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The Rowan-Salisbury School System is trying to figure out how to handle a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistant funding stream.trackingCuts-web-600

The budget cut to TAs slices more than one way — in Rowan-Salisbury schools, many elementary school TAs double as school bus drivers (see my recent story about how TAs across the state also serve as bus drivers). 

Meetings will take place this week to determine how to handle the reduction in funds, and the school board will meet next Monday to make a final decision.

While the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Philip Price told N.C. Policy Watch that state lawmakers enacted a 2014 budget that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for this year, Gov. Pat McCrory and his former budget director, Art Pope, have been working hard to tell a different story.

Charlotte Observer education reporter Andrew Dunn reports that Pope called him after he wrote a story about how Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools will lose 90 TAs to explain how that simply should not be the case.

After my story ran, state budget director Art Pope called to walk through the numbers at a state level and say that because CMS was already using some teacher assistant money to hire teachers, they shouldn’t have lose anything.

“I can’t say why they’re coming up with any losses,” he said.

Then later, my colleague Ely Portillo spoke with McCrory, who offered up this:

“We are not reducing the number of teacher’s assistants,” he said. “Any teacher assistant who was working in a classroom last year will be working again this year if the local superintendents and principals set it up that way based on money that we gave them.”

I previously reported that lawmakers offered “flexibility” to school districts to handle their move to underfund TAs, which means they can move money out of classroom teacher positions that were intended to reduce class size in order to pay for the TAs they actually need.

But as one superintendent put it — that’s a false choice. You either save TA jobs and make classes larger, or the reverse — neither of which is great for kids or educators.

“If it’s going to cost people their jobs, I don’t see how we can use it (for class size),” Winston-Salem/Forsyth Superintendent Beverly Emory told the Winston-Salem Journal, explaining that she felt more pressure to save jobs than use that money to make classes smaller.

Know of more cuts to the classroom at the local level? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com

 

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Last week, I wrote about a bill that the General Assembly passed that would allow private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.

That bill, SB 793, or ‘Charter School Modifications,’ also ended up with no protections for LGBT students at charter schools, even though an earlier version of the legislation did have that language in there.

So where’s the bill now? It’s currently waiting on Gov. McCrory’s signature, who has until Friday to sign it.

Previously he said he’d veto any bill that shielded charter school employees’ salaries from the public eye, but last we’ve heard from Gov. McCrory, he was working with his legal counsel to review just how good (or bad) a job this legislation does at keeping charter schools as transparent as their traditional public school counterparts.

Recently, eastern North Carolina charter school operator and profiteer Baker Mitchell has pushed back hard against having to disclose the salaries of his charter school employees, repeatedly batting away requests from local media and the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

He is also a frequent campaign contributor, having given $8,000 to Gov. McCrory’s campaign and $5,000 to Sen. Jerry Tillman, a principal sponsor of S793.

Mitchell, who also sits on the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board and has a heavy hand in steering state-level charter school policy, submitted his resignation for his board seat to Senator Phil Berger last week, citing time constraints associated with too many commitments.

Along with fellow Board member Paul Norcross, who also submitted his resignation with a much more colorful letter, Mitchell has been a target of recent ethics complaints (see here and here), though no violations of state ethics law have been confirmed.

Stay tuned as we track this legislation.

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Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg) sent a letter on Monday to Gov. Pat McCrory, asking him to veto legislation sent to him last week by the General Assembly that allows private, for-profit charter school operators to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds. 

“While this bill requires that charter schools disclose the salaries of direct employees, including teachers, it creates a dangerous loophole that would allow Charter School Management Companies to take advantage of taxpayer funds by hiding payments to the very people and entities for which disclosure is most necessary,” Cotham wrote to McCrory.

Governor McCrory has previously said he would veto any legislation that shielded charter school salaries’ from the public eye.

“I still share my previous concerns with transparency for charter schools, not just for teachers, but for board members and all employees. Lawyers are currently reviewing the interpretations of this new law and I won’t take action on the legislation until we have a clear interpretation on transparency,” McCrory said in a statement last Friday.

Rep. Cotham delivered an impassioned plea to fellow House lawmakers last week to reject SB 793, ‘Charter School Modifications’. Not only did the bill suddenly contain a provision that shielded the salaries of charter school staff who are employed by the parent for-profit company of a school, it also jettisoned an earlier version of the bill that contained protections for LGBT students.

The additional provision to SB 793 comes following months of fighting between prominent Wilmington-based charter school operator, Baker A. Mitchell Jr., and local media outlets that have asked him to fully disclose the salaries of all employees associated with his charter schools—teachers as well as those who work for his for-profit education management organization (EMO), Roger Bacon Academy. Mitchell has refused to disclose his for-profit employees’ salaries.

In addition to operating four charter schools in eastern North Carolina, Mitchell is also deeply involved in charter school politics at the state level. He sits on the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, which approves and monitors new charter schools across North Carolina. 

Mitchell has also given thousands of dollars in campaign donations to Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Moore, Randolph), a key proponent of charter schools.

