Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can new conductor save symphony?

The old Groucho Marx joke was that he wouldn't want to join a club that would have him as a member. So, does Charlotte's symphony want a music director who's willing to take such a shaky job?

The symphony announced Tuesday that Christopher Warren-Green will replace Christof Perick as its next conductor. Warren-Green has led the London Chamber Orchestra (not the city's main symphony) since 1988.

Musically, this appears to be a big step up for Warren-Green. But with the symphony's financial problems threatening its existence, Warren-Green may have the warmth and public face the symphony lacked in Perick and badly needs.

Warren-Green will live in Charlotte and search committee members say he has the personality the orchestra craves. First-chair violinist Calin Lupanu told The Observer's Steven Brown that Warren-Green is "a charmer. He knows how to talk to people. He's very convincing." Said violinist Emily Chatham: "It makes you smile to see him." (Read Steven's full story here.)

A convincing charmer who can talk to people and make them smile. Sounds like another step in the Charlotte symphony's ongoing rebirth.

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ain't ain't a word, Mr. Jones

There "ain't" no way Harry Jones just said what we think he just said, some in the crowd thought Tuesday night.
Jones, the Mecklenburg County manager, was presenting his recommended $1.39 billion budget to county commissioners Tuesday night when he interrupted his officious delivery with slang.
"We are faced with a new revenue reality," he told the crowd. "And we ain’t got enough money to fund services and programs at current or expanded levels."
We ain't got? Dang, guess we're SOL.
Who knows what Jones was thinking. Did he stumble into saying that accidentally?
We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant to say that, as some sort of colloquialism. It was written in his prepared remarks, after all.
If so, bad idea. Our kids and our society have enough problems speaking proper English without the county's highest ranking government staffer saying "ain't" in his budget presentation.
What do you think? Inappropriate? Or get off his case as he has a little fun?

- Posted by Taylor Batten

Thursday, May 14, 2009

County's DSS deal was excessive

Compassion is one thing.

But a county-funded, $168,000-a-year think tank job – complete with car – wired up to keep someone on the county payroll for years until he's eligible for full retirement benefits goes way beyond simple compassion.

That's the deal the county made in 2007 with then-Department of Social Services chief Richard “Jake” Jacobsen. The county agreed to pay Jacobsen's salary at UNC Charlotte's Institute for Social Capital until his retirement, at age 66, in February 2010.

And get this: It will be Jacobsen's second state pension. Turns out that when he left the San Diego County Department of Social Services, after a flap about its child-protection agency, he negotiated a retirement date that allowed him to receive a pension for 20 years' government service.

Jacobsen, hired here in 1994, won praise as an innovative leader. But after a 2004 stroke had him out of work for months, things got messy. In 2007 two former employees sued the county, saying they were forced out after questioning his health and performance. Their lawsuit said he had been forgetful, erratic and racially insensitive. (A judge dismissed that suit in 2008.) But in September 2007, County Manager Harry Jones, UNCC and Jacobsen agreed to the UNCC arrangement.

What's done is done. It would be difficult legally for the county to go back on the deal now. But with the county facing a $79 million shortfall in next year's budget, and as up to 400 teachers prepare for potential layoffs, there's no question about this deal. Although it appears it was set up with compassionate motives, it is – simply – excessive.

-- Posted by Mary Newsom

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'Obama bucks,' 'stimulus truck' and Gauvreau

First it was the "stimulus truck." Now, it's "Obama bucks." That's how Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Larry Gauvreau derisively tags the federal stimulus dollars that CMS is getting.

In February, Gauvreau derided school officials for saying staff cuts and program reductions would be needed because of the economic collapse, though he noted that CMS was already bloated and should have been cutting the fat anyway. But he said the lamenting was all a smokescreen because a federal "stimulus truck" was going to drive up with a load of cash for CMS.

On Tuesday, school officials did announce they'd gotten about $28 million in stimulus money, targetted for high-poverty schools, special education and pre-school. Gauvreau dubbed them "Obama bucks," as he blasted the proposed school budget for next year as, you guessed it, bloated and fat.

Though most of the other school board members disagreed about the budget, many smiled at the "Obama bucks" tag - which made Gauvreau keep repeating it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Birth control? It's your turn, guys

Birth control for men that doesn't come in a wrapper or require surgery? Yep.
And it's just around the corner from being on the market, a new study suggests.

It's injectable testosterone, and Chinese researchers say a test of 1,045 healthy, fertile men aged 20 to 45 years shows it's 98 percent effective. The pill is about 99 percent effective (when taken correctly) for women.

