Democrats Outraise GOP In Race For Local NCGA Seats

North Carolina State Senator Valerie Foushee and Representative Graig Meyer are each running for office for the first time since being appointed to their positions last fall, but their relative newcomer status isn’t proving a hindrance to high-dollar fundraising.

According to campaign finance reports, Meyer has brought in more than $119,000 this election season. Of that, he’s spent $50,000, leaving $69,700 in his campaign coffers. Meanwhile Rod Chaney, the Republican challenger vying for the House 50 seat, has raised approximately $7,200 and spent $2,000.

In the race for Senate District 23, Valerie Foushee has raised $56,600 and spent $32,900, leaving her with $26,900 in the bank as the fall campaign season heats up. Foushee’s opponent Mary Lopez-Carter, by contrast, has raised just $2,200 and spent half.

In the House District 56 race, incumbent Verla Insko has brought in $117,000 and spent all but $33,000. Her opponent, Dave Carter, reports raising $517, He’s spent about $150, with $360 on hand.

All candidates report donations from political action committees. Meyer has received $7,000 from PACs including $500 from the NC Dental Society and $4,000 from fellow Representative Insko’s campaign. He has donated $9,000 to other candidates or committees.

Foushee reports collecting $8,650 from political action committees including $5,000 from Lillian’s List, and $750 from McGuire Woods LLC, a Richmond-based lobbying firm representing attorneys.

Insko received $5,000 in donations from PACs, including $1,000 each from the Nationwide Carolina Political Participation Fund, NC Advocates for Justice and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC Employee PAC. A large chunk of Insko’s spending, $65,000 worth, has gone to fund other campaigns, including $15,000 to the Democratic Party of N.C.

Chaney, Carter and Lopez-Carter have received a combined total of $1,200 from the Orange County Republican party, and Lopez-Carter accepted an additional $250 from the North Carolina Republican Party.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/democrats-outraise-gop-race-local-ncga-seats/

CHCCS Faces $900k Budget Gap And Loss of 22 TAs

With the new state spending plan in place, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are facing a nearly one million dollar budget gap.

The $911,000 shortfall means the school board will consider a plan to cut four and a half gifted education specialist positions at the elementary level and transfer some custodial staff to contract work.

Because of state budget cuts, the district could lose 22 teaching assistants. Legislators shifted the $800,000 that would have paid those assistants to fund classroom teaching positions in an effort to lower class size.

While school systems have some ability to shift that money back to TAs, Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators say the state has put limitations on the exchange that don’t make it feasible for the district. School officials plan to reallocate teaching assistants in grades 4 and 5 and hire more teachers instead.

While the state budget provides more money for most teachers, veteran educators and other school employees are not likely to see much of pay raise. In response, CHCCS administrators are asking for $2.5 million to make sure all public school employees get at least a three percent raise.

This newest version of the local budget was released on Tuesday and no final decisions have yet been made.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board will meet at 7 o’clock at the Lincoln Center on Thursday to vote on the 2014-2015 budget proposal. You can read the full agenda here.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-faces-900k-budget-gap-loss-22-tas/

Local Teachers Lukewarm On New Pay Plan

With the start of the school year looming, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources department is racing to fill teaching positions. Local administrators had been forced to put some hiring decisions on hold over the summer while state lawmakers haggled over a new spending plan.

Though the recently approved budget agreement provides more certainty, Teacher Recruitment Coordinator Mary Gunderson says there’s still a sense of unease among educators.

“The big piece that I see that’s different than in years past is just this sense of worry about the future of teaching in North Carolina, worry over how competitive North Carolina will be with other states,” says Gunderson.

The district has hired more than 130 teachers in the past two weeks, and while that number is about average for the district, she says she’s seen more teachers declining job offers than before, and some of those who have already accepted job offers have changed their minds.

“We have had more than usual in terms of candidates declining offers, and I think that’s symptomatic of what’s happening at the state level with dissatisfaction with what’s happening with teaching salaries,” says Gunderson. “To date, I’ve had 23 candidates decline offers, and then, unfortunately, I’ve had another 12 candidates accept an offer and then a few weeks or even a few months later change their minds and take another offer.”

