Friday, January 28, 2011

CMS Board: We want taxing authority...

This got lost amid the emotion and drama of budget woes at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg board of education meeting Tuesday, but another controversial subject came up: taxing authority. And most CMS board members seemed in favor - with some conditions.

The proposal was on the legislative agenda the school system's lawyer, George Battle, unveiled. It is a working document based on conversations he had with school board members about what they would like N.C. lawmakers to do this session. Most of the items were fuzzes or obvious: adequate education funding and flexibility, "elevating and enhancing teaching through reforms" (this related to Superintendent Peter Gorman's pay for performance ideas), flexibility in tackling needs of low-performing schools.

But there was no ambiguity about taxing authority. The General Assembly would have to grant CMS and any other school district in the state the right to tax citizens. It's come before N.C. lawmakers before. But so far, lawmakers have been in favor of it. It's highly unlikely they will this time, with Republicans in charge.

But school board members say the idea has merit because, as board chair Eric Davis said, it "provides clear accountability." Meaning that the school system can ask the voters directly for funds to support school needs and voters can express their opinion about whether that money was used wisely at election time. Right now, the county commissioners supply local money for schools and tax citizens for those and other needs. And they get to decide what's adequate, not the school board.

Davis and other school board members, including Kaye McGarry, said they'd consider taxing authority if the terms for board members were reduced to two years instead of four. That would give voters a better leash on board members because they could vote members out quicker if they're dissatisfied.

Davis also said he'd consider it only if city and county consolidation occurred. That way citizens would not be getting a third taxing authority. There would still be only two. That's the view of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx too. He's been at the forefront of a consolidation push.

The school board's legislative agenda is still being shaped. More discussion is to come at the next board meeting.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Gov. Bev "unhappy" with Colbert's Wake spoof

The Wake County schools and the school board's retrenchment on diversity policies got lots of negative news recently for N.C. - so much so that Gov. Bev weighed in Thursday.

First, U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to the Washington Post recently on the matter. He said it was "troubling" to see the board "take steps to reverse a long-standing policy to promote racial diversity in its schools" and he said other school systems should not follow suit. "In an increasingly diverse society like ours, racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background," he wrote. "School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward."

Then there was the Stephen Colbert spoof of Wake County's changes on his comedy show, "The Colbert Report." That's what got the good guv up in arms. She said she was "unhappy" with the spoof - with good reasons. North Carolina came off looking a tad backwards.

Colbert used his "The Word" segment on Wednesday to skewer Wake school leaders. One hilarious part showed real footage of school board chair John Tedesco taking note of changes that would lead to schools with mostly poor kids. Tedesco: "If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public will see the challenges, the need to make it successful...Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it."To which Colbert archly responded: "See? Misguided government do-gooders foolishly diluted the problem by addressing it. We need to ignore it, so we'll pay attention to it!"

To view the video, click below:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Disintegration
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

N.C. gets low and middling marks on education

On education issues, North Carolina is getting walloped in national news. Two reports show the state lagging on meeting education needs. Education Week, a national magazine, released its annual "Quality Counts" report recently. And the mag's compilation of education indicators found the Tar Heel state in the middle of the pack of states nationwide, getting a C+ overall. But on the important factors of k-12 achievement and education funding the state dragged the bottom, with a D and D+ respectively. Even Louisiana, which got a C-, does better on school financing.
But there's more bad news for North Carolina. Only 5 percent of North Carolina's students attend schools that are above average in school investment. According to "Quality Counts," North Carolina ranks 49th of the 49 states and the District of Columbia in per pupil investment, and this makes adjustments for cost-of-living differences.
To view the Quality Counts report in its entirety, click here.

In another report released this week, the Center for American Progress, some districts in North Carolina - including Weldon City Schools, Gates County Schools, and Washington County Schools - showed low educational productivity. In Return on Educational Investment: A district-by-district evaluation of U.S. educational productivity, Ulrich Boser compares the academic achievement of a school district with its educational spending, while controlling for factors like cost of living and students in poverty. The report makes several recommendations including encouraging smarter and fairer approaches to school funding by developing policies that direct money to students based on their needs, so that all schools have an equal opportunity to succeed.
For more on this evaluation of over 9,000 districts in over 45 states, go

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Report: Don't try nonviolent teens as adults

North Carolina and New York are the only states that automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, a report from the N.C. legislature's Youth Accountability Task Force said last week. But the bipartisan task force, that has been meeting for two years, wants to change that. It is recommending that North Carolina raise the age at which it prosecutes teens as adults to 18.

The change would affect 16- and 17-year-olds who are charged with misdemeanors and low-level nonviolent felonies, such as drug possession. That amounts to about 30,000 teens each year.
The cost of the change would be about $50 million a year, according to the task force, which includes law enforcement officers, judges, elected officials and other experts. The costs would come from higher law-enforcement, court, and detention costs, the report said.
But the group found there would be long-term recurring savings to offset those costs. Studies show that children in the juvenile system are less likely to return to jail. Also, juveniles sent to juvenile facilities rather than adult facilities wind up being able to get better jobs and better taxpaying citizens. At the same time, the juvenile system is actually tougher on young offenders - making them pay restitution to victims and keeping tabs on their progress in a way the adult system cannot.

What do you think? Should juveniles charged with misdemeanors and low-level nonviolent felonies be tried as adults or in juvenile court?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bill James and the Y's Red Phones

Oh, that Bill James. He never lets the facts get in the way of a good argument - and he likes an argument!

But in his zeal to paint homosexuals as predators, and those who disagree as hypocrites, he stirred up some opposition from a fellow Republican (and former chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners where James now sits).

James said in a recent e-mail that the Dowd Y has a red phone for people to sound an alert about being ogled by homosexuals. He said: "Go down to the Dowd YMCA and let them show you the 'red phone'. They had to put it in to stop homosexuals from ogling straight business men in the showers and changing rooms. The same upper-crust of Charlotte who claim to be for diversity have to install special equipment to protect themselves from the predatory behavior of homosexuals in a place that should be safe, if homosexuals were not predatory. "

But former commissioner Tom Cox begs to differ. In a letter to us on Monday, he wrote:
"Bill James' email today talked about red phones installed by the Dowd YMCA to 'stop homosexuals from ogling straight business men.' I am a regular Dowd customer so, after spin class today, I looked for red phones. There are red phones all over the Y - not just in the mens' locker room. There are also these 'emergency' plunger things that presumably ring bells and light lights. The embossed plastic signs next to them say things like 'EMERGENCY' and '911'. None of the signs say 'use this phone if a naked person ogles you.' The woman at the membership desk told me that the red phones automatically call 911 when the receiver is lifted. I have been a Y member since 1985 and have witnessed three fatal heart attacks. Thanks, Bill. Now I know where the red phones are located so that I can get help pronto - the next time someone collapses and grabs his or her chest."