NC NAACP makes history, elects first woman president

Deborah Dicks Maxwell

Deborah Dicks Maxwell has been elected president of the North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP.  Maxwell is the first woman elected to the position. Her tenure begins immediately.

The Wilmington resident is president of New Hanover County NAACP and district director of Walter B. White District 16. She has served as branch president and district director for the last 10 and eight years respectively.

“I didn’t run to be the first woman,” Maxwell told Policy Watch on Tuesday. “I ran on my capabilities to strengthen the North Carolina NAACP. There’s always room for improvement.”

Maxwell replaces Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, who was elected to lead the civil rights organization in 2017. She received 54% of the 186 votes cast by state delegates compared to 34% for Spearman. Gemale Black, president of the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP, received 11% of the votes.

Spearman replaced Rev. William Barber after Barber decided not to seek a seventh term as president to focus on his work with Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization that works to highlight disparities in wages, housing, health care, education.

Maxwell said the state NAACP will focus on voter registration and voter turnout in upcoming elections. The NAACP is a non-partisan organization and does not endorse candidates for political office at any level.

Strengthening the state structure of the NAACP and increasing the number of branches on college and university campuses will also be focus areas under her leadership, Maxwell said.

Maxwell noted that there has been a call for more Student Resources Officers (SROs) due to recent school shootings in New Hanover and Forsyth counties.

“In New Hanover County, they are using the shooting to validate putting more SROs in schools, but we need more school social workers, psychologists and nurses in our schools, especially in these COVID times,” Maxwell said.

The NC NAACP will closely follow the Leandro case, the state landmark school funding case in the weeks ahead, Maxwell said.

“It’s sad that this has gone on for so long,” Maxwell said. “There’s a need to just go ahead [and adequately fund the state’s public schools]. The state has money.”

The Leandro case began more than a quarter-century ago after five rural school districts in low-wealth counties sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue needed to provide students with a quality education.

In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.

Superior Court Judge David Lee, the judge overseeing the case, has given the plaintiffs in the case until Nov. 8 to come up with a strategy to move forward if the state doesn’t produce a plan to pay for the $5.2 billion Leandro Comprehensive Remedial Plan. The plan calls for $1.7 billion in new education spending over the next two years.

Maxwell served in the US Army and US Army Reserves, reaching the rank of Sergeant First Class. She participated in Operation Desert Storm.

The retired public health social worker is currently working on vaccine equity with Healthier Together: Health Equity Action Network, a public-private partnership between the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Counts Coalition to increase the number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color receiving COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina.

In 2020 Maxwell was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

Along with Maxwell, two other women were elected to the three highest offices of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP.  Carolyn Q. Coleman, secretary to the NAACP National Board of Directors, from Greensboro, was re-elected as 1st Vice President; Carolyn P. McDougal, immediate past president, Harnett County NAACP was re-elected as 2nd vice president.

Other officers elected Saturday include Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank NAACP, who was re-elected 3rd vice president; Courtney Patterson, was re-elected 4th vice president; Sylvia Barnes, president of the Goldsboro-Wayne NAACP, was re-elected secretary; Gerald D. Givens, Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, was elected  treasurer and Robert Cunningham was re-elected assistant treasurer.

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty push back against repeated library cuts

Faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill are pushing back against $5 million in budget cuts to its libraries over the next two years — and questioning why they weren’t part of that decision making.

In an October 15 letter to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and other top administrators, more than 45 faculty members said the cuts “will be devastating to the research mission of UNC, into the future and in unknowable ways.”

The decision to once again cut library budgets is “particularly bewildering” given the emphasis on research in the school’s strategic plan, the faculty members wrote in the letter.

“A well-sourced library is critical to our mission of scholarship and research and grant development, and is vital for maintaining competitive graduate programs,” they wrote. “It is also essential in attracting faculty and graduate students and retaining faculty. The library is the bedrock of our reputation and status as a top-tier research university. Investment in the library is essential. Such investment should be recognized as one of the university’s necessary operational costs, including in a climate where the library’s operating costs increase at a rate of upwards of $1 million per year on inflation alone. “

Cuts to libraries at the UNC System’s flagship campus are nothing new, the faculty members wrote. But the ongoing trend is disturbing and poses a serious threat to the university’s mission, they said.

