Higher Ed

Texas selects Milliken to lead university system

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to include comment from a UNC system spokesman.

James Milliken

On Saturday, the University of Texas System named James Milliken, the former chancellor for City University of New York, as the sole choice to lead their system.

“We are honored to announce Mr. Milliken as our sole finalist for this critical leadership role,” Regents’ Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said. “His experiences in higher education leadership are deep and broad, and he has very effectively guided university systems that have many of the characteristics and strategic aspirations embedded throughout UT’s academic and health institutions. Moreover, he has enjoyed strong support from elected officials, students, and campus leaders in his previous posts, all of whom described him as someone they could count on in times of great opportunity and challenges.”

Under Texas state law, the university governing boards must name finalists for chancellor at least 21 days before making the appointment final.

The Austin American-Statesman reported last week that UNC System President Margaret Spellings’ name was floated for consideration.

On Sunday, Josh Ellis, Associate Vice President for Media Relations for the UNC system, denied reports that Spellings was ever a candidate for the position in Texas.

Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil and President Trump’s one-time Secretary of State, was another name on UT’s short list, according to published reports.

Spellings, became president of the UNC system in March of 2016, and has been focused in recent months on data modernization and talent retention among faculty and staff of the 17 campus UNC system.

Courts & the Law, Education, News

North Carolina legislators say school boards should not have sued over state’s $730 million debt

State Rep. Nelson Dollar says local school boards should not have sued state agencies over a $730 million debt to schools.

Top lawmakers in the General Assembly say the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) and 20 local boards of education should not have sued in their latest attempt to collect on a $730 million debt to schools, WRAL reported.

The response from legislators came shortly after school board leaders announced this week that they would sue to extend a 2008 Superior Court judgement that ordered state agencies to repay civil penalty funds that should have been diverted to K-12 technology.

The judge said agencies like the Department of Transportation, Department of Revenue and UNC kept that money for other purposes from 1996 to 2005, in violation of their constitutional obligation.

Officials with the NCSBA say they unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate repayment appropriated by lawmakers over the last decade.

From WRAL:

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the House’s senior budget writer, said he expects lawmakers will look for a way to begin paying back the judgment in next year’s legislative session. But he said filing another lawsuit wasn’t the best way to resolve the issue.

“I don’t believe that that was a very good use of their time and energy or a good use of the time and energy of the General Assembly,” Dollar said.

“We had no choice,” Bruce Mildwurf, a spokesman for the School Boards Association, said in an email, citing the expiration of the 2008 judgment next week.

Mildwurf said the association has worked with lawmakers for several years to address the debt, but legislation never passed.

Leanne Winner, the group’s director of governmental relations, sent a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger in March, advising that the association would go back to court and asking for a settlement discussion. There was no response to the letter.

“As they well know, just sending one letter is not the way you really go about it,” Dollar said. “That’s usually an opening, and then you start coming to the members who work on education appropriations and these issues and sit down and have the dialogue on that, you know, as opposed to rushing off to court.”

Dollar said the School Boards Association didn’t approach him about money owed, and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said the group didn’t mention it to him, either.

“I will say that, in 10 years, I’ve never spoken to the School Boards Association about this issue. So, it is not something that’s been on the front burner,” said Jackson, D-Wake.

Still, he said, the constitution is clear that money from fines and forfeitures goes to public schools, and the state owes the districts the money.

“It’s certainly a large enough number. It’s something that we should take seriously and talk about, and it would be, I think, a good idea to do that in the interim so that we can come back in January with a plan,” Jackson said.

Read more

Education, News

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey to step down from the board

State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey will step down from the board after his final meeting as chair in September, Cobey confirmed for Policy Watch Thursday afternoon.

The news was reported on Twitter by Triangle reporters like The News & Observer‘s Keung Hui and confirmed in a text to Policy Watch.

Cobey said last month that he would not be seeking another term as board chair following the September meeting. He declined to say then whether he would be stepping down altogether.

The board chair submitted his letter of resignation Wednesday to Gov. Roy Cooper.

From the letter:

This letter is to inform you that I am resigning from the North Carolina State Board of Education at the conclusion of the Thursday, September 6 board meeting. The Board will be electing a new chairman at that meeting.

