Democratic State Rep Seeks Bipartisan Ideas for Schools

The Democratic state House representative for District 50 is chronicling his efforts to find common ground on education with conservative colleagues.

Rep. Graig Meyer recently wrote a series of three pieces for

One column recounts a trip to Florida for the annual Excellence in Education summit created by former Gov. Jeb Bush’s foundation.

“I wanted to go because I was trying to work, as a Democrat to understand what Republicans are working on around state education policy, ” said Meyer, “ and see where I can find some common ground with them.”

Meyer said he found the experience both “challenging” and “rewarding,” and he wanted to document his experiences.

In the first of his series, Meyer talks about the challenges of finding common ground, and how he believes that can best be achieved.

“The second piece is a specific piece about our school grading policy of giving all schools a grade of A through F, and how I think we may improve upon that policy,” said Meyer, “based on things I’ve learned from states that have had more experience and from some Republican advocates, and what they’ve pushed for.

“So, it was a case where visiting with the Republican advocates actually changed my mind on something.”

For example, there’s the issue of the state’s grading system for schools. Meyer said he once considered the grading policy to be reductive, and not helpful.

“What changed my mind, and where I think there’s some common ground, is that I do think that it’s a low-cost or no-cost mechanism that could be used to give incentives or leverage for the states that encourage schools to improve in areas where we think it’s important for them to improve,” said Meyer.

Meyer said that one problem with North Carolina’s current grading system for schools is that not enough emphasis goes toward improving students that are falling behind.

His third piece, which came from that trip to Florida, is a critique of conservative school-choice ideology. That continues to be an area where Meyer has a big challenge in finding agreement across the iasle.

“Their policy prescriptions are really inadequate for making sure that we have high-performing public schools,” said Meyer.

Still, despite his assessment of an ideological new Republican majority in Raleigh that doesn’t seem terribly interested in compromise, Meyer said that recent conversations with conservatives on education have given him reason to believe there’s hope for progress.

“I do think that there are a lot of Republicans who really, truly want us to continue to have strong public schools that work for every child,” said Meyer.

Meyer will continue to blog for the online publication.

General Assembly Weekend Check-In

Three major, and controversial, decisions have been made in the North Carolina General Assembly this past weekend: the Senate’s new spending plan, teacher pay raises, and the fracking bill.

The Senate has decided upon a new $21.1 billion spending plan for 2014-15 this weekend. Democrats were displeased with how quickly the decision was made, as it allowed for minimal negotiation. They seemed to be in consensus that the Senate was only interested in hearing their own approval, rather than the perspectives of the general public.

As part of this new budget plan, legislators also desire to encourage teachers to give up their tenure in exchange for an 11% raise in pay. Teachers, in response, are disagreeing with the motion as they desire more protection from unfriendly politics that surround schools presently. These raises are also planned to be gathered from cuts that would come from public school spending.

Other states are allegedly not attempting this swap of pay raise for tenure. Democrats agree that this action is not for the benefit of the teacher’s, but more of a cover-up for legislators’ inability to manage money wisely.

The fracking bill, completely supported by the House Republicans, is now on its way to be signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, who is more than ready to help get it passed. While Democrats were clearly unhappy with the bill, they failed to halt the process. Instead, they were able to add a few minor alterations to the bill as compromise before being sent to Gov. McCrory.

Many North Carolinians fear what the fracking might mean for chemicals that could get into well water, as well as how the Senate now seems to have the ability to override local governments in relation to how the fracking will be carried out.

As of now, there seems to be a great deal of controversy with each major decision processed by the General Assembly of North Carolina this past weekend. The uncertainty regarding the decided amount of the budget has some questioning how things are going to get better now. The risky move of raising teachers’ salaries whilst eliminating assistants and tenure is causing a rift of displeasure from educators of North Carolina, and unfavorable fracking plans that may affect local businesses in a way that they are unwilling to comply with the Senate’s decision.

State Teacher Pay Task Force Report Draws Criticism From Educators

The final report issued by a state task force charged with tackling issues related teacher pay is drawing criticism for lacking specificity and failing to produce any tangible solutions.

In the last meeting Monday of the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force, state leaders outlined observations and recommendations for improving the current condition of teachers’ pay in North Carolina.

The most assertive action the report recommended was setting a “short-term goal” of increasing salaries for teachers with less than 10 years of experience—i.e. beginning teachers and those who are most inclined to leave the profession in North Carolina.

