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The governor hasn’t been out in the public much this week, at least not in places where reporters could ask him about the $21.3 billion compromise budget Republican legislative leaders announced yesterday.

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Gov. Pat McCrory

But Gov. Pat McCrory’s office did take care Tuesday night to give last-minute notice to the state’s press corps that the governor would speak about the budget,  just at an event reporters were barred from attending.

Sent at 7:25 p.m.  Tuesday, an emailed media advisory from McCrory’s press office notified reporters that the governor would speak in 20 minutes, at 7:45 p.m., for the N.C. Sheriff Association’s annual banquet in New Bern.

McCrory’s talk would include “an update on the immigration issue many states, including North Carolina, are facing. The governor will also provide an update on the ongoing budget negotiations back in Raleigh.”

(It’s worth nothing here that, though details about an average teacher pay raise of seven percent in the budget deal were announced yesterday by legislative leaders, the actual budget has yet to be publicly released.)

McCrory’s media advisory from Tuesday night also noted that the event was closed to media — meaning any reporters who could have scrambled with 20-minutes notice to hear his thoughts on these two big public policy issues wouldn’t be welcome.

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In a joint press conference Tuesday, N.C House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger gave a broad outline of their recently-reached compromise on the state’s $21.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (right) and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (left) at Tuesday budget press conference

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (left) and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (right) at Tuesday budget press conference

The Republican legislative leaders used the half-hour press conference to outline what the budget would do (teacher and state employee raises, avoid kicking some elderly and blind off of Medicaid) but didn’t delve deep into details abgoutwhat cuts could be seen in other arenas.

WRAL’s Mark Binker has a good run-down on what’s known about the budget proposal here. Click here to read Tillis and Berger’s press release.

The state’s teachers would get average raises of 7 percent, working out to approximately $3,500 per teacher, at a cost of $282 million. The teacher salary schedule would also be compressed from 37 steps to six steps, said Berger, the Senate leader.

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A deal between two North Carolina electricity providers could finally give some Eastern North Carolina residents relief from monthly electricity bills that rank among highest in the state.

The N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy announced Monday a plan for Duke to buy $1.2 billion worth of assets held by the municipal power group, which is managed by the Raleigh-based Electricities group.

The municipal power group that serves 32 Eastern North Carolina communities has long been saddled with high levels of debt taken on when the cities bought into nuclear and coal-power plant projects decades ago and costs soared during construction. That led to high levels of debt with the costs passed on to consumers through higher electricity rates.

The N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency and Duke Energy deal, if given final approval, would lower the debt owed by the towns from $1.9 billion to $480 million, according to a news release from the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency.

The drop in electricity costs for consumers would still vary by community, depending on how much outstanding debt is still owed by each community.

“When we entered these negotiations, we knew it wasn’t feasible to expect to completely eliminate the debt by selling our assets. But this agreement has the potential to reduce our current debt by more than 70 percent,” ElectriCities CEO Graham Edwards said, in a written statement “That’s a significant decrease in our costs and the savings would be directly passed along to NCEMPA members.

Electricities

Towns in the 32-city Electricities network include Lumberton, Kinston, Selma, Smithfield, Apex, Elizabeth City, Wilson, New Bern, Washington, Tarboro and Edenton.

Many of the communities that depend on Electriticies for electricity also have stagnant economies, with high levels of impoverished residents.

As part of the plan, Duke Energy would buy the municipal power group’s stakes in four power plants – the Brunswick (County) Nuclear Plants, the Mayo and Roxboro plants in Person County and the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in Wake County, according to the press releases form the companies.

The move would still need approval from state and federal energy regulators.

Do you live in one of the communities affected by this? We’d like to hear from you about how high your electricity bills are now and what you think of today’s news.

Leave a comment below, or you reach reporter Sarah Ovaska at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

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Buried deep in a House technical corrections bill unveiled yesterday is a provision to allow staff of for-profit charter school management groups to serve on the boards of the public charters schools that contract with them.

The N.C. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the 55-page technical corrections bill today. The legislation would also have to gain approval in the Senate. (UPDATE: The House voted and passed the bill Friday, and it is now headed to the Senate.)

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academy, Inc. (Photo by Sarah Ovaska)

The technical corrections bill unveiled Thursday is supposed to be way for lawmakers to tweak laws but it often becomes an under-the-radar way to push through controversial changes and “asks” from powerful lobbying groups.

The one-sentence addition to charter school rules would prohibit the State Board of Education from dictating who can and can’t sit on the board of the publicly-funded charter schools.

That issue popped up last year when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told a politically-connected charter school operator he couldn’t sit on the board of the school he works for.

“The State Board of Education shall no impose any terms and conditions that restrict membership of the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation operating the charter school, but shall require the board of directors to adopt a conflict of interest policy,” the new language in the technical corrections bill states. (Click here to view the corrections bill, charter school language on page 39.)

Baker Mitchell, who founded Charter Day School in Brunswick County, owns an education management company called Roger Bacon Academy that is contracted to run four charter schools in the southeastern part of the state.  Last year, the State Board of Education told Mitchell that neither he nor other Roger Bacon staff could be voting board members of the charter schools, a decision that bothered both Mitchell and the charter school board members.

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A bill that would address some sticky points in governance of the state’s 127 public charter schools is calendared for a Senate vote today.

(Note: The bill passed out of the Senate and went to the House floor Thursday afternoon. That discussion can be heard here.)

The charter school modification bill, Senate Bill 793, coming out of conference committee would prevent the public schools from discriminating on the basis of “ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability.”

Missing are specific protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and gone is House language that would have kept the discrimination protections in line with various federal laws that include LGBT protections.

It also would only make public the salaries of charter school staff directly employed by the non-profit board of directors.

That gives an out to set-ups like the Roger Bacon Academy chain of public charter schools run by Baker Mitchell., a charter school founder who now owns a management company that has a contract to run the four schools in the Wilmington area. (Click here for a Wilmington Star-News article that digs deep into the school’s profits.)

Mitchell, who has contributed to the campaigns of several Senate Republican’s campaigns, has been vocal about his resistance to releasing the salary data of administrators on his payroll as well as teachers.

Charter School Mod by NC Policy Watch