News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

With budget compromise pending, Governor’s School waits for news

In case you missed, The News & Observer provided a look this weekend into Governor’s School as it reopened for summer session in the midst of great uncertainty over its future. 

House and Senate lawmakers are expected to announce their state budget compromise Monday, and it remains to be seen whether a Senate proposal to chop $800,000 in state funding for the program will be included in the final spending package.

The House budget retains funding for Governor’s School, while Gov. Roy Cooper has asked the legislature to boost the allocation to $1.2 million.

The program, begun in 1963, offers five-week summer programs in Raleigh and Winston-Salem for top high school students, with a focus on critical thinking, academics and the arts.

As the paper notes, Governor’s School has become a target of GOP lawmakers in recent years.

From The N&O:

Karen and David Shore of Holly Springs dropped off their son, Carter, at Meredith on Sunday. Carter plays the French horn and said he wanted to attend the school after learning about a friend’s experiences last summer. He said he was excited to play with the “best from around North Carolina.”

Carter and his parents said he would learn more than just music while on campus. One class he’s taking deals with personal finance. His mother said she hopes the legislature takes a closer look at the program before making a final decision.

“I hope they realize how great it is for North Carolina students and what an investment it is,” Karen Shore said. “You have to spend now but it pays off later.”

Yet over the past eight years, the budget for the Governor’s School has either decreased or remained unchanged. In 2009, the school’s budget was cut from $1.3 million to $850,000. In 2011, the program nearly lost all funding before the General Assembly agreed to provide $800,000.

Laura Sam, Governor’s School East site director at Meredith, said because funding has remained static for years while North Carolina’s population has grown, the program cannot match demand. The Governor’s School enrolled 670 students for the summer, but Sam said it received 1,796 applicants this year and more than 1,700 the year before.

The program charges $500 in tuition to help make up for lower state funding. While it offers scholarships to those who might not be able to afford tuition, Sam said she knows some students might ignore the school once they see the cost.

“We have not failed, we have succeeded … but we are not fully funded,” she said.

The Senate plan to end state funding for the program would direct money to revive a different summer program, the Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service, and to a four-week science, math and engineering residential program run by the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.

Read more

Courts & the Law, News

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take on partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin case that could set standards across country

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would hear a partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin that has the potential to affect about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures across the country.

It’s a case North Carolinians are keeping a close eye on, since a similar court battle is brewing here.

Gill v. Whitford is an appeal of a lower court’s order for the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw the state assembly map that the court struck down as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by November 1.

A good description of the case can be found on the Brennan Center for Justice website:

Last November, the panel declared that the state house plan adopted by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedom of association. The ruling was the first time in over three decades that a federal court invalidated a redistricting plan for partisan bias.

After evaluating the constitutionality of the map with a three-part test, the panel concluded that the map displayed both bad intent and bad effect, citing evidence that the map drawers used special partisan measurements to ensure that the map maximized Republican advantages in assembly seats. Despite Democrats winning a majority of the statewide Assembly vote in 2012 and 2014, Republicans won sixty of the ninety-nine Assembly seats. Wisconsin Republicans dispute the assertion that they intentionally engineered a biased map, arguing that partisan skews in the map reflect a natural geographic advantage they have in redistricting as a result of Democrats clustering in cities while Republicans are spread out more evenly throughout the state. The court, however, said the state’s natural political geography “does not explain adequately the sizeable disparate effect” seen in the previous two election cycles.

The panel, however, denied one of the plaintiffs’ principal requests: to have judges, not lawmakers and the governor, in charge of redrawing the legislative boundaries, stating in its opinion, “it is neither necessary nor appropriate for us to embroil the Court in the Wisconsin Legislature’s deliberations.” The court advised the panel to use the November ruling as a guide in developing a new redistricting plan.

It is likely that the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case at the U.S. Supreme Court, Harris v. Cooper, won’t be decided until the Wisconsin case is decided.

What is expected to come from the landmark case is a standard that will determine the extent to which lawmakers across the country can consider voters’ political affiliations when drawing district maps.

The court has already, recently struck down racial gerrymandering in North Carolina, where lawmakers are required to draw new maps before holding another election.

You can read more about the major pending partisan gerrymandering cases in North Carolina, Maryland and Wisconsin here. A federal trial in League of Women Voters v. Rucho is set to begin June 26 in Greensboro.

News

Waiting for a budget, revisiting competing priorities

Rep. Chuck McGrady tweeted on Sunday he expects the legislature’s compromise budget won’t be online until later this evening. Until then, here’s a quick look at the competing proposals from NC Policy Watch’s new media director Nelle Dunlap.

While the state spending package often ends up somewhere in the middle –it’s interesting to revisit the varying positions and spending priorities of the state House, Senate, and Governor Roy Cooper.