Governor Pat McCrory already announced in February that it was his intention to increase starting teachers’ salaries.

As “a long-term goal,” the report suggested that the General Assembly institute a pay raise for teachers across the board. State House 50 Representative Graig Meyer, who was in attendance Monday, said he was disappointed that a timeline was not set for achieving either of those objectives.

“There is no reason why we need to wait two or three more years to go ahead and give pay raises to all teachers in the state,” Meyer said.

As far as developing parameters for a new teacher salary compensation model, Meyer, who also serves as the Director of Student Equity and Volunteer Services for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said he thought the report was deficient and unclear.

Lawmakers are considering alternative teacher pay models that could be coupled with strong student performance in the classroom. The state’s current salary schedule bases teacher’s salary increases on their years of experience.

“They had multiple presenters talk to us about different incentive pay plans. The one thing that was clear was that there was no evidence that any of those plans are very good at identifying who are the best teachers, nor what is the best way to compensate those teachers,” Meyer said. “They are trying to create something for which we have no good model. It doesn’t mean that a good model couldn’t exist, but I don’t see any reason we should push ahead with something that is going to fail.”

In its final recommendation, the document called for the State Board of Education to examine the teacher compensation systems and report back to lawmakers later this year.

“They are kicking the can down the road and are shifting the responsibility over to the state Board of Education, and it is too bad that they are not making the decisions that they need to in order to give teachers a raise,” he said.

Meyer added that he and others who attended the task force meetings felt that the input of education professionals had been left out.

“I was disappointed that this was a task force where educators were actually invited to the table with the General Assembly, but at the end, when the report came out, the educators made it clear that their voices hadn’t been heard. The things that they recommended, the things that they wanted to see in the plan.”

North Carolina’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the country, ranking 46th, and make less than  instructors in each of the surrounding states.

Task Force Considers NC Teacher Pay Incentives, Rep Meyer In Attendence

State House 50 Representative Graig Meyer said that teacher morale in our local school districts and across North Carolina is currently the lowest he has experienced during his career in public education. Teachers in the state have gone six years without a real pay raise, in addition to other setbacks.

“While the General Assembly talks about recruiting and retaining teachers, they have to remember there is a third ‘R.’ That is respecting teachers,” said Meyer, who is also the Director of Student Equity and Volunteer Services for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

He was appointed to the House 50 seat in October of last year. However, the General Assembly doesn’t reconvene for the short session until May 14, and the 2014 Primary is May 6, so he is currently on the campaign trail.

Meyer said that education is his most important platform issue.

Tuesday morning, he attended a teacher pay task force meeting at the General Assembly in Raleigh.

The major take-away from the discussion, Meyer explained, was that lawmakers are considering alternative teacher pay models that could be coupled with strong student performance in the classroom. He said that in theory it is a good idea, but state leaders have not devised a clear system to offer incentives state-wide.

Governor Pat McCrory announced a plan earlier this month to increase starting teachers’ salaries nearly 14 percent in the next two years, but no immediate increase was mentioned for teaching professionals already into their careers.

“We have heard the proposal that they would like to raise the pay for starting teachers so that every teacher in the state would make a minimum of $35,000, which is a step in the right direction,” Meyer said. “Unfortunately, we heard again this morning that they are not planning to give teachers an across-the-board raise.”

Meyer explained that the proposal states that new teachers’ pay would be fixed at the starting salary for approximately the first ten years of their career and that instructors with more than nine years of experience would not get a pay raise unless policies are changed.

North Carolina’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the country, ranking 46th , and make less than  instructors in each of the surrounding states. The beginning salary for a teacher in North Carolina with less than six years of experience is $30,800 for the 2013-2014 school year, according to the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Going into their sixth year, teachers currently get $420 added to the base salary. Meyer added that CHCCS and Durham Public Schools add salary supplements separate from the state.

Stagnant salaries are just one of the many issues that educators have said threaten the education system in North Carolina. In 2013, state lawmakers eliminated salary bonuses for teachers with advanced degrees and also nixed teacher tenure.

“I want to start to change the narrative about public education and remind people that North Carolina has always relied on its public education system to create opportunities for the next generation of North Carolinians. We need strong public schools  in the state. This means we have to value the people who work in those schools with compensations, and valuing their time and expertise.”

Tuesday morning was only the first meeting of Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force. Legislators authorized the panel to make recommendations by mid-April, according to the Associated Press.

