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Open-letter2011One of the many “make-do-with-less,” “up-by-their-bootstraps” creations of the modern public education system in North Carolina is something known as the “school improvement team” or “S.I.T.” These are simple, common sense groups created by state law that include “the principal of each school, representatives of the assistant principals, instructional personnel, instructional support personnel, and teacher assistants assigned to the school building, and parents of children” and that have the eminently reasonable and unsurprising objective of improving schools.

Recently and much to the group’s credit, the School Improvement Team at Chapel Hill’s Culbreth Middle School (a bipartisan group, by the way) crafted an open letter to Gov. McCrory about the state of education in North Carolina and the state’s dwindling investments. We offer it here as a potential inspiration to other dedicated S.I.T.’s around the state:

“Dear Governor McCrory,

The bipartisan School Improvement Team at Culbreth Middle School respectfully requests that you act in the best interests of all North Carolina’s children by advocating for a greater investment in public education.

After years of bipartisan failure to increase their salaries, North Carolina’s teachers are paid $10,000 below the national average.  Many of our teachers struggle to support their families and must devote time to second jobs to make ends meet.  Read More

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Shell gameHundreds of school administrators gathered in Raleigh yesterday to review the state of public education and, not surprisingly, Gov. McCrory dodged the event and sent an assistant to what promised to be a not-terribly-friendly venue. That former Gov. Jim Hunt was speaking (he got a standing ovation at one point) probably helped guarantee that the Guv would have a “conflict” and decline the invitation to appear.

Another probable reason for sending aide Eric Guckian was the message he was forced to deliver — namely, that things are unlikely to improve in the education funding department anytime soon. According to AP reporter Emery Dalesio’s story, any significant improvements in educator pay beyond the bumps recently proposed for starting teachers will take “years” and will only occur “if state finances allow” — i.e. when Budget Director Pope assents. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Of course, this is an absurd and utterly dishonest position. North Carolina could easily have a great deal of money to address many important needs (including the abysmal pay it provides to teachers and many other state employees) if McCrory and legislative leaders had merely chosen not to slash taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations in recent years to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Simply put, the administration’s rap is like that of a father with a gambling or drinking addiction who refuses to make eye contact as he tells his family that there will be no new clothes or shoes this year because “finances are tight.” No wonder the Guv found something else to do yesterday.

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Pat McCrory 4Let’s hope Gov. Pat McCrory’s latest statements on teacher pay (namely that he wants a “long-term strategy” that will lead to pay hikes for all teachers in both K-12 and higher education) reflect an attitude and policy shift for the administration rather than just another example of the governor talking out of both sides of his mouth and telling an audience what it wants to hear in measured and backtrackable terms.

It’s got to be one or the other, however, because it certainly isn’t what McCrory and his allies have been fighting for over the last several years. Indeed, it’s one of the biggest and most under-reported scandals of present-day North Carolina politics that the governor and conservative legislative leaders have repeatedly been allowed by a distracted news media to lament the fact that teacher salaries have been essentially frozen for years.

Earth to Governor McCrory, Speaker Tillis and Senate President Berger: Read More

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North Carolina’s recent wintry weather has helped give rise to a lot of pent up activity this week. Tonight at 7:00 pm for instance, is an excellent event at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies entitled “Organizing the South: How a Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation.” Click here for more information and here to watch the video livestream tonight.

And speaking of not-to-be-missed events, be sure if you get the chance to check out the Raleigh showing of “Inequality for All,” Robert Reich’s powerful new movie about America’s modern economy. The event will be held on Tuesday, February 18 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at William Peace University’s Browne-McPherson Music Building. Parking is free on campus. Click here for more information.

And speaking of the exploding inequality of the modern economy, check out economist Dean Baker’s essay from over the weekend in which he explains how America’s inequality hasn’t occurred by accident or simply as the result of the talent and hard work of the top 1%. To the contrary, as Baker explains, it’s happened “by design.”

And speaking of things that are exploding, the Duke Coal Ash disaster continues to be the biggest story in the North Carolina policy world. Read More

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After Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders announced their pay raise plan for new and less-experienced teachers last week, a pair of veteran teachers from Davie County (who also happen to be married) felt compelled to respond. Here is their open letter:

Dear Governor McCrory,

We moved here in 1998 from New York. North Carolina promised us a chance at living our dreams and becoming teachers. Although it was difficult, we moved 600 miles south, away from family and friends, away from the comforts of home, to start a life in Davie County. Culture shock aside, things went well. We assimilated quickly and seamlessly became crucial parts of our school and community’s culture. Both of us were elected Teacher of the Year for our schools, became National Board Certified Teachers, and achieved our Masters Degrees from North Carolina Universities. Life was good. Each of us became respected members of our school. We bought a modest house in a new neighborhood and in a few years two children were born.

We made a good living, were able to take small vacations and laugh. We could fill up our tanks and buy groceries without having to constantly check to be sure we could afford these necessities.

We didn’t expect to become rich doing the job we love to do. We knew from the very beginning that the payoff in education is not the savings account, but in the touched lives and future investment. We knew we would always need to balance our checkbooks and account for the summers off, but we were okay with that. We were able to live our lives, put two children in daycare, and still invest a little bit for the future.

Sixteen years later, things are different. Read More