Said Dr. Yi-Qun Gu, of the National Research Institute for Family Planning in Beijing, China: "For couples who cannot, or prefer not to use only female-oriented contraception, options have been limited to vasectomy, condom and withdrawal, our study shows a male hormonal contraceptive regimen may be a potential, novel and workable alternative."

Could this new development finally bring equality to the responsibility for birth control? Only if men can be convinced to go for it. That could happen. After all, the injection is giving men more testosterone! And the procedure is more insurance against "slip-ups".

Former presidential candidate John Edwards (and probably wife Elizabeth too) might be wishing it was on the market some months ago.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How would you cut CMS budget?

So pretend for a moment that you are CMS superintendent Peter Gorman. You are told to cut $34 million from your budget, or almost 10 percent. What would you do?
As April Bethea reported today, CMS is looking at cutting 1,300 jobs, including more than 400 teaching positions.
Commissioner Bill James suggests eliminating Bright Beginnings, a pre-K program.
One big question still lingers: how much federal stimulus money is coming to CMS, and how much of it could or should be used to save teacher jobs?
One retired CMS teacher, Dan Faris, sends an open letter to President Obama, pleading for help:

Dear President Obama,
I am a retired public school teacher, 30 years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system in NC. Since January our local newspaper has been reporting that Governor Perdue has told all of the school systems in the state to cut expenses by 10%. At the same time you have been assuring the country that firefighters, police and teachers will not have to worry about losing their jobs. Many times in the past few months our CMS superintendent, Peter Gorman, has said that a 10% cut in funding WILL result in job losses for teachers. In today's Charlotte Observer, and I quote: "The school district was already planning to cut 534 jobs, but had planned to spare classroom teachers unless the county asked for cuts. Now, about 1,300 school employees-- including more than 400 teachers-- could lose their jobs."
Mr. President, this is unacceptable. It is not what you have been telling the country. What you have been saying is correct-- our children are the future of our country, and, economic recession or not, we will not make them face the future with inadequate education.
Call Governor Perdue, get more stimulus money involved, and do whatever else needs to be done to make sure our children have the teachers they need.
As with most Americans, I am proud you are our president, and I support your agenda. At the same time I know things change, and strategies must change with them. In this instance, however, you must stand firm and fulfill the promise you made.
Yours truly,
Dan F. Faris
Retired Teacher
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

What do you think?
-Posted by Taylor Batten

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We wrote the caption

We couldn't resist playing with the photo that ran with today's story about Elizabeth Edwards' interview with Oprah Winfrey, scheduled to air on Thursday.

Other ideas?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

School bullies beware!

The N.C. Senate passed a strong and sensible anti-bullying bill today. The Senate should give final approval and the N.C. House should do the same.

The bill includes gender identity and sexual orientation as characteristics that motivates bullying and that's upset some people. But the language is no endorsement of a particular lifestyle or ideology. It is simply an acknowledgement that specific kinds of bullying and harassment are a huge problem.

Nationally, at least three suicides this year, two involving 11-year-olds, have occurred because of anti-gay taunts and bullying. General policies haven't provided adequate protection for targets of anti-gay slurs and harassment. Studies show detailed policies and laws are taken more seriously, and are more effective.

Contrary to what some opponents contend this legislation does not advance special protections for gay people. Nor would it be a precursor or mandate for same-sex marriage, which a group of N.C. Catholic bishops allege it has been in other states. In Massachusetts, for instance, where same sex marriage was legalized in 2004, lawmakers have yet to approve a school anti-bullying law. And the bill the N.C. senate approved specifies that “nothing in this act shall be construed to create any classification, protected class, suspect category, or preference beyond those existing in present statute or case law.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board adopted a strong anti-bullying policy last year. At least seven states have adopted strong, detailed anti-bullying laws.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards' tryst with the public

John Edwards had a tryst with Rielle Hunter, but now Elizabeth Edwards is using that to have a tryst with the public. Going through a private hell because your husband is one of the most high-profile cheaters in the nation? Go public! Write a book about it, go on Oprah, invite America into your bedroom. You might even make a few bucks off of it.

Elizabeth Edwards for a long time was a hugely sympathetic character on the U.S. political scene: her son died in a car accident, she suffered from cancer and her husband two-timed her. We still feel sorry for all that pain for her.

But she loses some of her public reputation when she keeps mum while her husband threatens the future of the Democratic Party by running for president with the Hunter affair lurking. Then she writes a memoir and schedules an Oprah visit to tease out some of the details. Elizabeth, we wish you had done us, yourself and your children a favor by staying above the fray.

- Posted by Taylor Batten