News

In Robeson County, local paper endorses controversial charter takeover

A controversial state plan for charter takeover of a struggling Robeson County elementary earned a rude reception from many residents and public officials in recent weeks, but the local newspaper writes in an editorial that local opposition to the Innovative School District is “weakening.”

Members of the Robeson Board of Education have until February to vote on the state’s proposal to take over Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Rowland. State law allows the district to accept the takeover or close, dispersing about 270 students within the district.

Robeson commissioners and school board members have been reportedly engaged in a bizarre back-and-forth over whether or not commissioners agreed to a “joint” October resolution in opposition.

Regardless, members of the school board are expected to mull the proposal to shutter Southside-Ashpole, possibly as soon as December. But The Robesonian argued this week that the district has little choice.

From The Robesonian:

The Robeson County Board of Commissioners last week wiggled off a hook, awakening from a slumber and distancing itself from the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County, which is without ammo in opposition to the state taking over control of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School.

That left the county Board of Education alone in opposition to the Rowland school’s inclusion in the state’s Innovative School District, a Republican-led initiative to give students stuck in low-performing schools some kind of escape from schools that have chronically failed to provide students the education that the state constitutionally guarantees.

The commissioners appeared confused about earlier action regarding a joint resolution between the boards in opposition, couldn’t find a single voice, and therefore did not sign off on the resolution that essentially kicked the ball down the road. Why should it have been left to the state to point out the problem when it pervades the system, with 27 out of 42 schools identified as low-performing? This conversation would not even be happening if not for the creation of the ISD as any urgency had eluded the local school board.

The commissioners know that the state has all the cards, and that oppositition is weakening, epecially in the Rowland community. Eric Hall, the superintendent of the ISD, continues to effectively make the case that the school, where fewer than one in five children are performing at grade level, deserves a chance to try something different.

As Commissioner David Edge said: “What do we have to lose?”

That leaves the 11 school board members standing in opposition, but they have state law in their way. Their options are to relinquish control or close the school, and if they close it they have to find a place for 270 mostly minority and poor students who will not be warmly embraced where they are deposited. That is simply an ugly truth.

The confusion stemmed from a joint meeting of the two county boards on Nov. 9 with Hall.

School board member Brian Freeman raised his voice at Hall, saying: “This is an unproven model that failed in Tennessee. You’ve offered no plan except that you will hire a new principal and interview the existing classroom teachers.”

We will give Freeman high marks for hubris, given he sits on a board that governs a system that has 66 percent of its schools as “low-performing,” and can be convincingly fingered as the worst in the state. Yet he is asking for evidence of the state plan.

Hall has been clear that a plan will be developed when shortcomings are identified, and that will take time. But it is clear to us that Hall expects to use autonomy the school will enjoy to shift resources toward the hiring of stronger teachers who can act as mentors.

The Rowland community soon enough will sign on to the program, and realize the ISD for what it is, at least potentially, an escape from blissfully accepting less for these children — and the five-year commitment that provides time for it to make a real difference.

Enough commissioners recognized that to stop the county’s endorsement of the resolution, in effect unhitching themselves from a position that could be damaging next time voters are darkening a ballot. They are willing to accept that the local system needs help, and in this case that might require stepping aside.

Our belief is that as soon as Hall and the management team are allowed to get to work and bring in new teachers and a game plan, results will follow — and that other local communities that have been failed by their local schools will raise their hand for inclusion.

Stay tuned for more updates from Policy Watch as they develop.

Environment

NC Utilities Commission reaches partial settlement with Duke Energy over rate hikes; still disagree on coal ash

Residents in Duke Energy Progress’s service area could pay an average of $18 more a month for electricity if the state utilities commission approves the company’s request for a rate hike. (Map: Duke Energy)

The public staff of the NC Utilities Commission went behind closed doors with Duke Energy Progress today to hammer out a partial settlement agreement regarding the utility’s request for a 16.7 percent increase in residential rates.

These private negotiations occurred instead of a public evidentiary hearing, which was scheduled for today at 1 p.m. That hearing has been postponed until next Monday at 1:30 p.m..

According to the preliminary settlement, the main takeaway involves the return on equity — the amount of net income that measures profitability. Under the preliminary settlement, that return on equity would equal 9.9 percent. Duke Energy had originally proposed a figure of 10.75 percent. The public staff wanted a 9.2 percent return, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.

In terms of revenue, a 10.75 percent return equals $419 million; a 9.2 percent return, $319 million.

The public staff had also disagreed with Duke’s overall rate increase request of 14 percent (the average of industrial and residential hikes), recommending that it go up less than one-tenth of a percent.

The overall rate hike was not announced in the settlement, which will be part of next Monday’s hearing.

But the public staff, which represents the ratepayers, and the utility could not agree on who should bear the costs of the coal ash cleanups. Those costs — abut $130 million — factor into Duke Energy’s rate hike request, as do repairs to infrastructure that had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

Duke Energy Carolinas, which has a different service area than Duke Energy Progress, has requested an average rate hike of 13.6 percent. However, residential customers would see a greater increase — 16.7 percent — versus commercial and industrial customers –10.9 percent.

Public hearings on that request begin in January.

Settlement by Anonymous B0mRtPKjko on Scribd

Courts & the Law, News

Report: AOC to mail 615 monthly waivers to prepare for change in court fines, fees

A budget provision that will make it more difficult for judges to waive court fines and fees for indigent defendants goes into effect Dec. 1, but the Administrative Office of the Courts has found a way to lighten the load.