Gunderson says this makes it particularly hard to hire teachers in high-need areas like math, science and exceptional education.

“In some of the high needs area, as we move farther into the calendar, those pools have much smaller numbers of teaching candidates who are available for positions, so as we move later into the summer, fewer and fewer of those candidates are available and seeking positions.”

Gunderson says many of those seeking employment elsewhere are looking at other school systems, private schools, charter schools, or new professions altogether.

North Carolina’s low teacher pay has been a political hot button in recent weeks, as the exact percentage of proposed pay raises was one of the major sticking points between lawmakers trying to reconcile the House and Senate budget plans.

Ultimately, the General Assembly settled on a new pay scale for teachers that offers an average seven percent raise. However the actual amount varies widely depending on experience. New teachers will see a seven percent increase, and those with five years experience will see as much as 18 percent. But veteran teachers could see as little as one percent. Some say the plan to cap salaries at $50,000 and do away with longevity bonuses shows a lack of respect for those with decades of classroom experience.

“I just spoke with a candidate this morning who has 28 years experience and she says ‘You know, it’s just sad for someone in my position that my experience is not valued in the current state salary system,’ and that’s really a true statement,” says Gunderson. “When the pay scale raises are dramatically different -this year the range is huge, all the way from one percent to 18 percent- it really is hard to separate that from a sense of value when you’re one of the people who just gets the one percent raise.”

Some hiring decisions are still up in the air as the final local school budget has yet to be approved. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools board meets next week to hash out the details. Board members are expected to pass a budget on Thursday.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/local-teachers-lukewarm-new-pay-plan/

NCGA Approves New Teacher Pay Plan

After weeks of wrangling, the state House and Senate each voted last week to approve a $21 billion dollar budget that includes an average seven percent pay raise for public school teachers.

Though leaders in the Republican-controlled General Assembly called the new budget “historic” for putting $282 million towards education, some educators themselves have criticized the new teacher pay plan.

That’s because longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than 10 of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.

This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to two to four percent, while starting teachers will receive a 7 percent boost and those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18 percent increase.

Governor Pat McCrory has indicated he will approve the new spending plan. Though the General Assembly has signed off on the budget agreement, lawmakers can’t agree on a plan to draw the session to a close. The House and Senate are split on whether to take up the issues of Medicaid reform and coal ash clean up, or hold off until after the November election.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/ncga-approves-new-teacher-pay-plan/

OC Commissioner Blasts Proposed NCGA Measure on County Taxes

Originally posted 2:22 a.m., July 19, 2014

The North Carolina Senate appears to be serious about a measure that would prohibit counties from calling sales tax referenda for use toward both transportation and education.

Under the proposed bill, counties would have to choose between the two.

“What the General Assembly is discussing is pitting education against transportation,” said Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich. “The problem with that is that transportation is always going to be the loser, because we value education so much in our county.”

On Wednesday, a State Senate Panel approved a bill by voice vote that could prevent Wake County in joining Orange and Durham Counties in using sales taxes to fund public transit.

The proposed measure would allow counties to raise taxes by referendum on a sales tax for either education or transportation, but not both.

The Durham Herald-Sun reported that Republican Sen. Rick Gunn of Alamance said that it would force counties to make a “clear decision on priorities.”

The bill would also cap local sales taxes at 2.5 percent.

Voters in Orange and Durham Counties have elected to raise taxes for both education and transit, and both currently have a 2.75 percent sales taxes in place. They would be exempt from the bill.

But Rich sees trouble ahead when it comes to forming transportation partnerships between counties in the future.

“Wake County has been discussing a transportation tax, and they are part of a group that is Wake, Durham and Chapel Hill to supply public transportation to our groups, and to get people moving, either with light rail or buses,” said Rich.

She also said that the ramifications for Orange County and all North Carolina counties go far beyond immediate consequences. She called the Senate bill another “divide-and-conquer” tactic

“There are big ramifications, because when the General Assembly is taking away the governing power of the county as they’re doing in this bill – and they do it in the first bill, and it gets by – then there’s no telling what they do down the road.

