Education, News

Gov. Roy Cooper names three to the State Board of Education

Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper has named three new appointments to vacant seats on the State Board of Education.

On Wednesday, Cooper appointed Greenville’s Jill Camnitz, a former local school board member in Pitt County; Charlotte’s James Ford, a former state teacher of the year in 2014-2015; and J.B. Buxton, an education consultant from Raleigh and former administrator in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Because they are filling vacant seats, they will not be subject to confirmation by the state legislature. That’s noteworthy because the GOP-controlled General Assembly stonewalled previous Cooper appointees to the board, including Buxton.

And lawmakers voted down Buxton’s appointment to another seat on the board in June without any explanation.

The new appointments follow a handful of early resignations from the state’s top school board.

Some members suggested the sooner-than-expected departures came because they did not want to be in the same position as current members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt, both of whom are serving long after their terms expired last March.

Willoughby and McDevitt have remained in their positions as lawmakers waited months to vote against Cooper’s nominees to replace the pair.

Jill Camnitz

According to Cooper’s press release, Camnitz — in addition to her experience on her local school board — served as chair of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Coastal Plain Board of Directors, and worked with local groups like the Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County, the Pitt County Educational Foundation and the Brody Foundation.

 

 

James Ford

Meanwhile, since his time as a teacher, Ford served as the program director for the Public School Forum of N.C., a nonpartisan policy and research group in Raleigh, and launched a consulting firm, Filling the Gap Education Consultants, that advises public school leaders on equity issues.

J.B. Buxton

Buxton runs his own consulting company, Education Innovations Group, and once served as an education advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley.

The new board members are expected to take up their seats immediately.

The state board has had a tumultuous relationship with state lawmakers in recent years, wrestling over education policy, and the powers of Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Education, News

Superintendent Mark Johnson names former charter school headmaster as his chief of staff

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has named the former headmaster of a Rutherford County charter as his new chief of staff, Johnson’s office announced Friday.

Johnson announced Joe Maimone’s appointment a few months after Maimone’s unexpected resignation from Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, the Mooresboro charter he co-founded in 1998.

Maimone has also served on the state’s Charter Schools Advisory Board — which counsels the State Board of Education on charter policy and applications — since 2013.

Joe Maimone, Superintendent Johnson’s new chief of staff

The position will report directly to Johnson, a Republican school choice supporter who’s clashed openly with the State Board of Education over K-12 policy and the budget.

“Joe has the management expertise and the background in K-12 education to help us continue the process of making this department function best,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am happy to have him join the team of professionals who make up the Department of Public Instruction.”

Johnson touted Maimone’s background with the charter school in his announcement Friday, pointing out that he led the school as it grew from 110 students in grades 7-9 in 1999 to about 1,300 students in grades K-12 today.

The superintendent’s announcement said students “thrived” at Maimone’s school.

The charter earned a “B” performance grade and did not meet growth expectations on its 2016-2017 assessments, according to the most recent state report available.

The school serves a decidedly different population than many typical public schools, however, with just 7.5 percent of its students considered “economically disadvantaged.” Traditional school supporters have often pointed out that the state’s growing charter sector serves a more affluent population.

Academic research has documented the powerful impact socioeconomic status has had on academic performance.

The charter is part of the TeamCFA charter network, which has deep ties to influential Republican state leaders.

Maimone also made some waves this year when he suggested traditional public schools were “milking” the federal school lunch program, serving free lunches to students who could afford to pay for their meals, according to The News & Observer.

Commentary, Education, News

Editorial: Teachers deserve respect from North Carolina lawmakers

A new editorial from Capitol Broadcasting Company takes North Carolina legislators to task over teacher pay, part of a long-running series of criticisms against Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly.

Teacher pay has been on the rise in recent years, but the state’s pay plunged from 2009 to 2018 when adjusted for inflation.

State legislative leaders have attempted to combat those critiques in recent weeks, but the editorial calls on lawmakers to stop the “spin.”

From the CBC editorial:

North Carolina’s legislative leaders have come up with lots of ways to say they’re paying public school teachers well. With the help of Republican-oriented “think tanks” they point to questionable claims of accelerated pay raises, cost-of-living differentials and use local supplements – particularly from a handful of the state’s urban school districts – to paint a rosier pay picture.

First, average teacher pay – the average salary for all North Carolina’s public school teachers – is NOT what the average teacher makes. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s public classroom teachers were paid LESS than the average.

Also, average teacher pay includes local supplements, money that comes from local taxpayers in specific districts, that vary widely depending on the school district. Several districts don’t provide any supplements. Yet, the expectations of a second grade teacher in Bertie County (which doesn’t provide a local supplement) are no different than the expectations of a second grade teacher in Wake County, which provides one of the most generous supplements. In fact, North Carolina courts have ruled the state’s Constitution mandates “a sound basic education” for every child.

