If local school boards need a way to hold county commissions accountable when it comes to providing sufficient local funds for schools, they may soon lose a key feather in their hats — the ability to sue.

Senate lawmakers passed an amended House bill Wednesday that strips local school boards of their ability to sue the county in the event they believe the commissioners should provide more local funds for the district’s schools.

Similar to a bill that was defeated in the House earlier in the legislative session, NC School Boards Association lobbyist Leanne Winner says the current measure would change the dynamic in local communities when it comes to negotiating local budgets.

“School boards are the only elected body in North Carolina that doesn’t have ability to raise its own revenue,” said Winner. “School boards are also the body to which the state has given responsibility to provide the opportunity for children to receive a sound basic education. If a school board doesn’t have resources necessary to do that, there has to be some kind of mechanism available to be able to deal with those financial issues.”

Senator Dan Soucek (R-Watauga) amended HB 561 quietly on the Senate floor Tuesday to strip the school boards of their power to sue county commissions for the next five years, citing a need for a “cooling off period” between local governments and school boards. Other supporters of the bill say it’s a waste of money for counties to sue themselves.

In 2013, the Union County school board sued the county over a budget dispute which resulted in a $91 judgment that was overturned by an appellate court.

Winner says it’s important for school boards to have the possibility of litigation as a negotiating tactic when working on a local budget.

“While the process is not used very often, the notion that it exists helps bring people to the table to to do more for their community,” said Winner.

Without a way to push county commissions to sufficiently fund public schools, local school boards will have to rely even more on the state’s coffers to fulfill their constitutional requirement to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education for all.

North Carolina has seen state-funded per pupil investment fall considerably over the past several years. Since 2008, per pupil funding has dropped nearly 15 percent according to the Center on Budget and Public Policy, ranking among the lowest in the nation.

The Senate version of the bill must now go back to the House for concurrence. Given House lawmakers’ defeat of a similar measure earlier this session, it’s unclear if a second attempt will prove successful.


North Carolina law currently requires only kindergarteners to get physicals in order to enroll in public schools — but a bill moving through the General Assembly could soon require health assessments for all newly enrolled students in grades K-12, and failure to do so could mean some kids miss out on classroom instruction.

Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) introduced the bill, HB 13, to Senators in a health committee Tuesday, explaining that the most common feedback he received from constituents about requiring physicals for all students was “you mean we’re not already doing that?”

There’s a presumption that other states also require their students to get physicals when they enter kindergarten, said Torbett, perhaps serving as a rationale for why the state doesn’t currently require health assessments from new students entering higher grades.

If students don’t get physicals within sixty days of the first day of school, the proposed law would bar students from going to school until fulfilling the proposed requirement. Language in the original proposal left the door open for those absences to count as suspensions on a student’s record, but House lawmakers amended the bill to avoid that scenario, including language that would allow students to make up coursework and tests during their time away from the classroom.

Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) questioned what processes would be put into place to work with parents who may have trouble understanding the proposed law.

“In some cases, parents are illiterate,” said Sen. Robinson. “What is in place in the school system to get out to that parent to make sure…that parent can read it and understand and then follow up?”

Legislative staff said there are currently a number of opportunities for follow-up with parents of kindergarteners who fail to comply with the proposed law, but did not identify ways in which the state works with those who are illiterate or non-English speaking.

Approved by the Senate Health committee, the bill will next be considered by members of the  Senate Education/Higher Education committee.



Private charter school operators that include for-profit companies could be in line to inherit low-performing schools in North Carolina, prompting changes that could result in mass firings of teachers and staff at some of the state’s most struggling schools.

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg)

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg)

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) is pushing a bill that would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools out of their local school districts and put them into a state-controlled ‘achievement school district.’

This new achievement district would be able to fire all teachers and staff and enter into five year contracts with private charter school management companies to handle the schools’ operations.

“I don’t think perpetually failing schools are acceptable,” said Bryan, who described the draft proposal as a small pilot only open to charter school operators with experience in serving turnaround schools.

