agriculture, NC Budget and Tax Center

Schools are concerned over shutdown’s impact on meal programs

Amid the longest government shutdown in United States history, many school systems are concerned with their ability to receive reimbursements for their free and reduced priced meal programs. North Carolina’s school nutrition programs are a critical tool in the fight to end childhood hunger for students across the state, serving more than one million students breakfast or lunch at school each day.

In Vance County, school officials continue to serve breakfast and lunch, but have taken steps to prepare for the long-term impacts by restricting the portions of food students are receiving. According to a letter written by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) has secured additional funding which “can support program operations at normal levels well into March.”

At the moment, there is no reason for school districts to take the drastic step of stopping or changing students’ food and meals. There are also other methods school districts can utilize to fund meals if the government does not open in time, such as the state’s ability to draw on their reserves or rainy day funds.The NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) plans to keep school officials informed as the shutdown continues.

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Environment

More than 1,200 new miles of NC rivers, streams proposed for impaired waters list


The draft impaired waters list is open for public comment through tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 18. Comments can be emailed to TMDL303dComments@ncdenr.gov.

North Carolina has more miles of impaired waters than two years ago, with the White Oak, Neuse and Cape Fear River basins in the eastern part of the state facing significant water quality problems.

Nearly 1,250 new miles of rivers — the distance between Raleigh and Dallas — could be classified as impaired in North Carolina, according to the state’s draft impaired waters list, a net increase of nearly a third since the previous document was released in 2017. There are 37,853 miles of rivers in North Carolina.

The net number of impaired acres, which includes lakes, reservoirs, shellfish growing areas, estuaries, and mouths of rivers that enter those waterbodies, decreased by more than a third, from 570,293 acres to 367,383.

Impaired waters, then and now

Miles of waterbodies on current impaired waters list: 2,619Acres of waterbodies on current impaired waters list: 570,293
Miles to be added, draft list: 1,248Acres to be added, draft list: 65,162
Miles to be delisted, draft: 420Acres to be delisted, draft: 268,072
Net total, listed miles: 3,447Net total, listed acres: 367,383
Net increase, miles: 828Net decrease, acres: 202,910

The impaired waters list is also known as a 303 (d) list, required under the Clean Water Act. The list is issued every two years by the NC Department of Environmental Quality, but must be approved by the EPA.  The 303(d) list can include entire waterbody, such as Lake Mattamuskeet, which contains higher than permitted levels of chlorophyl a, a measurement of algae. More often, segments of waterbodies are listed as deficient. For example, in the western part of the state, 29 miles of the Rocky River, from the mouth of Island Creek to the Pee Dee River, is proposed for the list because of exceedances of dissolved copper.

If a waterbody is listed, state environmental regulators are required to develop and implement a plan to limit the pollutants to meet water quality standards. This is known as a TMDL, or total maximum daily load. Impairments and the TMDL are based on the designated uses for the water, such as drinking, food processing, fishing, recreation and shellfish harvesting.

The impairments are also based on certain parameters, including chemical contaminants like copper, nickel, PCBs, and mercury that are discharged or emitted by industrial sources. Other parameters are nitrogen, phosphorus, and fecal coliform — a type of harmful bacteria — that can indicate agricultural runoff. Low levels of dissolved oxygen, high acidity, warmer than acceptable water temperatures, turbidity — or cloudiness — can harm aquatic life.

Number of waterbody segments on the draft 303(d) list, per river basin: Broad, Chowan, Cape Fear, Catawba, French Broad, Hiwassee, Lumber, Little Tennessee, Neuse, New, Pasquotank, Roanoke, Tar-Pamlico, Watauga, White Oak, Yadkin (Source: NC DEQ)

However, waterbodies that aren’t on the 303 (d) list still can be polluted. Sometimes there isn’t enough data to determine whether a river or lake should be listed. In other cases, regulators could argue that other methods besides establishing a TMDL could achieve similar water quality results over time.

Several waterbodies proposed for the new list lie within areas slated for public projects. In southern Wake County, a portion of Swift Creek that meets the backwaters is proposed for the list because water quality is inadequate to fully support fish habitats. Yet the Complete 540 toll road project could further degrade water quality in Swift Creek.

A segment of Little Troublesome Creek from the Reidsville wastewater treatment plan downstream about five miles, is also proposed for the list because of turbidity. The creek could be crossed by the MVP Southgate natural gas pipeline, depending on the routing and federal and state approval process.

