Environment

2019 warmest on record in North Carolina (and so far, 2020 is no slouch)

The average temperature in 2019 not only set a record as the warmest in North Carolina in more than 120 years years, but it blew that benchmark out of the water.

The statewide average temperature was 61.22 degrees, a full 2.7 degrees warmer than the average measured from 1901 to 2000, according to a blog post by state climatologist Kathie Dello and applied climatologist Corey Davis.

Last year North Carolina tied or broke 881 daily maximum temperature records, which was almost four times the number of broken or tied daily minimum records, the scientists reported.

May and September were among the top five warmest months, as was October. Remember October? Remember the sun searing your scalp at high noon? The Raleigh-Durham International Airport hit 100 degrees on Oct. 3, the first time the reporting station ever experienced its yearly high during that month, according to the National Weather Service..

So if it seems hotter to you, it’s not your imagination. In the past 30 years, North Carolina has recorded each of its five warmest years on record — 2019, 1990, 2017, 2016 and 1998 – along with 10 of its 30 warmest years.

None of those years were among North Carolina’s 30 coolest years on record.

The trees are shedding their blossoms in Nash Square in downtown Raleigh, Jan. 14, 2020. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

2020 has started with 14 consecutive days of above-average temperatures/ These are occurring  not only during the day, but at night as well. The low on Jan. 13 at RDU was 64. The average: 31 degrees.

Weather Underground, which provides historical data from the National Weather Service, shows that the daily average temperature –add the high and the low and divide by 2 — has been off the charts. Just yesterday, the daily average was 64.64 degrees. The historical “normal”: 41.

Dello and Davis delivered more bad news about our changing climate: In North Carolina, the climate is projected to warm anywhere from 4 to 10 degrees by the end of the century.

“Benchmarks like this record don’t just make for coffee-shop small talk; they’re the evidence in the case pointing to this global phenomenon hitting us here in our backyard. These numbers and records have actual consequences and translate into impacts – to our people and our livelihoods,” they wrote.

Education

State Superintendent Mark Johnson answers Department of Information Technology questions. He blames agency for emergency purchase.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson contends “inaction” by the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) forced him to make an “emergency purchase” for services from Istation to allow school districts to conduct mandatory mid-year reading assessments of the state’s K-3 students.

“Due to NCDIT’s actions (blocking the diagnostic and then inaction (taking more than five months, thus far, to conduct its review), there was no reading diagnostic in place and educators were justifiably demanding a solution,” Johnson said in response to DIT questions about the emergency purchase.

Johnson’s claims were made in response to a letter the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) received from DIT on Friday warning that Johnson may have violated state law by not getting DIT approval before making the purchase.

Patti Bowers, DIT’s chief procurement officer, also warned that Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette may exercise his authority to cancel or suspend the contract because Johnson did not receive approval to make the purchase.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

Johnson was given until 10 a.m., Tuesday to answer five questions about the emergency purchase worth more than $928,000.

Click here to see Johnson’s responses to DIT’s questions.

Johnson contends he had little choice in executing the emergency contract because the state’s Read to Achieve law requires that a diagnostic tool is in place to assess reading levels of K-3 students.

He also noted that mid-year assessments are underway and that more than 500,000 tests are scheduled to be given this month.

“If there is no reading diagnostic in place, then DPI, the State Board of Education, and our public schools will be in violation of state law and an entire class of students will be deprived of benchmark statistics used to guide decisions on how to better meet their needs,” Johnson said.

An administrative hearing on the merits of the controversial $8.3 million, three-year contract award to Istation is currently underway. The hearing is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, but it’s doubtful a decision will be made this week.

DIT Chief Counsel Jonathan Shaw is the presiding hearing officer. Boyette will make the final decision in the case.

Amplify, an Istation competitor whose mClass assessment tool had been used in North Carolina’s K-3 classrooms for several years, filed a protest over the summer contending the contract was unfairly awarded. In August, the DIT granted Amplify a temporary stay against the use of the Istation reading assessment tool.

Shaw upheld the stay in December, contending the “evidence and arguments of record” are sufficient to indicate that DPI failed to comply with state law and information technology procurement rules and “jeopardized the integrity and fairness of the procurement process.”