A draft version of the legislation that was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch is inserted into a gutted Senate Bill 95, which originally directed local boards of education to adopt performance-based reduction in force (RIF) policies.  (Read the new bill at the end of this post)

Modeled after similar efforts in Memphis, New Orleans and in other locales, the concept of an achievement school district has met considerable push back by teachers, politicians and the general public in those areas. [For more background, read my story from Wednesday titled “Is North Carolina next in line for New Orleans-style takeovers of failing schools?] Read More


Governor Pat McCrory’s education advisor, Eric Guckian, is leaving his job at the end of July to serve in a leadership role for a national organization dedicated to transforming Teach for America alums into leaders.

In a Tuesday afternoon press release, McCrory’s office touted education-related accomplishments it said Guckian’s guidance was key to making happen.

“During his tenure with Governor McCrory, Guckian was instrumental in helping pass one of the largest teacher raises in the state’s history which provided an average salary increase of seven percent and raised the base pay for beginning teachers,” read the statement, along with a list of other education initiatives in which Guckian played a role.

Guckian will join the Leadership for Educational Equity as a Vice President for Alliances. The organization is dedicated to transforming Teach for America corps members and alumni into leaders.

Guckian is a former TFA corps member himself, having served in New York City and as a teacher and as executive director of Teach for America, North Carolina.

Guckian’s last day as McCrory’s education advisor is July 31. A new education advisor is expected to be announced “in the near future.”


The Fayetteville Observer took a closer look this weekend at how things will play out at local elementary schools if Cumberland County and surrounding areas are forced to cut hundreds of teacher assistants from classrooms in exchange for reducing class sizes.

Many say sacrificing TAs for smaller classes isn’t a good tradeoff.

“The perceived benefit of hiring more teachers would be minimal,” said Todd Yardis, Baldwin Elementary’s principal.

For one thing, he said, whenever the budget is approved, it will be after Baldwin’s school year has started. If the school then has to add classes to reduce class sizes, it would be chaotic for students and teachers alike, he said.

Yardis said mid- to late summer isn’t an ideal time to hire good teachers, especially if hundreds of other elementary schools in the state are also looking to hire. Most of the good teachers will already have landed jobs, he said.

“We’re having trouble finding teachers as it is,” he said.

Yardis doesn’t think smaller class sizes would alleviate the problems created by the loss of teacher assistants.

“The research says, and I’ve seen it myself, if you reduce class size by a few kids, it doesn’t change what the teacher does,” Yardis said. “If you’re talking to 20 kids, or 17 kids, the teacher is saying the same thing.”

But a teacher assistant can work one-on-one or in small groups with struggling children, freeing the teacher to teach the rest of the class.

“They’re really instructional assistants,” Yardis said. “Their number one job is to work with children.”

Yardis also said years ago, each classroom had more teacher assistants, which was especially important because many young children need intensive one-on-one support to succeed.

Senate lawmakers have proposed a 2015-17 budget that would cut more than 8,500 teacher assistants’ jobs in exchange for reducing class size.

The June 30 end of the fiscal year has already come to pass, and lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to keep state government operations running but failed to clarify what local school districts should expect when it comes to funding for teacher assistants.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools have already laid off 30 teacher assistants, and school officials hope that more layoffs aren’t on the horizon.

“We still have our fingers crossed that the compromise (budget) will not cut deeper than 110 positions,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield said the district would have to lay people off after they were already planning to report to work in August.

At Wednesday’s rally, teacher assistants across the state said they don’t know whether or not they’ll have a job in a month.

Diane Pfundstein, a retired teacher assistant who came back part-time at Mineral Springs Elementary School last year, said officials at her school said they’re not sure if there will be a job for her when school starts in August.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “There are so many issues now. Teachers need an extra person (in the classroom).”

The Associated Press reports that it’s the third year in a row that Senate and House leaders can’t agree on how to fund teacher aides. In the last seven years, lawmakers have reduced funding for state-funded TAs by 32 percent.

Brady Johnson, the Iredell-Statesville Schools superintendent, said he doesn’t understand why what he called “draconian cuts” must continue given there was a $400 million budget surplus last year. Johnson said his district doesn’t have additional funds like larger systems to preserve his system’s 195 assistants should the Senate’s proposal prevail.

“Who’s going to monitor the children on the playground? Who’s going to walk them to the cafeteria?” said Johnson, the North Carolina Association of School Superintendents president.

Lawmakers return to Raleigh today to continue working on budget negotiations after a week long vacation.