Commentary

The two best editorials of the weekend

Poisoned water and poisonous healthcare policy were featured in two of the weekend’s best editorials. Number One comes from the Wilmington Star News. In “CFPUA, Give Us the Answers Right Now,” the authors demand an immediate series of answers regarding the public health crisis that surrounds the region’s poisoned water supply:

“Each answer we get to questions about GenX, the unregulated toxic chemical in our drinking water, seems to raise five more. In fact, we’re not sure any important GenX-related question has been adequately answered. We’re betting people who drink the tainted water would agree.”

The editorial then goes on to explain how local official at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority are failing to act with requisite urgency regarding water that may well be poisoning hundreds of thousands of people every day:

“Friday, at a special meeting of the CFPUA board, Executive Director Jim Flechtner refused to say why he had not informed board members and the public about GenX.

‘I will let the review process run its course,’ he said.

Here’s the thing, Mr. Flechtner: We — and we suspect the thousands of people CFPUA serves — are no longer content with letting GenX-related issues “run their course.”

As New Hanover commissioner and CFPUA board member Pat Kusek told the StarNews when informed of Flechtner’s response: ‘That’s unacceptable. People need to tell the truth about what they did and why they did it.’

So far, all Chemours and CFPUA are providing is lots of posturing and deflection. Meanwhile, there’s a critical shortage of timely and complete answers.

Commissioner Kusek is absolutely right: That is not acceptable.”

Meanwhile an editorial in the Greensboro News & Record was on the mark with its demand that Congress abandon its disastrous recent approach toward healthcare. After noting that the prevaricator-in-chief has been signing a different tune lately and blasting the House health plan he once praised as “mean,” “Give us a better bill” has this to say:

“We agree, and we also hope the Senate comes up with a ‘generous’ alternative to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. It was never perfect, or even close, and now it’s shedding people as insurers pull out of markets or raise premiums beyond what most can afford. That’s not only a result of inherent flaws in the system but because the Trump administration isn’t supporting it as the law requires. If subsidies aren’t provided to cushion premiums, and if penalties aren’t assessed to push young, healthy Americans into coverage, a collapse is possible. So Congress must either shore up the current system or write a better bill. Read more

Environment

New boss, same as the old boss: Document trail shows convolutions of Woodlake dam ownership

 

 

This is the second of a two-part story. The first installation ran Thursday.

T he sales pitch is accurate: Woodlake Country Club and Resort development is exclusive. Visitors check in with a guard to enter the first gate. They use a code, which changes daily, to enter a second gate that leads to hundreds of upscale homes. Most have tidy, meticulously edged front yards brightened by colorful, well-mulched flower beds. Residents who could afford homes on the waterfront have built back decks for summertime parties and piers to tie up their pontoons and boats.

But what the sales pitch no longer mentions is that Lake Surf, the crown jewel of the development, is now a 1,200-acre slab of mud. The water has been drained because the high hazard dam is so dilapidated that if it were to fail, more than 550 homes and businesses downstream would be inundated. The country club’s initiation fee of  $25,000, plus monthly golf and lake access dues, no longer seem worth the money.

With the dam’s condition continuing to degrade despite court-ordered repairs, on June 9 state officials seized control of Woodlake Dam from its owners after the NC Department of Environmental Quality issued an emergency declaration regarding its safety.

The dam and lake are privately owned by Woodlake CC, a troubled company with a dicey financial and environmental history. The company’s two principals are incommunicado; one is based in Germany and the other refuses to answer phone calls.

But a trail of documents from the NC Secretary of State’s office and bankruptcy court shows the the company has eluded accountability through various spinoff real estate ventures couched inside one another like Russian nesting dolls.

“The web of legal entities,” said David Watterson, a Woodlake resident and co-founder of the Restore Woodlake Committee. “It’s almost impossible to entangle.”

 

 

Before: Lake Surf when it still had water (Photo: Bankruptcy auction brochure)

 

After: A drained Woodlake. Some homeowners in the Woodlake development are upset because their property values have decreased. (Photos: Lisa Sorg)

T he only thing taking on water at Woodlake is Woodlake CC.

An heir to the bankrupt Woodlake Partners, the newly christened Woodlake CC is bankrolled by German investor Steiner and Co. Owned by Illyah Steiner, the company purchased in 2015 Woodlake Partners at auction for $500,000 — that’s a mere half a million dollars for a lake, dam, country club, two golf courses, 600 lots, clubhouse and office. It was the sole bidder.

But Woodlake CC still features a long-time player in the resort’s turbulent history: Julie Watson. After her stint as co-owner of Woodlake Partners, she became Woodlake CC’s vice-president, and formed yet another company, J & Partners. In turn, that company became a shareholder in Woodlake CC, cementing Watson’s power in the venture. Read more

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