Education, News

Report: Charlotte, Matthews joust over municipal charter school bill

A brewing state bill that would allow the creation of municipal charters in two Charlotte suburbs has area leaders engaged in a tense back-and-forth, The Charlotte Observer reports.

Policy Watch reported last month on the debate over schools in Charlotte, which has a precedent-setting feel when it comes to suburban parents clamoring for a split from larger school systems like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

A state legislative panel completed a report this year with no clear recommendations for how to divide school districts, although a lingering bill to clear municipal charters near Charlotte has the potential to bolster some of the re-segregation concerns that has K-12 advocates up in arms, critics say.

From The Charlotte Observer:

Quiet negotiations are flaring into a full-blown public relations war as the town of Matthews and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools take competing messages about town charter schools to taxpayers and families.

Monday night, the south suburban town’s Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 to endorse a bill sponsored by state Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, that would let the town create its own charter schools. A statement issued afterward described the bill as simply a preliminary step toward exploring options, “in no way a vote to break away from CMS.”

Tuesday evening the CMS board is scheduled to discuss its opposition to the bill, which several board members say could set a precedent that would undermine public education across North Carolina. The board already issued a statement saying approval of the bill could force reassignment — the board chair talked about moving hundreds of Matthews students out of Providence High School — and drive up taxes for all Matthews residents.

What makes House Bill 514 different is it would authorize Matthews and nearby Mint Hill to use local tax money to support those schools and give preference to students who live within town limits. Other charter schools must use a random lottery when there are more applicants than seats; students often come from a wide area, including across county lines.

HB 514 passed the House last year and could go to the Senate after the General Assembly convenes May 16.

Matthews officials note that even if the bill is approved, the town would still have to decide whether to apply for a charter and go through the state selection process before it could open schools. But CMS officials argue that they have to prepare for an unprecedented type of competition that could deplete large numbers of students from a tightly-defined area.

Last fall CMS leaders turned to the Foundation for the Carolinas and the Leading On Opportunity coalition for help persuading Matthews officials that the bill would prove detrimental to educational opportunity and economic mobility for everyone in Mecklenburg County. For several months those groups have brokered talks between the two groups, initially held with only small numbers of elected officials so the sessions wouldn’t have to be public.

The two full boards held public joint meetings in March and April but could not reach agreement.

The arguments are happening not only between the two boards, but among them.

CMS board Chair Mary McCray said last week that Matthews Mayor Bill Brawley had texted her to say a straw poll showed six of the seven board members in favor of keeping HB 514 alive. The final 4-3 vote came after several Matthews residents voiced concerns Monday about the effect on taxes, CMS schools and racial diversity, WBTV reported.

Meanwhile, school board member Sean Strain, who represents the district that includes Matthews, said Monday that he was not given a chance to review or approve the statement that went out on behalf of the CMS board. Strain, who was elected in November, says he’s neutral on HB 514 but believes the CMS statement exaggerates its impact on district schools.

“I don’t see it as that kind of a threat. I work in the business world and if you don’t do your job somebody else will do it for you,” Strain said Monday. By declining to even give him a heads-up on the message, Strain said, his colleagues left him unable to explain the CMS position. “I couldn’t answer my constituents’ questions that I received on the soccer field over the weekend,” he said.

The CMS board will discuss the effects of HB 514 at Tuesday night’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. and is streamed live.

Less than 48 hours later, the CMS board has a breakfast meeting scheduled with members of the local legislative delegation, which could lead to another lively debate over the bill. Brawley has not returned the Observer’s call seeking comment on the latest developments.

The breakfast meeting is at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 527 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. It is open to the public, but there will be no public comment period.

Education, News

North Carolina teacher pay ranking to climb two spots in 2018, but still lags national average

North Carolina teacher pay is projected to climb two spots in the national rankings this year, although it should remain in the bottom third of the country, according to a national benchmark released Monday.

The nonpartisan National Education Association estimated the state’s educator pay would inch from 39th to 37th nationally, although it’s worth noting that the report’s estimates can be adjusted. Indeed, North Carolina was projected to be ranked 35th last year, although the new report says the state actually placed at 39th.

North Carolina’s average teacher salary, an estimated $50,861, would still lag the national average, which is projected to surpass $60,000 in 2018.

However, when adjusted for inflation, Monday’s report estimated North Carolina teacher pay fell more than 9 percent from 2009 through 2018. During that same time period, the national average slipped by about 4 percent.

Meanwhile, on another key measure, per-pupil spending in North Carolina is projected to rank 39th in the country in 2018. That’s the same ranking the state held in 2017 spending, according to Monday’s report, although that’s an increase from the 43rd position that last year’s NEA report estimated the state would hold in 2017.

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Still, North Carolina’s per-pupil expenditure, an estimated $9,528 this year, will also trail the national average, which is just less than $12,000.

“I am glad to see that we are moving up in the rankings, but know that we still have a long way to go and are committed to further teacher pay raises,” Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who co-chairs the House education appropriations committee, told Policy Watch Monday.

The N.C Association of Educators, which lobbies for teachers at the state legislature, issued a statement Monday morning slamming lawmakers for the news.