Johnson has claimed that the procurement process was tainted. He contends, among other things, that some committee members breached confidentiality and were biased in ways that tilted the evaluation in favor of Amplify and its mClass reading assessment tool previously used by the state.

Many teachers have been critical of the switch from Amplify’s mClass to Istation. They have questioned the procurement process and contend Johnson ignored the recommendations of an evaluation committee that ranked mClass over Istation.

The reading diagnostic tool is a companion to the state’s signature education program, “Read to Achieve,” which was launched in 2013 to ensure every student reads at or above grade level by end of third grade.

The results haven’t been great even as North Carolina has spent $150 million on the initiative. More than half of the state’s children in K-3 are still not reading at grade level.

Istation has been training teachers to use the reading diagnostic tool for free. It said last month that more than 180,000 North Carolina students in grades K-3 have been assessed using its reading diagnostic tool.

 

News, public health

State health experts ask Congress for help combating opioid crisis

WASHINGTON — North Carolina and other states need sustained, flexible federal funding to support programs working to reduce deaths and addiction from opioids and other drugs, state health officials told Congress today.

Public health officials asked lawmakers for continued commitment to Medicaid and programs that help states address drug addiction problems. A panel of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue.

“Moving an entire system of care is a monumental task. We’re working diligently and we’ve made staggering progress, but please don’t give up,” Jennifer Smith, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, told lawmakers. “It depends on sustained funding and support.”

States, particularly North Carolina, have been trying to respond to a growing problem of addiction and overdose to opioids and other drugs. From 1999 to 2017, nearly 400,000 people across the United States died from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal lawmakers passed a collection of bipartisan bills in 2018 aimed at fighting the crisis. The legislation provided states billions of dollars in federal funding to assist with response, treatment and recovery.  

State public health officials from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and West Virginia also credited Medicaid expansion in their states for giving them the ability to pay to treat many of those who face addiction.

Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Colo.), who chaired the hearing, said states are now facing a “fourth wave” of the opioid crisis: a large increase in methamphetamine use.  

“In 2018, there were more than twice as many deaths involving meth as 2015, and meth is increasingly turning up in overdose deaths and drug busts across the country,” DeGette said. 

“Given the complexity of the epidemic and its ability to evolve, states, federal government agencies and Congress must remain vigilant.”

“This is not a crisis that we can resolve overnight, and it requires ongoing federal and state attention,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). “States are on the front lines of this national emergency, providing much of the support for those in need.  They are our eyes and ears on what is occurring on the ground, and that’s why this hearing is so important.”

Over the past two decades, North Carolina has had 12,000 deaths due to opioid overdose, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  In 2016, North Carolina was in the top eight states for fentanyl overdose deaths alone.

“North Carolina was hard hit by the opioid crisis. The consequences have been large, and far reaching,” said Kody Kinsley, a DHHS deputy secretary.

In 2016, 1,407 people died in North Carolina due to unintended overdoses. For each death, there were six more hospitalizations, Kinsley said. But in 2018, North Carolina saw its first decline in deaths in five years. 

“The most significant thing you can do would be to give us more time. Sustaining funding over longer windows of time or permanently would allow states to be ready for the next wave of the epidemic,” Kinsley said. 

Kinsley asked for lawmakers to increase the substance abuse and treatment block grants, which have stayed constant for North Carolina even though the population is growing. 

Kinsley said an even bigger boost would be for North Carolina lawmakers to expand Medicaid. More than half of the people who come to North Carolina hospitals with an overdose are uninsured, so much of the extra federal funding for opioids in North Carolina goes directly to their treatment. North Carolina provided treatment to 12,000 uninsured persons with the federal programs.

But that also means that money is not available to start new programs like other states that rely on Medicaid to treat their patients, like Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

“At present, more than two-thirds of our federal opioid response grants are just going for treatment and expanding care for those that are uninsured,” Kinsley said. “So we do not have those dollars available to expand workforce and treatment.”