Instead of being supported and expanded, for a decade or more the UNC Libraries have been subject to contraction, taking budget cuts every year on the order of 1-3%. University Librarian Sarah Michalak’s 2012 report noted that ‘As state allocations to the University dropped, the Library budget was cut by nearly $4 million over three years.’ Reductions in service of this type have the insidious effect of making the libraries meaningfully less relevant to the work of the university, and, as such, an attractive target for future cuts. In business school, one studies this vicious cycle in the context of businesses that make up for revenue declines by cutting things like quality or advertising, which further reduces revenue, leading to more cuts, and so on. The for-profit world has an apt name for this: the death spiral.”

So far, faculty members say, they’ve gotten no response to their letter. That’s disappointing, they say, but indicative of a lack of shared governance and decision making at many UNC system schools.

“I think we’re disappointed not to be consulted at all on that question of priorities before they’re already telling us about cuts and this first round of cuts is being instituted ,” said Emily Baragwanath, an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Classics. “There was no consultation at all and to my mind the faculty, we’re this untapped resource that could be being deployed to find creative solutions, make arguments that will help raise the money we need. Because we’re absolutely united in our conviction that the libraries are the key to it all, it’s absolutely crucial.”

A lot of funds are now being poured into peripheral, research-related endeavors like maker spaces and creativity hubs, Baragwanath said.

“It’s not that we’re ignorant or not interested in the financial difficulties the university might be dealing with,” she said. “There’s a sense that the priorities might be wrong.”

The planned cuts to the collections budget will mean less access to papers and journals essential to the research of faculty and students across disciplines, said Elizabeth Havice, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Geography. A plan to make up for that access with inter-library loans won’t do, Havice said.

“Access to these journals and this research is absolutely essential to our research mission,” Havice said. “These cuts are sending a really clear message that the university isn’t going to support us in that mission.”

The university is now making operating budget cuts of 7.5 percent across the board in an attempt to rein in a budget that hasn’t been balanced in more than a decade. But with schools across the nation having a record year in endowment performance, North Carolina’s $6.5 billion state tax surplus and Chapel Hill’s record-breaking $1 billion in federal research grant dollars, Havice said it’s difficult for faculty to understand why repeated cuts to essential academic resources seem always to be the go-to move a budget crunch. It’s not something school administrators seem eager to explain to faculty and students either, Havice said.

“These top-down decisions about things that affect us most are really demoralizing,” Havice said

Read the full letter from UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members below.

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Crunch time in Raleigh with money, schools, and power all on the table

Here in the last week of October, almost four months after a new state budget was supposed to have been in place and with multiple plot-lines coming to a head, North Carolina’s government is like a somewhat rickety aircraft stressed to the limits amid a thunderstorm.

Not only that, but there’s fighting in the cockpit!

  • Republican chiefs in the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper seem to be in the final stages of negotiating a budget that Cooper – for a change – won’t feel obliged to veto.
  • Figuring in the talks has been a possible broadening of the state’s Medicaid program, as the governor to his credit long has sought and his legislative foes long have resisted. From Cooper’s standpoint, simply getting to the point of considering Medicaid expansion that would improve health care access for many thousands of low-income citizens has to represent progress, compared to legislators’ flat-out refusals in recent years.
  • In tandem with the budget dispute is the latest chapter in the state’s long struggle over funding for public schools – in particular, those schools serving high proportions of economically challenged families and communities.
  • A judge who oversees the state’s response to a court ruling that aimed to bolster    schools in high-poverty districts is threatening to force the legislature’s hand if it doesn’t include more public education funds in the pending budget deal.
  • Legislators already accuse Superior Court Judge David Lee of overstepping his authority, so we could be on the brink of a massive collision between branches of government. What’s at stake is nothing less than the ability of many thousands of students to get the “sound basic” education to which the state Supreme Court has said they’re constitutionally entitled.
  • As if the turbulence over the budget and its school finance provisions weren’t serious enough, the legislature is moving toward decisions that could profoundly affect the make-up of the state’s congressional delegation and the General Assembly itself for years to come. As required so that every vote carries more or less equal weight, new congressional and legislative voting districts are being drawn in accord with population growth and shifts revealed by the 2020 census.
  • Here’s the question: Will Republicans seeking to shape districts in their candidates’ favor resort to the kind of gerrymandering that courts repeatedly have found to be unconstitutional in discriminating against African-American voters and in some instances against voters who happen to be Democrats? Voting rights advocates, including groups such as the N.C. Council of Churches, hope to see the process end with all voters given a fair chance to influence the choice of their elected leaders and thus the policies that have an inside track toward adoption.