NCAE President Mark Jewell

“Our students deserve public schools that have the resources they need to be successful and educators who are respected like the professionals they are,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “Instead of prioritizing corporate boardrooms, our elected leaders should be making critical investments in our classrooms.”

Jewell is likely referring to a series of corporate and personal income tax cuts handed down by the state legislature since 2013. At a time when K-12 advocates say leaders should be beefing up public education spending following massive recession-era cuts, the tax cuts cost the state more than $3 billion in state revenues annually.

With teachers protesting this year in states like Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma, education spending has been on the front-burner in 2018.

One key measure in the report noted the national average on spending for schools’ operational expenses is down about a half-percentage point since 2009 when adjusted for inflation, although adjusted spending on school construction and maintenance has plunged by about 15 percent during that time.

State officials estimated North Carolina faces more than $8 billion in infrastructure needs of its own. And while the state’s local governments have historically been charged with funding capital needs, North Carolina lawmakers are under pressure to take up a $1.9 billion statewide school bond referendum this year.

North Carolina teachers aren’t likely to launch the kind of prolonged protests reported in other states this year, but educators are planning a May 16 rally in Raleigh to urge state lawmakers to spend more on schools. The NCAE is timing the rally with legislators’ planned return to session.

A spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, fired a shot at the Republican-controlled General Assembly after the report’s release Monday.

“If the legislature would adopt Governor Cooper’s teacher pay proposals, then North Carolina could get to at least the national average a lot faster,” said Cooper spokesman Ford Porter. “We cannot accept this ranking because teachers must have professional pay, and students must have well qualified teachers.”

Education, News

Students, legislators to talk gun reforms in “reverse town hall” Sunday

North Carolina students and lawmakers will tackle gun violence and possible reforms this weekend in Chapel Hill.

The event, a “reverse town hall,” will allow four state legislators—two Republicans and two Democrats—to ask questions Sunday of a panel of high school and college students, according to organizers at the UNC Institute of Politics, a nonpartisan, student-led program.

The panel is set to include high schoolers from Raleigh and Johnston County, as well as college students statewide representing groups like the UNC Young Democrats, College Republicans, Tar Heel Pistol and Rifle Club and the UNC Black Student Movement.

They’ll be questioned by Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford; Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston; Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake.

Torbett and Faircloth are co-chair and vice chair, respectively, of a select committee assembled by House Speaker Tim Moore this year to address school safety after a shooting at a Florida high school left 17 dead in February.

The shooting prompted an avalanche of activism from students nationwide, including students in North Carolina.

Rep. Cynthia Ball, D-Wake

“I am honored to be involved with IOP’s Reverse Town Hall on Gun Violence and to have the opportunity to ask questions of students from across North Carolina, listening to their insights and concerns about the issue of gun violence,” Ball said in a statement. “It is time to work together on bipartisan solutions to ensure student safety and address the issue of gun violence more broadly.”

Meanwhile, Faircloth said the issue is “very important” to him.

“We are committed to examining data and hearing input from all viewpoints, and that includes North Carolina’s students as that is the constituency we serve and protect,” Faircloth said in a statement.

Sunday’s town hall is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Stone Center on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

School safety has remained very much in the headlines since this year’s Florida high school shooting, owing in large part to organized, youth advocacy organizations.

Indeed, Gov. Roy Cooper announced plans Thursday to set aside $130 million in his pending budget proposal this year to finance school safety upgrades and more support personnel like counselors, psychologists, nurses and school resource officers.

Of course, the Democratic governor’s proposal would have to be vetted and approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly before the spending increases could take effect.

Education, News

Report: Will General Assembly fix principal pay plan?

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke

Today’s North Carolina education must-read comes from the Public School Forum of N.C., a policy and research group in Raleigh.

And its subject—principal pay and the apparent shortcomings in a recent state-led overhaul—should be of interest as legislators prepare to return to session in Raleigh next month.

According to the report’s author, Lindsay Wagner, hundreds of principals could face pay cuts in July without action from the legislature [Disclosure: Wagner is a former Policy Watch reporter].

From the Public School Forum:

It’s been a year and a half since a legislative committee heard testimony from education and business stakeholders about innovative ways to bring North Carolina principal pay up from its abysmal rank of 50th in the nation.

Since then, the General Assembly has enacted a new compensation model for public school principals that its proponents say is a huge improvement, offering substantial increases in pay that began last fall.

However, several experienced principals, superintendents and lawmakers say the new plan results in steep losses in pay for many veteran principals – a concern that’s been addressed with a hold harmless provision that prevented drops in pay this year, but is set to expire before the start of the next academic year.

And some say that the plan’s heavy reliance on schools’ academic growth scores is a disincentive for talented leaders to take on the daunting task of turning around chronically low-performing schools—a consequence that runs counter to the recommendations from advocates that pitched ideas to lawmakers back in 2016.

