading through letters sent to North Carolina’s then-governor, Bev Perdue.
Bill Massey, a teacher in Granville County, wrote to the governor to share the story of how he was named his school’s Teacher of the Year and then laid off two months later due to budget cuts.
“It was gut-wrenching,” he wrote. “I was a teacher. I was a good teacher. And I lost my job anyway.”
After reading the letter, I called Massey and asked if I could interview him. He agreed, but said he wanted to ask me one thing – how did I get a copy of his letter? It was simple, I told him, I filed a public records request to see the governor’s correspondence logs.
On Nov. 19, 2009, I traveled with two of my colleagues – reporter Dan Bowens and photographer Robert Meikle – to Northern Granville Middle School to interview Massey and the man who laid him off, his principal.
“I’ll be very honest with you. I get physically sick over this. This was a very difficult year,” the principal told us.
During the interview, Massey agreed to give us a copy of his most recent teacher evaluation, which showed he received “above standard” marks – the highest possible score. We also requested and received a copy of the governor’s response to Massey.
In the end, Massey asked the principal to take him back as an assistant teacher at a much lower salary. If that didn’t work, he was prepared to work for free.
“At this stage in my life, it’s not the paycheck I get. It’s the feeling I get,” he said.
Massey eventually came back to the school as an assistant teacher, making 40 percent of the salary he was previously paid.
Although this story is from several years ago, I still think about it and hold it up as an example of the power of public records. Reading through the governor’s letters is a bit of a fishing expedition. I never know exactly what I’m going to get, but every once in a while I find stories like Bill Massey’s – stories I might not have found otherwise.