PPP: Most Voters Still Unhappy With NC GOP

CHAPEL HILL- North Carolinians continue to be widely displeased with the General Assembly, but those numbers could be changing, according to Public Policy Polling’s Jim Williams.

“State government, as a whole, is not viewed very well by North Carolinians,” says Williams. “Just 39 percent of voters say GOP control of government has been a good thing, compared to 50 percent who say it’s a bad thing.”

Williams says while Governor Pat McCrory’s popularity rating has risen by two points since September, only 39 percent of those polled approve of his leadership.

Though the majority of voters polled view Republicans negatively, the numbers have shifted slightly in their favor since the end of the legislative session. Democrats, who led on a generic ballot by a nine point margin in July, now lead by only two points.

Public Policy Polling also asked respondents how the court system should deal with those arrested during the Moral Monday protests. Williams says most feel the charges should be dropped.

“Fifty-one percent of voters think that those charges against the protesters should be dropped, compared to just 33 percent who think that they should be prosecuted,” says Williams. “That includes the majority of Democrats and independents, and even 29 percent of Republicans voters think those charges should be dropped.”

The survey polled 701 registered voters throughout North Carolina. You can find a link to the full results here.

State Budget Cuts Pose Challenge For Mayoral Candidates

CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s mayoral candidates are running unopposed this year, but they say the real challenges will come from state leaders in Raleigh.

Lydia Lavelle hopes to make the jump from the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to the mayor’s seat, and given that she’s the only candidate, it seems like an easy win. But Lavelle says the actions of the General Assembly are likely to make her job, and that of other local elected officials, much harder in the coming months and years.

“It is going to be a tremendous challenge,” says Lavelle. “Not only the policy and laws that are coming from the General Assembly, but also in terms of financial cutbacks we might get. We have got to be on our guard and be communicating with other towns and counties about this.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt agrees. As he anticipates his third term, he says reductions in funding from the state could be a major issue.

“It’s going to be a community-wide challenge and it is one that I don’t think is on everybody’s radar at this moment,” says Kleinschmidt. “I hope during this campaign folks will become more aware of these challenges and we can work to address them in this next term.”

Chapel Hill Transit and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system have already begun to wrestle with cuts to transportation and school budgets during this past budget season.

Lavelle worries the hands of local governments are being tied by lawmakers in the General Assembly in other ways as well.

“Not only the North Carolina General Assembly, but our Supreme Court seems to be seeking to curtail our authority to really do anything at the local level,” says Lavelle. “I think it is really important that we try to keep a gauge on the different laws that they are trying to pass, to try to speak up when some of the bills they’re debating can affect local government in a way that a lot of the General Assembly doesn’t understand, and that they really wouldn’t want their town and their constituents to be faced with.”

The legislative session just ended, and though the full impact of the new laws remains to be seen, there are at least two bright spots for the towns.

Kleinschmidt says Chapel Hill was recently granted the authority to pursue new public/private partnerships outside of the downtown area.

“Famously you know we engaged in a public/private partnership to create 140 West, but our downtown was the only area that we were authorized to do such agreements,” says Kleinschmidt. “Now we have the authority from the General Assembly to do these kinds of projects outside our downtown core.”

And thanks to a bill sponsored by Senator Ellie Kinnaird, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen now has the option of appointing a new member to fill a vacancy, instead of holding a special election.

Passage of Senate Bill 128 is especially relevant now, as Lavelle has two years left in her term on the board. When she’s sworn in as Carrboro’s new mayor in December, aldermen will likely begin the process of filling her seat by appointment.

Epic End To Raleigh Moral Mondays

Photo by Rachel Nash

RALEIGH – For thirteen weeks, people have gathered in Raleigh to rally against the policies of the Republican-led General Assembly, as part of a movement that’s come to be called the Moral Monday protests. Since late April when the first 17 protesters were arrested, the number has grown to a final tally of 925. The legislature adjourned its tumultuous session last week, but that didn’t stop protesters.

In the largest crowd yet, they marched on the State Capitol Building in their final Moral Monday in Raleigh, shutting down streets as their message echoed across down town.

More than a thousand gathered on Fayetteville Street, facing the building where N.C. Governor McCrory conducts his business. A smaller group gathered at the State Capitol earlier in the day to demand a meeting with McCrory. Police kept the demonstration outside the building but said they would deliver the protesters’ letter to the governor.

In the past 12 Moral Mondays, the protesters have gone into the General Assembly, where arrests where made outside chamber doors. This time, the crowd gathered on the lawn of Halifax Mall and then marched in unison to their destination, chanting along the way.