Segments of Stocking Head Creek in Duplin County are also proposed for the list. As Policy Watch reported in December, monitoring of streams in the Stocking Head Creek watershed indicate high levels of pollution, possibly from the concentrated feeding operations — swine and poultry, in particular, in the area. Agricultural runoff is a primary source of pollution in eastern North Carolina, while industrial sources are more common near urban areas, including the Triangle, the Triad and Charlotte.

There are many waterbodies coming off the list, as well, but that doesn’t mean they are pristine. More than 1,400 aces of New Hope Creek, which includes an arm of Jordan Lake, are being delisted because the EPA has approved a TMDL, and it has been completed. A five-mile segment of Third Fork Creek, which lies in a heavily developed area in southern Durham County, is being delisted for copper because “available data is insufficient to determine attainment status.”

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors “flabbergasted” by resignation of UNC Chancellor

When UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her resignation earlier this week, it came as a surprise to most of the UNC community.

That included her bosses on the UNC Board of Governors, according to board member Marty Kotis.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis

“We didn’t have a conversation or even get notice or a copy of her letter before it was posted publicly,” Kotis said in an interview Thursday. “I’m flabbergasted why she would do it that way – I think most of us were.”

The abrupt resignation came after prolonged tension with the board of governors over the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters last year. Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees made it clear they would prefer the statue not return to campus, but the board of governors have insisted  a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues mandates its return.

Though Folt denies that conflict led directly to her resignation, she joined the two issues in her resignation letter. In her announcement, she let the public – and the board of governors – know that she had ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. Board members said Folt was overstepping her duties as a  a task force of board members had been established to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

“We have a process and a governance structure,” Kotis said. “That’s my frustration right now – that people don’t seem to want to take the time to go through the governance structure.”

In her resignation announcement, Folt said she made the decision because “the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility” – a seeming jab at a board and process that insisted she substitute her judgement for their own.

Folt’s resignation comes just after UNC President Margaret Spellings announced her own in October. Spellings has also repeatedly butted heads with the board, which she has criticized as micro-managing and attempting to assume responsibilities and make decisions that should have been hers.

A group of 20 former members of the UNC Board of Trustees signed on to a letter this week placing the blame for Folt’s exit squarely on the board of trustees and saying they monument issue was emblematic of a larger problem.

“[D]uring her tenure, increasing pressure from Raleigh and the Board of Governors has put politics ahead of the best interests of education, research and patient care,” the letter read. “Silent Sam came to embody it all.”

Whatever Spellings’ differences with the board, Kotis said, she did come to them and talk about her resignation before announcing it publicly – making as amicable a split as could be managed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone publicly submit a resignation before talking to their bosses about it, until now,” Kotis said.

The board accepted Folt’s resignation the day after it was offered – but decided not to let her serve out the rest of the semester, as she had wished. Instead, she will leave at the end of the January.

“I think she made a point about there needing to be a change and a healing that begins,” Kotis said. “And we thought that it was best to go ahead and bring in an interim to begin that healing. You’re not going to choose a new chancellor right away anyway – whether she leaves at the end of this month or in May. The process doesn’t move that fast.”

The board authorized acting UNC President William Roper to appoint an interim chancellor as soon as he sees fit.

Kotis said he would like to see someone like UNC alum and former pharmaceutical executive Fred Eshelman, who pledged $100 million to the university in 2014, take the position.

“I’ve always said that we should be able to find someone from North Carolina for these positions,” Kotis said. “I think if they’re connected to North Carolina and to the university, they’re more likely to stay. And Fred has written some big checks – that’s not to say you buy your way into these things, but I think it shows a connection to the university and a commitment.”

Similarly, Kotis said, he thinks someone like Jim Goodnight – the billionaire software developer and N.C. State alum – would be a good president for the system.

“I would love to see someone with ties to the state, ties to the university and experience in the business world for these positions,” Kotis said. “That’s that kind of candidate I would choose, if I had a magic wand.”

Everyone will have to take Folt at her word that the Confederate statue controversy didn’t cause her resignation, Kotis said – but they certainly seemed connected.

“I can actually sympathize with her because I think Carol and Margaret were both blasted by people in this,” Kotis said. “Carol had that student interrupt her meeting with the faculty and get in her face and call her all sorts of things. I think we’re living in a culture where there’s so much polarization and where people feel like they can just be vicious.”