In her letter to McCrory, Rep. Cotham asked McCrory to keep his word about transparency.

“Now is not the time to play politics, to play word games, or to only listen to donors. Now is the time for ethical leadership and for unwavering commitment to the principles you earlier said you support. I call on you to keep your word and veto this bill.”

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Update: Both the Senate and House passed versions of the bill Thursday on second readings, with the House tacking on language placing the economic development partnership back under state ethic rules. The proposals will be back next week for final passage in each chamber.

Parallel bills to privatize pieces of the state’s economic development work is on the path to approval at the state legislature, with changes emerging Tuesday that lower the private fundraising requirements and restrict some of the transparency measures.

The Senate is supposed to consider the bill on the floor today.

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

N.C. Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker

The most reason versions of the 19-page House Bill 1031 and Senate bill 743 would also reduce the required amount the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina must raise from private funders, leaving the group to raise $6 million from private funders over the next five years.

(To read the entire bill, click here.)

Taxpayers are expected to contribute $90 million over that same period. That’s if Gov. Pat McCrory’s request to transfer 67 positions and an estimated $18 million next year to the new group from the Commerce Department is endorsed by lawmakers in budget negotiations.

Draft legislation had initially put the group on the hook to raise $10 million from private sources immediately, but the language endorsed by House and Senate committees will lower that to $6 million over five years, a move that Republican sponsors is more realistic for a startup group.

The privatization proposal would set North Carolina on a path of its economic development that a dozen other states have embarked on, with mixed results. The public-private partnerships, sometimes referred to as PPPs, have come under fierce criticism in other states with accusations that the private setups have wasted taxpayer money, exaggerated job claims and been used to reward political campaign donors and supporters.

The current form of the bills also remove provisions putting members of the nonprofit’s board and top employees under state ethics rules, which require an annual public disclosure of financial interests as well as put in varied prohibitions on accepting gifts and performing favors. The ethics law also attaches criminal penalties for accepting money or gifts from those looking to s curry favor from public servants. (Click here for a background story). Read More

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The April employment numbers released Friday show that North Carolina’s unemployment rate is continuing to drop, with 6.2 percent of the state’s residents out of work and looking for jobs.

The drop is a full 2.2 percentage points lower than what it was last April, when 8.4 percent of the state’s labor force was looking for work.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, in a written statement, hailed the unemployment drop as a success, but said more progress is still needed.

“We continue to see encouraging signs in North Carolina’s economy with each month that passes,” McCrory said.

Today’s job numbers (click here to read the whole report) show that the state added 14,000 from March to April, and that the overall labor pool (which includes those on the job and those actively looking for work) also grew by about 10,000 from the previous month.

Here’s a quick glimpse of the number’s released today by state commerce department’s labor and economics division:

jobsnumbersapril

Source: N.C. Commerce Department

 

The larger meaning of jobs report data have become heated topics in policy and political circles, with sometimes competing theories about what the steady drop of unemployment in the state means.

The state’s labor pool is significantly lower (by 33,005 people) than it was a year ago, a circumstance that has led some, including the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, to point out that many of the state’s long-term unemployed stopped looking for work and are not being accounted for in federal labor data. That comes after the state slashed both the length and amount of unemployment people can collect as part of an extensive overhaul of the unemployment system last year.

The state is also seeing huge disparity in different regions when it comes to unemployment, with areas surrounding the economic powerhouses of the Triangle and Charlotte showing low unemployment while more troubled areas still have counties with unemployment topping 10 percent.

Dare, Edgecombe, Graham, Hyde  Scotland and Swain counties all had unemployment rates over 10 percent in March. (Note, these numbers are not seasonally-adjusted, unlike the statewide numbers released today.)

Supporters of that unemployment reform policy, including McCrory and other Republican leaders, say the drop in benefits may have spurred many of the jobless to accept jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have looked at.

The Washington Post had this national perspective on the shrinking labor pool last year, finding that the contracting stems from a combination of the baby-boom generation entering into retirement, younger workers headed back to school and the long-term jobless throwing up their hands.

Here’s a great explainer from the New York Times earlier this month about how federal jobs data (which is released every month and is based on surveys) can fit a number of different narratives (economy better, economy worse, more jobs, less jobs) and all be right.

From the aptly-tilted article, “How Not to be Mislead by the Jobs Report“:

We obsess far too much on the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report.

Think about it this way: It’s the first Friday of the month, and the Labor Department has bad news. The economy has added a mere 64,000 jobs last month, a steep slowdown from 220,000 the month before. From Wall Street to Twitter, the reaction is swift and negative.

The price of oil falls, as do the prices of blue-chip stocks like General Electric. The Federal Reserve faces calls to push interest rates lower. The lead headlines in the next day’s papers talk of faltering job growth.

But what if all the worries were based on nothing more than random statistical noise? What if the apparent decline in job growth came from the inherent volatility of surveys that rely on samples, like the survey that produces the Labor Department’s monthly employment estimate?

 

You can read more here.