  •  

“You don’t take a principal who has been successful with students in one school, ask him or her to go to a lower performing, troubled school with the idea of turning it around, and then say ‘and by the way, if you agree to take this on, you could end up taking a pay cut if you don’t make it work in a time frame that we would like to have it work in,’” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), a former member of the Burke County school board and a member of the House education committee in an interview with the Public School Forum.

Rep. Blackwell, who voted for the new plan that was inserted into the state’s budget bill last year, says he’d like to see some key changes made to how principals are now paid during the upcoming legislative session. Those changes include extending the hold harmless provision and making tweaks to other aspects of the plan that go to the heart of its philosophy on how to pay principals—but he’s not optimistic those changes will come.

“I think we should do something, but my efforts to persuade others have thus far fallen on deaf ears,” said Blackwell. Alluding to past impasses between the House and Senate when it comes to education budgets, Blackwell said, “the House and the Senate have to both agree on some things.”

When lawmakers meet in May, the number one thing that will be up for consideration when it comes to principal pay will be extending the hold harmless provision. If not, there are very strong indications that veteran principals will retire en masse come the start of the new school year.

Rep. Blackwell says that he’s seen estimates that as many as 356 principals could see pay cuts beginning July 1—roughly 15 percent of the workforce. He says extending the hold harmless provision is critical along with eliminating disincentives for turning around struggling schools and adding more funds to the base salaries for principals, because what’s there is only a start.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey is urging lawmakers to extend the hold harmless provision. In a letter to the General Assembly last October, Cobey said:

“In a time when the talent pipeline for teachers and school administrators cannot keep up with the demand, and when some of our highly talented principals stand to lose an average of over $8,000 in pay, we respectfully request that you extend the “hold harmless” provision for all principals through fiscal year 2018-19,” wrote Cobey.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, someone who has frequently been at odds with members of the State Board of Education, agrees with Cobey on the matter of extending the hold harmless provision.

“After conversations with lawmakers and principals, I am supportive of an extension of the hold-harmless provision to give school systems and principals more time to adjust to this new pay scale.

But Rep. Blackwell is not optimistic at this point that the House and Senate will find common ground on this matter. And neither is Buddy Collins.

“I’m discouraged by what I perceive is the unwillingness to look at the problems with this plan and work harder to get a solution,” said Collins.

Education, News

Report: Matthews leaders say municipal charter bill gives them leverage

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, filed a controversial bill last year to clear municipal charters.

Leaders in the Charlotte suburb of Matthews say a pending municipal charter bill in the N.C. General Assembly gives them leverage in their ongoing bickering with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), according to a Charlotte Observer report Wednesday.

Policy Watch reported last month on the brewing battle over schools near North Carolina’s largest city, with leaders in Matthews at times pushing for assurances that the district won’t force busing to ameliorate segregation concerns.

Meanwhile, calls for Matthews to splinter off from CMS to form their own district have been met with stiff warnings that they would be creating a racially isolated school district. The suburban town is predominantly white.

Charlotte leaders seem highly unlikely to approve any large-scale busing in the coming years, but there remains obvious tension between Matthews officials and CMS officials, even after a state study committee approved a report this month with no clear directive for dividing school districts.

Much of that tension centers today around House Bill 514, a measure that would allow Matthews and nearby Mint Hill to form their own publicly-funded charters apart from CMS.

It’s a proposal with potentially enormous, precedent-setting implications for North Carolina school districts.

From The Charlotte Observer:

The prospect of towns launching their own charter schools has altered the balance of power in Mecklenburg County’s public education scene, as a Tuesday night meeting between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the town of Matthews illustrates.

The joint meeting — the second such session inspired by a controversial municipal charter school bill — ended with an unusual two-day deadline.

The school board wants town officials to decide by Thursday evening whether they’ll pull the plug on House Bill 514, which would authorize Matthews to create its own independent public schools. In return, CMS would enter a three-month joint study with town leaders about ways to address their concerns, which include school crowding and the fear of massive busing.

Most members of the Matthews Board of Commissioners said they want to work with CMS. But some say that without what one commissioner called “a safety valve,” the south suburban town has little leverage with the countywide district.

“If not House Bill 514, what would have brought us to this table?” asked Matthews Commissioner Christopher Melton.

School board members say the bill, introduced by state Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews, could upend public education across North Carolina, similar to the way the lifting of the state’s charter school cap

CMS leaders say Brawley’s local bill, which has passed the House and could go to the Senate when the General Assembly convenes in May, creates the opportunity for suburbs to carve off their own public schools, weakening the countywide systems that serve larger numbers of black, Hispanic and low-income students. The bill affects only Matthews and nearby Mint Hill, but they say it would set a precedent.

But some town commissioners said asking Brawley to kill the charter bill would not only reduce the town’s leverage with CMS but with county commissioners. “I think that the House bill is our strongest negotiating tool,” said Jeff Miller.

During a break in the joint meeting, the six CMS board members who attended huddled with Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and other district staff. They came back and proposed a joint task force with a three-month deadline for bringing back solutions to the town’s concerns — contingent on the town withdrawing support for HB 514.

“I think it is the slippery slope that begins to separate our school system into a have and have-not system,” Ellis-Stewart said.