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UNCIn case you missed it over the weekend, ECU English professor Robert Siegel made a compelling case in Raleigh’s News & Observer for a more energetic resistance from the higher education community against the sustained attack being waged by the state’s conservative political leadership. In particular, Siegel faults UNC administrators — saying they’ve “confused access with influence.” He points to the way Wake County’s public education community fought back against the hostile takeover engineered by conservatives a few years back:

“When schools were attacked in Wake County, an outraged citizenry packed school board meetings, demonstrated on the streets of Raleigh and committed civil disobedience. That public outcry translated into door to door campaigning and phone calling that resulted in defeating five out of five board members and returning the schools to a mainstream course.”

He concludes this way:

“UNC administrators all the way up to the president and Board of Governors need to get out from behind their desks and get away from their interminable meetings. Talk to the people, not just students on your campuses. That’s preaching to the choir. Get out into the smaller towns and more rural counties. Hold town meetings. Explain to citizens the importance of higher education. Many of their sons and daughters are the first in their families to attend a college or university. Explain what this state will become if higher education fails.”

Now is the time to speak truth to power. Rent a bus and, in the spirit of great civil rights activists, speak truth to power. That would be a bus we would be proud to ride.

Read the entire op-ed by clicking here.

Commentary

MDCRecently, the good people at Durham-based nonprofit known as MDC, released the group’s most recent “State of the South” report. For those interested in looking behind the headlines to get a feel for exactly what’s going on in the region, it’s an important “must read.”

This year’s report, which carries the impressive title “Building an infrastructure of opportunity for the next generation,” looks closely at the issue of youth mobility in the South. Recently, one of the report’s authors, Alyson Zandt, submitted this very useful summary:

A young person born at the bottom of the income ladder in the South is less likely to move up it as an adult than in any other region in the nation. Some of the region’s cities may be thriving, but even our most economically vibrant places do not propel enough of their youth and young people up the ladder of economic and social mobility.

The State of the South 2014 report, “Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the Next Generation,” takes a deep look at youth mobility in the South. The report, released by Durham-based nonprofit MDC, finds, for instance, that in the Forbes magazine rating of “Best Places for Business and Careers,’’ six Southern metros placed in the top 10 among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, but eight Southern metros rank in the worst 10 metropolitan areas on a measure of mobility. Of Southern metros in the top 50 for business, only one is also in the top 50 for mobility: Houston, Texas.

The gap between business vitality and youth mobility is especially pronounced in North Carolina’s largest cities. Read More

Commentary

NCGA folliesThe follies of the North Carolina General Assembly and its shortsighted attitudes toward public education (and public service in general) are neatly illustrated by two stories in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal.

In “Who’s a teacher? The legislature wrongly decides,” reporter Scott Sexton tells the story of  veteran teacher named Patti Morrison who, because of the absurd, complex and bureaucratic new teacher pay plan and teacher redefinition laws adopted this year by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory, is now considered “a person who is employed to fill a full-time, permanent position.”

As Sexton reports:

“So for someone such as Morrison, who is teaching reading to elementary school kids on a part-time basis, or a certified teacher who is filling a temporary classroom position, that means they’re technically no longer considered teachers.

Instead, they’re lumped into a more disposable employment category. They’re now considered ‘at-will employees,’ those ‘not entitled to the employment protections provided a career employee or probationary teacher,’ according to House Bill 719.

That might seem like an exercise in semantics to you or me, but to Morrison it amounts to a body blow. To her, the state stripped her of a key part of her identity. She chose to become a teacher because she could see the profound impact she could have on young lives.”

Story two is this editorial entitled “Paying more than twice as much, thanks to legislature.”  In it, the Journal tells the ridiculous story of the Forsyth County school system which used to make use of a Department of Transportation crew to fix parking lots. Now, thanks to the General Assembly and the Governor and their never-ending commitment to the “genius of the free market,” the school system is paying twice as much to private contractors to do the same job:

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News

The standoff between Baker Mitchell Jr, whose company runs four Wilmington-area charter schools, and North Carolina’s education agency is continuing.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies, with students.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies, with students.

The state has demanded – but has yet to receive– details from Charter Day Schools, Inc. about the salaries paid out to Roger Bacon Academy employees who work in the four public charter schools run by the company.

Owned by Mitchell, Roger Bacon Academy has exclusive contracts to manage and run four schools in Southeastern North Carolina — Charter Day School in Leland, Columbus Charter School in Whiteville, South Brunswick School in Bolivia and Douglass Academy in Wilmington.

The board chair of the non-profit in charge of the schools recently claimed that the private company owned by Mitchell won’t give the salary information to the schools’ board of directors.

John Ferrante, a Wilmington lawyer and chair of the non-profit Charter Day Schools, Inc., told Phillip Price of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction last week that the non-profit board of directors can’t get detailed salary information of headmasters and assistant headmasters from Roger Bacon Academy.

Price, DPI’s chief financial officer, summarized his Oct. 17 conversation with Ferrante in an email to State Board of Education Chair Bill Cobey and several DPI employees. N.C. Policy Watch received a copy of that email through a standing public records request it has with DPI.

“He [Ferrante] indicated that he had requested that information and they had responded that it was confidential and not available,” wrote Price in the Oct. 17 email. “Mr. Ferrante was concerned that his schools would be punished for something that was out of their control (and parents were expressing concern).”

The Charter Day Schools, Inc. board of directors governs the four charter schools –– and has the ability to hire and fire Roger Bacon Academy, Mitchell’s private company. Mitchell also owns another company that leases land and buildings to the charter school group.

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News

As the Wilmington Star News reports this morning, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has told Baker Mitchell’s Charter Day School, Inc. to turn over required salary information of face the possibility of sanctions. This is from a letter from DPI chief financial officer Phillip Price:

We have reviewed your submission in response to my August 13, 2014, request for specific salary information for your EMO/CMO employees reassigned to work directly with a charter school. The provided information was incomplete and does not contain the requested details outlined by my letter.

Our request is for the actual individual salary detail for all EMO/CMO employees assigned to work at the charter school. As outlined in my letter and in Paragraph 12.1 of your charter document, compliance to this request is required based on enacted legislation and the chartering documents for operation of charter schools. Failure to comply with these requirements is considered a violation of the Uniform Education Reporting System (UERS) and will result in financial non-compliance per State Board of Education policy TCS-U-006. Failure to comply is also a violation of the provisions of your charter.

The letter goes on to say that if the information is not received by next Wednesday, the noncompliance will be reported to the State Board of Education for possible sanctions.

As has been reported by NC Policy Watch here and on several other occasions and, more recently, by the national nonprofit news service ProPublica, Baker Mitchell is a controversial conservative activist and businessman whose “nonprofit” charter schools are run completely by a for-profit company he controls.

Click here to read the DPI letter.