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UNCLogoThere they go again. A few months after the UNC Board of Governors dropped some big cash on system chancellors, UNC Chapel Hill trustees have bestowed big, retroactive raises on an array of already extremely well-paid administrators. This is, of course, at a time when other North Carolina public employees of more modest stature are mostly doing without.

As Jane Stancill of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning:

“UNC-Chapel Hill’s athletic director, Bubba Cunningham, recently received a 10 percent raise, bringing his annual pay to $642,268.

The $58,388 increase for Cunningham was the largest among those approved for nine high-ranking university administrators, who got raises or bonuses ranging from 1 percent to 10 percent.

The increases were part of the annual raise process, according to a university spokesman who said new salary levels were retroactive to July 1, 2015. Trustees initially approved the increases in a December mail ballot, which was ratified last week. The vote last week was unanimous.”

The article goes on to report that the trustees hope to “make adjustments in faculty pay” as well, but as always seems to be the case, that will come after the folks at the top are taken care of. No word about adjunct instructors, food service workers, janitors, etc….

Of course, it seems likely that the conservative leaders in state government will be all in with this approach. After all, they always talk about wanting to “run government like a business” and what could be more business-like in modern America than bestowing big raises on the bosses first and leaving the crumbs for everyone else?

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that all of the folks receiving raises have received extremely large state income tax cuts in recent years thanks to the the shortsighted policies at work in Raleigh).

Click here to read the rest of Stancil’s story ans see the full list of raises.

Commentary

Tuition2For years, the denizens of the think tanks funded by right-wing power broker Art Pope have been making two rather remarkable arguments with respect to higher education: 1) that too many North Carolinians go to college and 2) that tuition and fees should be much higher in order to place more of the cost of attendance directly on students and their families.

It’s essentially the Ebeneezer Scrooge, no-free-lunch, pick-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps  argument. Indeed, if you tilt your head and cup your ear you can almost hear a gaggle of grumpy old white guys sitting around and lamenting how today’s younger generation has no respect and doesn’t have to sacrifice like they did when they went to college.

All of this would be easy to dismiss as so much absurd, conservative blather except for the unfortunate fact that these people and their buddies are, for the time being, running the state. Hence the rapid increases in college fees and tuition in North Carolina in recent years and the disturbing moves to downsize the UNC system.

Fortunately, more and more people are catching on to what these folks are up to and are pushing back. The lead editorial in yesterday’s Greensboro News & Record did a good job of giving voice to the views of those who believe that widespread higher education is a necessity for any state that wants to thrive in the 21st Century. Here’s the N&R:

“Last year, a solidly Republican state launched the Tennessee Promise, which provides last-dollar scholarships for first-time students at community and technical colleges.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. It’s raising tuition for community colleges and may add significant surcharges decided on a campus-by-campus basis. The surcharge, up to 10 percent of tuition, would generate revenue strictly for needs on the individual campus where the money was raised.”

After highlighting the fact that many conservative states (besides Tennessee) are actually following President Obama’s urging by pushing to lower costs (and lamenting North Carolina’s move in the opposite direction) the editorial puts it this way:

“North Carolina should make it easier for students to attend community college, not more expensive.

The Tennessee Promise, when implemented last year, immediately boosted enrollment by 6 percent.

Other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, are considering similar plans….

Which makes it frustrating that North Carolina wants to shift more costs to the students, at both community college and state university campuses.

A 10 percent tuition surcharge would yield more than $2 million a year for Guilford Technical Community College, according to system estimates. The money could be well spent, providing better educational experiences. But putting more state resources into community colleges would be a wiser strategy.

The $2 billion bond proposal is a sound investment in a state that has fallen behind in building 21st century infrastructure. But human capital is lagging, too. Providing community college training at less cost to students, not more, could pay big dividends.

If North Carolina doesn’t, competing states will leave us behind.”

Commentary

In an op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, retired schoolteacher Ned Gardner of Apex does a good job of giving voice to the reasons that some progressives are unhappy about the state bond package that’s coming up for a statewide vote in March. According to Gardner, it’s not the idea of funding important public structures; its the disingenuous way that the Governor and General Assembly are going about it:

“I will vote ‘no’ on the Connect NC bond issue in March. Do I support the higher education and state parks capital expenditures that the bond would fund? Most definitely. But I reject Gov. Pat McCrory’s “no tax increase” shell-game bond financing. If we support new expenditures for education and parks, we should create a clear revenue stream to pay for it: increase taxes.”

According to Gardner, the fact that the transportation component in the original bond package was removed and replaced by, in effect, a lasting revenue source (i.e. gas tax hike plus the end of the use of highway money for other important state uses) ought to be a lesson. Here’s how Gardner sums up:

“The Highway Fund issue is troublesome. Peter will be robbed to pay Paul. Presumably worthwhile on-going expenditures from the Highway Fund will be discontinued to accommodate the proposed ‘bond’ transportation projects. So to continue those previous on-going expenditures, a source of funding will be needed. I imagine that in the eyes of our current Republican political overlords, the huge state education budget looks like an inviting source for a bit of reallocation.

…The financial obligation of the bond issue if passed will be a given: It must be paid. So the cost will be extracted by the continuing educational trends of stagnant faculty wages, increasing class sizes, a dropping per pupil expenditure and ongoing large tuition hikes in the UNC system (already increased by 42 percent since 2008) and N.C. community colleges (increased by 81 percent since 2009).