The provision mandates that no court may waive or remit all or part of any court fines or costs without providing 15 days’ notice and an opportunity to be heard to all government entities affected by the monetary collection. They duty would fall to local clerks, but the AOC plans to instead mail a standard letter to 615 entities once per month, according to a WRAL report.

“That letter will include the internet address of the state’s online courts calendar and tell officials that fees could be waived at any criminal hearing on the calendar,” the report states. “Local jurisdictions can send additional notices if they like, but the guidance doesn’t require that. It says they should work with local entities, particularly if they request different or more frequent notice.”

NC Policy Watch reported the consequences of the budget provision earlier this year when it was being considered by lawmakers. WRAL also included in its report some statistics about the impact the measure could have.

What remains unclear is whether GOP lawmakers will be satisfied by the AOC’s solution.

“It’s unclear whether the AOC’s plan will pass muster with GOP legislators who pushed for the notice requirement, which takes effect Dec. 1,” WRAL reports. “The proposal was a Senate priority, and Sen. Warren Daniel, who co-chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week that the legislature’s legal staff has been asked to analyze the AOC’s plan.

‘We do want to make sure they’re complying with the spirit of the provision,’ said Daniel, R-Burke.”

You can read WRAL’s full report here.

Courts & the Law, News

Lawmakers still object to special master; Covington plaintiffs offer incumbency tweaks to new plan

The legislative defendants in the racial gerrymandering case that involves state House and Senate districts opposes the federal court’s appointment of a special master and alleges abuse of discretion in a motion filed Friday.

“The process under which the special master is proceeding is irregular and inappropriate,” the motion states. “It defies precedent, ignores state sovereignty, and imposes race-based redistricting on the State against its will. Unless and until the Court issues a final ruling on the constitutionality of the Subject Districts, the special master should propose in his report to the Court the districts as drawn in 2017 by the North Carolina General Assembly.”

The court expressed concerns about the constitutionality of certain legislative districts in maps GOP lawmakers redrew to correct the constitutional violations in the first maps. It asked for the special master to weigh in, issue a report and potentially redraw any districts still deemed unconstitutional.

The special master, Stanford Law professor Nathaniel Persily, released his report last week, which redrew all the districts the court expressed concern over: Senate districts in Cumberland, Hoke and Guilford counties and House districts in Sampson, Wayne, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Wake counties.

The plaintiffs in North Carolina v. Covington filed its motion Friday stating they believe Persily’s maps remedy the racial gerrymanders and other constitutional flaws perpetuated in the redrawn maps.

They also propose some adjustments to “unpair” some incumbents, elected lawmakers who would be forced to run against each other in the 2018 election. Those incumbents the plaintiffs say could be unpaired are: Rep. Amos Quick (D-Guilford) and Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), and Rep. Cynthia Ball (D-Wake) and Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake).

The plaintiffs note that they could not find a way to unpair Sen. Ben Clark (D- Cumberland, Hoke) and Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland); Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) and (R-Guilford); and Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) and Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford).

The legislative defendants in Covington did not address Persily’s pairing of incumbents in its motion opposing his tentative maps.

It argued that the case was moot and “if plaintiffs want to pursue additional claims, they must file a new lawsuit.” They also argue that the plaintiffs “no longer have a concrete stake in the outcome of the case because they face no realistic threat of injury.”

Other arguments legislative defendants make are that the court abuses its discretion by ordering a plan from Persily before making a final ruling on the redrawn districts; Persily redrew some districts based on an incorrect interpretation of the state Constitution; and Persily “improperly engaged in racial sorting to create districts with a mechanical target of black voting age population between 39 percent and 43.6 percent.”

The court has yet to weigh in on Persily’s proposed maps.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

There have been a lot of editorials lamenting the poor environmental protection enforcement that allowed the GenX chemical disaster to hit southeastern North Carolina, but this Sunday’s Fayetteville Observer really hit the nail on the head with its assessment of why and how lax North Carolina law is at fault. Simply put, the editorial blasts what is, in effect, North Carolina’s “innocent till proven guilty” approach to pollutants.

After acknowledging strong recent actions and the fact that accidents are always going to be a problem, the editorial (“The way we regulate water quality needs rethinking”) concludes this way:

“The problem is that this and most other states follow a backwards process in regulating what goes into our waterways — and thus into our municipal water systems. We allow businesses and industries to pour their wastes into rivers and streams and only limit those chemicals that are on a comparatively short list of proven poisons. But our rivers and streams — and the people who drink the water that comes from them — aren’t in a court of law where suspects are innocent until proven guilty. That principle shouldn’t apply to industrial chemicals. Rather, companies shouldn’t be allowed to discharge chemicals into waterways until they can prove that the chemicals are harmless, at least when they are sufficiently diluted.

We have substantial doubts about the safety of GenX, and yet Chemours and DuPont were allowed to discharge it because it wasn’t on a list of dangerous chemicals. Nor is the chemical that preceded GenX in the Teflon manufacturing process, C8. But C8 has been more extensively tested. Like GenX, it has been linked to cancers in animals and some researchers say it is likely that it can cause cancer in humans as well. But despite those findings, federal and state regulators have only begun to consider reasonable limits for those chemicals in our water supply.

After the GenX problem erupted into public view last summer, the state required Chemours to find alternative disposal methods for the chemical and banned its outfall into the river. That should be state policy with all chemicals whose effects are unknown, especially those from chemical families like those that produce C8 and GenX.

When the General Assembly returns to Raleigh in January, it’s urgent that its leaders create a commission that not only looks into the GenX problem, but also takes a deeper look at the way the state regulates — or more often fails to regulate — what industries are dumping into our water supply. This is a question that affects the health and safety of every North Carolina resident, and it can’t be allowed to become a political football.”