Teachers from across the state came in droves, wearing red to represent public education. Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Teacher’s Association, was arrested at last week’s Moral Monday.

“Last week, the legislature passed a budget that will ultimately destroy public education in North Carolina,” Ellis said.


Ellis explained that this budget eliminates over 9,000 education positions, including teacher jobs, teacher’s assistants and education support personnel. It provides no raises for teachers and does away with a salary increase for those who earn master’s degrees. Perhaps the most controversial measure is the $20 million set aside for “opportunity scholarships,” which opponents have compared to a school voucher system.

UNC alum Rory Santaloci currently teaches in Efland and has attended many Moral Mondays. He said the budget, which McCrory signed last week, is an insult to teachers across the state.

“If the majority of our population is taught in public schools, a large portion of the budget should go to public schools as well. We’re talking about the future of our state and the future of our counties,” Santaloci said.

Santloci is going to grad school at NYU in the fall, but because of what has happened, he won’t be coming back to his home state.

“Before this law was passed, I was going to grad school with the hope of returning to North Carolina and getting a pay raise. I’m going to [grad] school in New York and the incentive to return and teach where I am from is no longer there,” Santaloci said.

UNC Alum Ashley Jones, who is in her third year of teaching, had plans to get her master’s degree this fall, but cancelled those plans.

“In the foreseeable future, I’ll always be paid as a first year teacher, and it is not very much. To know that it [teacher’s salary] won’t go up is really frustrating,” Jones said.

NAACP State Chapter President and protest leader Reverend William Barber said the Moral Monday protesters aren’t going anywhere just because the General Assembly has adjourned, exclaiming, “This state is our state!”

“We understand that we are not in some mere political movement. We’re not in some mere fight over 2014. We’re in a fight for the soul of this state, the soul of the South, and the soul of this nation. And when you are in a soul fight, you don’t give up easy,” Barber said.

Though this was the last Moral Monday in Raleigh, the NAACP will continue the rallies but move to different locations around the state. The next will be in Asheville on August 5, and there are plans to hold demonstrations in all 13 of North Carolina’s congressional districts.

“What would have divided us years ago has brought us together like never before. We know where we are. Anytime in the South, you see this many black folk, brown folk, white folk, gay folk and straight folk, and people of all faiths hugging each other, something is on the loose!” Barber said.

The first Moral Monday rallies were mostly made up of protesters from the Triangle area and members of the NAACP, but as the weeks progressed and the controversial legislation was unveiled, the crowds grew.

Paul Jones, a Clinical Professor at the UNC  School of Information and Library Science and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said, “This is my sixth visit here [to Moral Monday] to try to turn the hearts of the legislature back to the path of righteousness and caring, to save them from the path of sin which they have entered, and to bring happiness and fellowship back to North Carolina.”

The movement has captured national attention from media outlets such as the New York Times, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, to name a few.

“I think it is obvious that this is gaining momentum and that the values that they are speaking to resonate with North Carolinians,” said Randy Voller, Mayor of Pittsboro and Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

For now, Mondays in downtown Raleigh will be a little more quiet until the legislature gets back to business.

To hear the radio version, click here:

13th Moral Monday To March On State Capitol Building

Pictured: Protesters at 12th Moral Monday; Photo by Rachel Nash

RALEIGH – Protesters will march to the State Capitol Building for the 13th Moral Monday even though the N.C. General Assembly has adjourned for the summer. Lawmakers ended the session having passed many controversial measures, including sweeping changes to state election laws and tighter abortion regulations for providers.

In protest of “regressive policies” of the Republican-led legislature, 925 people have been arrested since the rallies began in late April.

The past twelve Moral Mondays have culminated inside the General Assembly. Because the building will be empty, the protesters are mobilizing this time around.

NAACP State Chapter President and movement leader Reverend William Barber said Moral Monday will continue across the state after this week . Throughout the month of August, local Moral Mondays will take place in select cities and communities, including one in Asheville called “Mountain Moral Monday.” On August 28, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the NAACP will hold events in each of the 13 congressional districts in North Carolina.

Monday’s event, deemed a “Mass Social Justice Interfaith Rally,” is happening at 5:00 p.m. on the lawn of Halifax Mall. At 5:30, protesters will set out for the State Capitol. The NAACP has not yet indicated plans for arrests to take place.