If the bond issue passes, I can anticipate McCrory’s self-congratulatory ads in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign – the Champion of Education! My foot. We need to elect politicians who actually support education. And parks. Let’s work on that, and reject this fiscal shame of a bond issue. A grand bipartisan coalition of Democrats, tea party groups, far-right bloggers and your ordinary Republican voter (who views a bond issue with the same relish as a colonoscopy) can do it!

The bond campaign motto is, ‘Vote yes to invest.’ I say, ‘Vote no, but vote for Democrats who will properly fund education and parks – and quit giving tax cuts to the rich.’”

Many other progressives have a different view of the matter, of course. From their perspective, passage of the bonds is a pragmatic way to lessen the impact of the bad situation conservative leaders have produced. It will be fascinating to see which side holds greater sway in March and what it says about the long-term political debate in North Carolina.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The Hunt Library on NC State’s Centennial Campus was full of smiles Tuesday morning, all attending the official launch of Connect NC, the formal campaign to get a $2 billion bond approved by North Carolina Voters in the March 15th primaries.

Governor McCrory pitched a packed room of elected representatives, business leaders, and academic dignitaries to support the bond package. Running down a list of crumbling, outdated, and woefully inadequate facilities across the state, McCrory delivered a full-throated plea for fixing and upgrading North Carolina’s public infrastructure.

The General Assembly voted to put the bond package on the ballot in the last days of the 2015 legislative session, leaving voters to decide whether to use bonds to fund a series of investment in the UNC system, community colleges, local water and sewer systems, state parks, and the National Guard. (See below for a top-level breakdown of how the bond proceeds would be allocated. For more detail, a post from last year provides a full breakdown of the projects to be funded and how the bill changed during its final stages of approval.)

To his credit, Governor McCrory has clearly taken the time to visit some facilities, and he did not mince words about how badly the funds are needed. McCrory called some of our National Guard facilities “frankly disrespectful”, a science building at Western Carolina “an embarrassment”, and joked about feeling somewhat apprehensive that the roof of the Engineering and Science building at UNC Charlotte would fall through while he and his team were inspecting it.

It is important to remember some of the context surrounding the bond proposal. After years of recession and dwindling public investment, the need far outstrips what the bond would raise. Even if North Carolina voters pass the bond, much more investment will be needed to build the public infrastructure the modern economy demands. In addition, several rounds of deep tax cuts in recent years will make it hard to properly use and maintain the public facilities the bond would finance. Unless we plan to leave these facilities dark once they’re completed, state leaders are going to have to raise additional revenue or make painful cuts elsewhere.

Still, it was refreshing to witness a cheerful bipartisan call for investing in North Carolina’s economic future.

Allocation of bond funds:

  • University of North Carolina – $980 million
  • Community Colleges – $350 million
  • Local Water/Sewer Infrastructure and Parks- $312.5 million
  • State Parks, Zoo, and Attractions – $100 million
  • National Guard and Public Safety – $87.5 million
  • Agriculture – $179 million
Commentary

Governor McCrory released his latest list of appointees to various state colleges and university boards yesterday. As is almost always the case, the list appeared to include a number of friends and supporters and otherwise connected Republicans. One nominee did, however, stand out. This is from the Governor’s news release:

University of North Carolina School of the Arts Board of Trustees
Anna Folwell (New York, N.Y.) – Folwell is an Executive Project Manager for the Home Team Sports Division at Fox Sports. She previously worked for the company as a Marketing Coordinator. Additionally, through her own company, she has worked in event planning, marketing, production, and community outreach initiatives. She has her Bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill in Media and Journalism and a second degree in Communication Studies. In her free time, she volunteers at various organizations and is a founder of the UNC in NYC Media Mentors group.

Dale Folwell

Dale Folwell

Anna Folwell - Image: LinkedIn.com

Anna Folwell – Image: LinkedIn.com

Ms. Folwell is the daughter of Dale Folwell, a former state representative, assistant Commerce Department secretary and frequent candidate for statewide office (he ran for Treasurer in 2008, Lt. Governor in 2012 and is running again for Treasurer this year). And while, the phenomenon of a connected politician’s relative securing a state government appointment would not ordinarily raise many eyebrows, a couple of items about Ms. Folwell’s appointment to what is a fairly distinguished Board of Trustees do stand out.

First of all, Ms. Folwell is, by all  indications, just starting her professional, career. She graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 2012 and R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem in 2008. Since graduating from UNC, she appears to have worked at a handful of jobs in the media production business — first in Los Angeles and, since August 2014, in New York City for Fox Sports. All of this is, of course, great for a mid-20’s young professional trying to make her way in the working world, but it does raise real questions about whether she is truly qualified to help lead a great institution of higher learning.

This is how the School of the Arts Board is described on the school’s website:

“The University of North Carolina School of the Arts Board of Trustees is composed of 20 distinguished citizens, with eight members elected by the UNC Board of Governors and four appointed by the Governor. The membership also includes a representative of the North Carolina Symphony, the Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources, the President of the UNCSA Student Government Association, an Alumni Representative, two emeritus members, and liaisons from UNCSA’s Foundation Board and Board of Visitors.”

A look at the current list of members would seem to verify this description and its reference to “distinguished citizens.” Ms. Folwell is clearly off to a promising start in her professional life, but calling her a “distinguished citizen” would appear to stretch the definition quite a bit.

There also appears to be a question that arises with respect to Folwell’s residence. Read More