It has been an honor to serve with such an outstanding group of board members who have faithfully made their first priority the interest of our public school children. I will miss serving with them.

His resignation comes after more than a few breaks with GOP leadership in the N.C. General Assembly for Cobey, a former Congressman and chair of the state’s Republican Party.

Cobey has also clashed with Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, taking lawmakers and Johnson to court after a 2016 vote to grant more powers to the conservative superintendent.

Former state superintendent June Atkinson responded to the news on Twitter Thursday afternoon.

Cooper will be tasked with finding a replacement for Cobey, whose term on the board was set to expire next March.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.   

Courts & the Law, Education, News

A decade after key court ruling, N.C. public school districts say they’re owed millions by the state

Nearly a decade after a Superior Court judge found that state agencies owed public school districts almost $750 million, local and state school leaders say they will file a new legal complaint against North Carolina Wednesday.

In that new complaint, which will be filed in Wake County Superior Court, the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) and “many school districts” say they will argue that the state legislature and state agencies have yet to meet their obligations under that ruling.

“The plaintiffs are seeking a win/win and remain willing and eager to work with the legislature and defendants to reach a mutually beneficial resolution,” the NCSBA said in a statement.

School districts say state agencies have held onto millions in civil penalty funds that they were constitutionally obligated to spend on public school technology.

In 2008, Superior Court Judge Howard—a now retired judge who also played a leading role in the state’s landmark Leandro ruling over public school funding—agreed with local school district leaders, noting funds that should have been doled out to districts by state agencies like the Department of Revenue, the Department of Transportation and the UNC campuses.

From the NCSBA’s statement:

The NC Supreme Court ruled that the State Constitution entitles the public schools to civil penalties collected by various state agencies. The NC legislature declared in 1997 that those funds should be used exclusively for technology.

The courts determined that civil penalties collected by state agencies between 1996 and 2005 were diverted to other purposes in violation of the Constitution. A 2008 Judgment against the defendants totaled nearly $750M. The court noted at the time that “the ultimate responsibility for the satisfaction of this judgment will depend on the manner in which the General Assembly discharges its constitutional duties.”

Fast forward to 2018 – The legislature and defendants have still not fulfilled their constitutional obligation to provide funding to make up for the vast majority of funds that were diverted.

NCSBA leaders will reveal more details about the complaint at a press conference Wednesday morning, scheduled for 10 a.m. at George Watts Elementary in Durham.

Education, News

Complaint claims Wake County schools violates rights of students with mental health disabilities

A new complaint with the state’s K-12 leaders claims North Carolina’s largest public school system “routinely violates the rights” of students with mental health disabilities.

Attorneys with Advocates for Children’s Services, a Legal Aid of N.C. project, filed the complaint regarding Wake County schools with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Tuesday, noting it was their fourth complaint against the school district since 2009.

“It’s time to turn the tide for students with mental health disabilities in Wake County schools,” Advocates for Children’s Services attorney Cari Carson said in a statement Wednesday.

Advocates for Children’s Services cited seven unnamed students in the complaint, alleging that each experienced “significant violations” of their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which sets national K-12 standards for the schooling of students with disabilities.

“However, these seven—by illustrating the system’s patterns and practices—represent hundreds of others treated the same way,” Advocates for Children’s Services said in their statement.

The district operates more than 180 schools serving about 160,000 students.

Wake County Public School System spokesman Tim Simmons said the district received the complaint Wednesday and is in the process of reviewing it. However, Simmons said student privacy laws forbid school officials from commenting on specific cases.

“That said, we are committed to providing all students with the best services possible and constantly strive to improve our practices,” Simmons said.

The nonprofit project advocates for low-income children in North Carolina schools by working to address the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline,” a system of school punishments and suspensions that advocates link to increased school dropouts and higher incarceration rates.

Advocates for Children’s Services say state investigators reported multiple failures in the Wake school system based on previous complaints (see pages 3-5 of this 2012 Advocates for Children’s Services complaint).

Bill Hussey, director of DPI’s Exceptional Children Division, could not be reached for comment on the latest complaint.

Read more