Folt dealt with criticisms from the political left and right.

Over her nearly six year tenure she faculty and students accused her of refusing to take a stand on important political and social issues facing the university – and for not standing up to a board of governors they said wanted to pull the university system to the political right.

At the same time, critics on the political right said she didn’t take a strong enough hand with faculty and students who engage in protests at which they were arrested, made incendiary public comments or politicize lectures and academic issues.

“I think what we’re struggling with now is first to try to create an environment where students are safe and then trying to get back to a place where we can have reasonable conversations about these issues,” Kotis said. “If I could solve that, I’d probably win a Nobel Prize.”

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member: Re-erect Silent Sam – and new statues

This week has seen a whirlwind of new controversy surrounding the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.

On Monday UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt abruptly resigned following UNC Board of Governors over whether the toppled monument would return to campus. Folt ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. This infuriated members of the board who voted for a task force of board members to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

On Tuesday the board held an emergency teleconference meeting during which they voted to accept Folt’s resignation, but decided to replace her with an interim chancellor by the end of the month rather than allow her to serve until the end of the semester as she had desired.

Most of the board – including those on the task force – aren’t going on record about the flap. But board of governors member Thom Goolsby has posted a video to YouTube condemning Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees over the removal of the statue’s base. Calling it a “calculated act of disregard for North Carolina law,” Goolsby suggested the statue should be re-erected on the campus with a structure around it to provide security. He also suggested erecting other statues, perhaps commemorating the 1898 white supremacist coup in his town of Wilmington referred to as “The Wilmington Race Riot” and minority women who were sterilized as part of a eugenics program.

Goolsby, a Republican, characterized both as atrocities committed by Democrats.

As historical experts have observed throughout the debate over Confederate monuments, modern conservatives regularly make such broadsides while ignoring the historical realignment of political parties in the United States. That realignment has led to members of what was the party of Lincoln fiercely defending Confederate statues erected in the Jim Crow era as part of a white supremacist movement.

Goolsby, a former state senator, is often an outlier even on the largely conservative board of governors, frequently at the center of controversies and butting heads with his fellow board members. He called for the immediate re-erecting of the statue in the wake of its toppling and was the only board member to vote against the recent task force to decide the statue’s future.

Last month a panel of independent security professionals concluded the statue’s return to campus is a security risk likely to attract violence and further damage to the statue. In a report to the board of governors, the panel suggested the safest solution would be to move the statue off campus – a position with which Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees agreed. Most members of the board of governors say a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues makes that impossible.

Goolsby ended his video by urging people to contact their state legislators and pledging to fight “until the rule of law is reestablished in North Carolina.”

Education

Federal shutdown prompts NC school district to provide only ‘minimum level’ lunches

Vance County Schools has announced that beginning Jan. 21, the school district will begin to provide students with “minimum level” school lunches to conserve funds in the wake of the federal government shutdown.

State nutrition officials say the directive to cut back on school lunches didn’t come from Raleigh.

“We have not advised LEAs [Local Education Authorities] in North Carolina to take measures to reduce their spending at this time, however, we respect that local school officials and boards of education must take the actions they believe to be in the best interest of their students, families and communities,” Lynn Harvey, section chief of school nutrition services with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said in a statement.

Vance County School administrators couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Here’s part of the message posted on the school district’s website:

Starting the week of January 21, minimum level means: one main dish, bread, two vegetables, one fruit and milk. No fresh produce will be included, except at elementary schools as part of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. This program will be decreased to two days each week. No bottled drinks (water and juice) will be available after the current inventory in stock is used. No ice cream will be available.

Harvey said she shared a memo from federal officials with school districts explaining that enough federal funding is available to support schools at normal levels “well into the month of March.”

The memo was signed by Cynthia Long, a deputy administrator of Child Nutrition Programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Long said the agency is aware of the concerns Food and Nutrition Services [FNS] customers have as a result of the government shutdown.

“To address such concerns, and ensure that programs can continue to operate without fear of disruption, FNS has provided State Agencies with additional available appropriated funding,” Long wrote.

Meanwhile, Harvey said North Carolina officials will continue to analyze data to determine possible options for LEAs if the government shutdown continues into February.

“We are communicating with school nutrition directors and other state and federal agencies, and we will be prepared to make recommendations during the first week of February,” Harvey said.