Budget conflicts

Gov. Cooper in 2019 vetoed the legislature’s last stab at passing a budget according to the usual two-year schedule, and his Democratic allies in the state House and Senate joined in sufficient numbers to block Republican attempts at a veto override.

The deal-breakers for the governor boiled down to low-ball expenditures for public schools, including teacher pay; tax cuts that continued to hamper the state’s ability to invest in a range of programs; and a refusal to expand Medicaid despite the anticipated health and economic benefits.

Since then, the pandemic has put North Carolina through a tragic stress test. Gaps between our affluent, metro-area counties and their rural, small-town counterparts – gaps in health care, job opportunities, school quality – have been magnified. A new openness to Medicaid expansion on the part of some Republican legislators – encouraged by GOP officials in several mountain counties hammered by the virus and loss of jobs – could be an understandable response.

But if expansion still doesn’t have enough support to be included in the budget that’s now in final talks, as it may well not, at least advocates could push for an agreement to have it fully considered as a stand-alone measure. There can be no credible objections to accepting a huge new infusion of federal Medicaid funds for which the state would qualify, or to improving health-care access for people who now typically can’t afford even the routine care that many among us take for granted.

Fairer for teachers? Read more

COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11 could be ready as soon as next week

“An absoluteness of lawsuits” if Republican gerrymandered maps are enacted, says Senate Democratic leader

Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue

Voter registration in North Carolina is divided roughly into thirds – a third Democrats, a third Republicans, and a third unaffiliated voters.

Donald Trump eked out a victory in North Carolina with 49.9% of the vote to President Joe Biden’s 48.6%.

So how did North Carolina Republicans senators come up with proposed new districts for congressional seats that would give Republicans 10 or 11 and Democrats 4 or 3?

State Senate Democrats said during a news conference Monday said the new district lines proposed so far are unfair.  There is “an absoluteness of lawsuits if the maps we’ve seen so far are enacted,” said Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh. Republicans would face wasting millions in legal expenses trying to defend these maps, he said.

Legislators are focused on redistricting this week. Public hearings are scheduled for today and Tuesday.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which uses math to grade redistricting proposals, gave four congressional maps proposed by Senate Republicans Fs for partisan fairness.

The congressional maps Republicans propose disperse the populations of Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford counties among at least three districts. One of the proposals splits Mecklenburg among four districts.

Wake and Mecklenburg have too many people to make self-contained districts, so it’s necessary to divide their populations between at least two.

But the multiple splits of Democratic-leaning urban districts “show a clear intent to gerrymander, said Sen. Ben Clark, a Democrat who represents Cumberland and Hoke counties. “There’s no need to do that if you intend to establish fair plans.”

Republicans said new district maps should be drawn without considering partisan or racial data.

Blue suggested that mapmakers didn’t need to use partisan data because voting patterns are established.

“Do I need to look at partisan data to determine how you go in and split up Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties to throw an advantage one way or the another?” Blue said. “You have significant portions of those counties with areas that have already been proven to be Republican-leaning.”

When the legislature debated redistricting guidelines, Senate Democrats pushed for a study of racially polarized voting in the state. Republicans said they would not do one.

A proposed Republican-drawn map of state Senate districts does not include two Voting Rights Act districts in eastern North Carolina, Blue said. Districts in North Carolina drawn in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act give Black voters the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.  The lack of Voting Rights Act districts in proposed legislative maps would run afoul of a court ruling that says those districts should be drawn first, Blue said.

“You have to look at the data and you have to study what the voting patterns are before you can make that decision,” he said. “In at least two eastern North Carolina districts, you still have to make that analysis, and they have not done it and they’ve indicated they’re not going to do it.”