Former NC Sen. Candidate Gives NC GA ‘C’

Pictured: N.C. General Assembly

ORANGE COUNTY – Throughout this entire legislative session, critics of the General Assembly have been outspoken against its Republican leadership. We’ve shared the liberal perspective on the legislature, but it’s been difficult to get a conservative perspective in Orange County.

WCHL has reached out to Stephen Xavier, Chair of the Orange County Republican Party, several times.

Dave Carter, a Republican who challenged Senator Ellie Kinnaird in the 2012 election to represent the 23rd district, shares his thoughts as this controversial legislative session comes to end.

“They’ve [the General Assembly] been all over the road. They’ve done some things I would view as progressive, which I am not a fan of. I’m not a fan of the ultraconservative crazies either,” Carter says. “And I see the current legislature, like the last legislature, and the legislature for the last 12 years that I have been following, they are driving all over the road. Sometimes they pull the wheel left, and sometimes they open their eyes and they are going to the extreme right.”

Carter doesn’t consider himself a moderate, but leans more toward Libertarian ideals.

He says he gives this General Assembly a grade of a “C.”

“They talk up a good thing, but they get all carried away with minutia. They are really not doing the things that they said they would do.”

Others, including the Moral Monday protesters, would not have so gracious an estimation of the Legislature. Each week since late April, protesters, led by NAACP State Chapter President, Reverend William Barber, have gathered in Raleigh to rally against what they call “regressive policies.”

“The Moral Monday stuff seems very fabricated, like it is almost backed by corporate sponsors,” Carter says. “I kind of expect to see Reverend Barber walking around with a big sign on the back of his shoulder, like you’d see a football player, saying sponsored by whomever.”

More than 900 people have been arrested inside the General Assembly as part of the Moral Monday protests.

“It’s like ‘Go get arrested and we can say: Look, we have 80 people arrested!’ That’s not civil disobedience; it is proving it with quota kind of stuff,” Carter says.

Activists were outraged recently when tighter abortion regulations swept through the General Assembly with little public notice, tacked onto unrelated bills.

“I know that there was recent brouhaha over the abortion stuff,” he said. “I think it was kind of tricky for them [Republican lawmakers] to do what they did, using rules in their own special way. They followed the rules, but they did it in a tricky way, and I think they could have been a little bit more transparent on that.”

Carter, who remains active in the Orange County Republican Party, says he’s entertained the idea of running again, but nothing is definite at this point.

NC Election Process Likely To See Big Changes

Pictured: Moral Monday Protest; photo by Rachel Nash

RALEIGH – The Senate backed sweeping changes in the election process Wednesday evening that will likely alter the way we vote in North Carolina. The bill proposes significant changes to the state’s current election laws and also requires photo I.D.’s at the polls.

House Bill 589  was revamped by Senate Republicans Tuesday to include provisions that go beyond a voter I.D. requirement. The new version of the bill shortens the early voting period in general elections from 17 to 10 days, prohibits counties from extending early voting hours on the Saturday before Election Day to accommodate crowds, eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting, and eliminate straight-ticket voting, among other provisions.

One form of identification that would not be accepted is student I.D.’s and some believe this is targeting the collegiate vote. Protesters, including UNC students, have been rallying  and even arrested at the General Assembly this week, outraged because of this bill.

UNC Student Body President Christy Lambden says he is concerned about how these possible changes will affect his peers’ access to the polls.

“I’m disappointed to see the introduction of the Voter I.D. Bill, especially if a student I.D. is not counting a valid form of voter I.D,” Lambden says.

Reverend William Barber of the state NAACP says in a statement: “These policies will be the most race-based, regressive and unconstitutional attacks on voting rights of the citizens of North Carolina that we have seen since the implementation of Jim Crow laws…”

Backers of the bill say that photo identification will cut down on voting fraud, whereas opponents of the bill say it is a strike against the more liberal groups, like student voters.

“Anything that is putting a constraint on voting and making it harder for students to vote, as I think this will, I think means that student voice is not going to be heard and that is ultimately troubling for me as a student representative,” Lambden says.

The election law changes normally would have been subject to authorization under the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court’s recent decision exempted North Carolina from federal review until a new process is created by Congress.

“I think the state legislature needs to focus on maximizing student participation in the election process and I think to do that, they need to make sure that students can vote as easily as possible,” Lamden says.

A final vote of concurrence is expected in the Senate on Thursday. If passed, it will then go back to the House for a final vote and finally head to the desk of Governor Pat McCrory.