Read more

News

League of the South officer convicted of carrying weapons at neo-Confederate demonstration in Pittsboro

Jessica Lynne Reavis was convicted late last week of carrying a concealed .40 caliber handgun and pepper spray at a neo-Confederate demonstration in Pittsboro last October.

Carrying a weapon at a demonstration is a misdemeanor in North Carolina. Reavis was sentenced to six months’ unsupervised probation and 15 days of community service, according to the Chatham County Clerk of Court’s office.

Reavis, 40 and a resident of Virginia, is appealing the conviction and has a new court date for February 10.

She claims she wasn’t aware of the state law.

Reavis is an officer in the neo-Confederate group League of the South and has for years been a presence at protests involving the removal of Confederate statues, including the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, where anti-racist protester Heather Heyer was murdered amid white supremacist violence.

The Chatham County Commissioners voted to removed the statue, located at the historic courthouse in Pittsboro, last August after giving the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) until Oct. 1 to relocate the statue. Though the group fought the order in court, the monument was removed in November.

The historic county courthouse, where the statue stood for 112 years, was the site of a series of protests by neo-Confederate groups and counter-protests from anti-racist demonstrators.

Reavis has been busy since her arrest last year, taking part in further protests in Pittsboro and co-founding a new group called United Confederates of the Carolinas and Virginia (UCCV),with Woody Elvin Weaver Jr. of Fuquay-Varina.

Commentary, Higher Ed

UNC’s Silent Sam settlement, a bad deal executed very poorly

The Daily Tar Heel, a student-run newspaper, is in the midst of a serious role reversal with the adults over at the UNC Board of Governors.

That much is clear following the paper’s inherently logical suit charging the UNC board violated our state’s open meeting laws when they negotiated a $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans to take Silent Sam off their hands, in addition to a $74,999 payment intended to keep its protesters off an already simmering campus.

The paper’s management corporation is asking the court to nullify the agreement, an outcome virtually everyone not currently seated on the UNC Board of Governors or in legislative leadership would prefer at this point.

Boards have the luxury of discussing such matters with their attorneys in private, although it’s another matter for several board members to design and sign a deal in private without even a public notice.

The idea was bad, and the execution was even worse.

Fittingly, WRAL’s Capitol Broadcasting Corp. slammed the university system board in an editorial Tuesday.

The courts should drop this dismal deal, and the UNC Board of Governors—one of North Carolina’s leading lights for humiliation these days—should sit the next few plays out.

From the editorial:

The reporters and editors at the Daily Tar Heel in Chapel Hill have been doing their job in examining the Silent Sam consent agreement between the University of North Carolina, the UNC Board of Governors and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It’s a good thing. They are digging to answer the basics: Who did what, where, when and why.

The DTH has also been working to uncover the how. Did the procedures the UNC Board use follow the state’s Open Meetings Law?

The DTH investigation, so far, raises disturbing questions about a lack of basic due diligence by the board and the university.

The newspaper, a non-profit student-run publication that’s been around for 127 years, has gone to court to nullify the consent agreements. The two deals with the Sons of Confederate Veterans that pays the group $74,999 to not protest on campus and $2.5 million to shelter and display Silent Sam were reached “in total secrecy in violation of the Open Meetings Law.”

In addition, the lack of transparency leads to wonder why and how could a university pay anyone to give up their 1st Amendment rights? It goes against the most basic precepts for freedom of inquiry that quality universities stand for.

Will the university now pay other groups to stay off campus? This deal sets a terrible precedent.

The most basic due-diligence on the part of UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC Board of Governors clearly has been neglected.

The DTH revelations are raising questions about whether the key party to the deal, Sons of Confederate Veterans, violated tax and campaign spending laws. State Attorney General Josh Stein, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall who oversees non-profits — along with the state Revenue Department and state Board of Elections, all must look into these serious matters.

The rush to approve anything, at any cost, to get rid of the Silent Sam issue has done just the opposite. In fact, Superior Court Judge Allan Baddour, who signed the initial consent judgment and order is reexamining his approval and will be holding a hearing on Feb. 12 to further look into the deal.

It is time for the courts and regulators to say enough-is-enough. Terminate the deal. University officials should be ashamed of themselves.