The unfortunate reality is that North Carolina has become something of a national punching bag for teacher pay. Earlier this month the New York Times, in a story titled ”The Second Shift: What teachers are doing to pay their bills,” highlighted an Iredell County middle school teacher (who reached peak pay and has been in the classroom for 19 years) forced to work a second job to make ends meet.

recent report from the Economic Policy Institute showed the gap between wages for teachers and other college graduates is at the highest level ever. The pay differential – the institute calls the difference between what teachers are paid in relation to comparable workers as the “teacher pay penalty.” North Carolina ranks 49th – only Arizona is worse. North Carolina teachers earn 35.5 cents on the dollar compared to what other college graduates earn.

Overall public school education funding still lags. “In constant dollars, North Carolina’s spending per student peaked at $9,952 in 2007-08, ranking 40th in the nation. State support per student continued to slide to $8,784 in 2012-13, when North Carolina ranked 46th. As North Carolina’s population continued to grow, state legislators made incremental increases until spending per student reached an estimated $9,528 in 2017-18, ranking 39th. But spending per student still remained $424 less than pre-recession levels in 2017-18, after adjusting for inflation,” according to a recent analysis from the Higher Education Works Foundation.

This is not a record that represents a commitment to quality public schools and respect for the professionalism teachers bring to the classroom.

Education, News

Report: Critics question state Superintendent Mark Johnson’s website

DPI Superintendent Mark Johnson

Critics are questioning why the state Department of Public Instruction’s main site shut down during Hurricane Florence and directed visitors to the personal site of Superintendent Mark Johnson, a News & Observer report said Monday.

Johnson’s taxpayer-funded site — which, in many ways, resembles a campaign site — was created weeks ago, stirring up questions from members of the State Board of Education as well.

Members also questioned Johnson’s June purchase of $6 million in iPads to support K-3 literacy, after a Policy Watch report in August uncovered a trip last October in which Apple officials “wined and dined” state leaders like Johnson and powerful K-12 budget writers in the N.C. General Assembly.

The Republican has had a contentious relationship with the board since his 2016 election, even though the board has also been piloted by GOP leaders.

From the N&O’s report:

As Hurricane Florence bore down on North Carolina this month, the state agency that oversees public schools shut down its website and referred people to a new website created by State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Critics of Johnson are charging that it was a politically motivated decision to shut down the state website and to direct traffic to Johnson’s website, www.ncsuperintendent.com. But state education officials say they shut the state website down as a safety precaution and referred people to Johnson’s website and to the State Board of Education’s website, stateboard.ncpublicschools.gov, to make sure people had a place to go during the storm.

“We had a time-critical decision to make and I made a decision based on what my abilities were to have a page that would be up,” Drew Elliot, chief of communications for the state Department of Public Information, said in an interview.

The decision has generated a buzz on social media sites for teachers in the state.

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“Can anyone name another state agency whose website was shutdown and then rerouted to the personal website of the ‘boss?’” Stu Egan, a Forsyth County teacher and frequent critic of Johnson, wrote on his blog. “Is there any school system in the state whose website was shut down and then rerouted to the personal website of the superintendent of that school system?”

Johnson’s new website went online earlier this month, with state board members questioning why it was created instead of the superintendent using the existing DPI website (www.ncpublicschools.org).

“We are not where we need to be technology wise with the DPI website to be able to do some of the things that we can do if I just have one of my own staffers create a website,” Johnson said at the Sept. 6 state board meeting.

Johnson said one of his staffers created it for free instead of paying $15,000 to the state Department of Information Technology to develop the site. Bill Holmes, a spokesman for DIT, said that if a state agency has a large amount of data or an expedited time line that the department might recommend hiring outside contractors to assist development of a website.

Elliot said ncsuperintendent.com is a taxpayer-funded website maintained by DPI. He said it cost $174 to build the website and will cost $9.92 a year going forward to maintain it compared to $9,100 a year to maintain the state board site.

In the week Florence came ashore, DIT sent a message saying state agencies with sites potentially in the path of the hurricane should shut down all IT equipment by Wednesday.

Elliot said DPI technology staff made the decision to shut down the state website at 2 p.m. Sept. 13. With the site going down, Elliot said he asked whether they could redirect people to external websites.

“We made a decision to link to those sites so people wouldn’t get a 404 error,” Elliot said.

DPI’s website was restored Sept. 15 after it was safe for staff to return to the office in Raleigh, according to Elliott.

At least one other state agency in Raleigh, the Secretary of State’s Office, shut down its website during the storm. Holmes said he wasn’t aware of any other agencies in Raleigh that shut their websites down during the storm.

Egan charged in a post that Johnson was using Hurricane Florence to manipulate people to look at his new website.

“Ironic that the Raleigh area still has power and that every other state agency’s websites are still up and functional,” Egan wrote. “And now people will have to go to a website that masquerades as a service but actually is a campaign site that only serves one person: Mark Johnson.”

Elliot said the decision to link to the websites for Johnson and the state board was made by him and that the superintendent wasn’t notified until after it happened.

Elliot also said the new website is owned by Johnson in his official capacity as superintendent. He compared it to how taxpayer dollars are also used for Gov. Roy Cooper’s official website, governor.nc.gov.

State board members, who’ve been clashing with Johnson, will also likely be asking questions about what happened with DPI’s website.

Eric Davis, the newly elected chairman of the state board, was out of the country on a church mission trip and said last week he had not heard about the DPI site being shut down and redirecting traffic to Johnson’s site.

“I feel certain that the board will have further questions for the superintendent,” he said.

Education, News

North Carolina teacher makes Time cover in feature on underpaid teachers

Raleigh teacher NaShonda Cooke features on the September cover of Time. (Source: Time)

A North Carolina teacher is the cover star for Time magazine.

However, the educator features in a piece on American teachers’ struggles to make ends meet, The News & Observer reports.

The cover photo depicts NaShonda Cooke, a teacher at Carroll Magnet Middle School in Wake County.

Teacher pay has been on the front-burner in North Carolina politics in recent years, with more than 20,000 educators and advocates swarming Raleigh this spring to protest lagging K-12 funding under the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly.

From the N&O‘s story:

Cooke is on one of three different covers for the Sept. 24 issue of Time that shares the stories of various U.S. teachers talking about how hard it is to make a living. Cooke, 43, a teacher at Carroll Middle School in Raleigh, shares about how despite having 20 years of experience she skips doctor’s appointments to save on the copay and can’t afford to fix her car or save for her children’s future.

“My coworkers are just grateful that I’m speaking out in terms of teachers having a tough time financially,” Cooke said in an interview Wednesday. “Most of us still have a hard time taking care of our families.”

The Time article comes during a year where teachers around the country held marches, protests and in some cases strikes to protest working conditions.

On Wednesday May 16, 2018, the opening day of the legislative session, educators and their supports from across the state traveled to Raleigh to demand more funding for public education.

Cooke says she makes about $69,000 a year — which is higher than the $50,861 average salary for a North Carolina teacher estimated by the National Education Association. Cooke says her salary reflects all the extra duties she does at school, her extra pay from being a nationally certified teacher and how she’s grandfathered into a program that used to give extra pay to teachers who have advanced degrees.

“Before we judge that she doesn’t make enough, we need to acknowledge that there are millions of families in North Carolina that would love to make $69,000 a year and the benefits she receives,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh.

Cooke said that while she earns more than many teachers, she’s also a single mother who has to use 30 percent of her salary to pay her rent in Raleigh. She also has to pay a variety of other expenses, including student loans and rising health insurance costs.

Part of the reason she left the Durham Public School System in 2017 was that the Wake County school system paid more, Cooke said.

Cooke worries about saving enough to pay for her 14-year-old daughter’s college education. She also has to deal with the needs of her 11-year-old daughter, who has autism.

“I can’t tell you how many letters I got this summer that said final notice,” Cooke said in the Time article. “It’s not about wanting a pay raise or extra income. It’s just about wanting a livable wage.”

The Time article also comes as state Republican legislators have trumpeted five consecutive years of teacher pay raises as part of this year’s election campaign.

“While there is always more work to be done, the facts speak for themselves — teacher pay has increased dramatically under Republican leadership,” Bill D’Elia, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, said in a statement. “We thank Ms. Cooke for her service but it’s important that we put this in perspective; when Democrats last controlled the General Assembly, thousands of state-funded teaching positions were eliminated, teachers were furloughed and their pay was frozen.

“We’ve passed five consecutive teacher pay raises, giving teachers an average $8,700 — or nearly 20 percent — increase to their base salary since 2014, with close to half of all public school teachers in the state receiving at least a $10,000 pay raise. Even according to the national teacher union’s own rankings, North Carolina ranked #2 in the U.S. for fastest rising teacher pay from 2016 to 2017.”

But Cooke said the recent raises still leave teachers making less than what they did before the recession of the late 2000s, when adjusted for inflation.

Cooke is getting the national attention after a life of being what she calls an advocate for higher teacher pay and education spending. She spoke last year in Durham as part of “A Day Without A Woman” national protests and urged fellow educators to take part in the May 16 mass teacher protest in Raleigh.