“So even though we say that we don’t have ramifications because we have our sales tax in place, it really is a grab,” she said. “It’s a grab for power.”

The late-session bill was supposed to go to the full Senate for a vote on Thursday, but was delayed until Monday.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/tax-bill/

NCGA Budget Impasse Leaves Local TA’s In Limbo

As state lawmakers wrangle over a budget agreement, nearly 100 teaching assistants in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system are in limbo, waiting to find out if they’ll still have jobs when school starts.

Arasi Adkins is the Human Resources Director for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. She says 79 local teaching assistant positions will remain unfilled until state budget negotiations are complete.

“Their livelihood is hanging in the balance,” says Adkins. “They’re waiting to be re-hired. We’re kind of holding on, so this is extremely difficult for them [and] it’s extremely difficult for us in terms of staffing. It’s been a very challenging summer.”

Last year, in response to state budget cuts, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools hired new teaching assistants on one year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. Now, school officials say the district has run out of reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they’re waiting to see what, if anything, the state will do to help pay for teaching assistants.

“Because there’s such a huge variance in the House version of the budget and the Senate version of the budget, it really is difficult to do anything other that wait,” says Adkins.

Negotiations between the state House and Senate are stalled as legislators debate competing spending plans. The House version calls for a five or six percent raise for teachers while the Senate wants to push that up to 11 percent, but pay for those raises by cutting teaching assistants.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board is waiting until July 17 to adopt its local budget for next year. In anticipation of further cuts to state funding the board has identified two levels of potential budget cuts.

The first tier would bring the budget in line with the House plan. It would require $850,000 worth of cuts, including the loss of 4.5 gifted education specialist positions.

Depending on the final budget, a second round of cuts could be necessary. That would mean eliminating the district’s service learning coordinator, cutting media assistants to part-time, losing three and a half more gifted education positions, and shifting some custodial staff to lower-paid contract work.

But some worry that a third round of cuts might be needed if something similar to the Senate budget is passed. If that happens, school officials acknowledge teaching assistant positions will be on the chopping block.

“We have identified two different tiers worth of cuts that don’t involve teaching assistant reductions at all, so that’s what we’re really hoping for. Beyond that we really haven’t discussed the number of teaching assistant positions that would be cut if we have to go to that,” says Adkins

State lawmakers on Friday canceled a planned negotiation session, prompting speculation that the General Assembly could walk away without a new spending plan. The state is currently operating on a two-year budget passed in 2013, so the lack of a deal wouldn’t cause a government shutdown, but Adkins says the uncertainty affects what the district can offer to entice new hires.

Most disheartening, she says, is the recent discussion in the Senate questioning the benefits of teaching assistants in the classroom.

“I mean, it’s July. If they wanted to bring up research about the value of teaching assistants, I really believe they should have spent more time last year visiting classrooms, talking to teachers, talking to their constituents about the value of teaching assistants,” says Adkins.”I’d really argue that anybody who questions the value of a teacher assistant should be required to do substitute teaching in an elementary classroom.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meets on Thursday to discuss the budget, but whether or not the board will have a budget to approve remains to be seen. In the meantime, many local teaching assistants have no choice but to wait and see.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/ncga-budget-impasse-leaves-local-tas-limbo/

Local Schools In Limbo Awaiting State Budget

Depending of which version of the state budget wins favor in the General Assembly in the coming days, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could be facing between $850,000 and $3 million dollars worth of budget cuts.

The school board held a special meeting on Tuesday to review options for dealing with those cuts. Elected leaders said the focus should be protecting the student experience in the classroom.

“Right now we’re trying to preserve the core education for our kids,” said board member Michelle Brownstein.

All agreed the House plan, which maintains funding for teaching assistants and includes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, is the best case scenario. Still, it would require $850,000 worth of local budget cuts, including the loss of 4.5 gifted education specialist positions.

A second round of cuts could be necessary if the General Assembly adopts a budget similar to the Senate’s spending plan.

That could include eliminating the district’s service learning coordinator, cutting media assistants to part-time, losing three and a half more gifted education positions, and shifting some custodial staff to lower-paid contract work.

While all that would trim nearly $1 million dollars, officials acknowledge that’s not enough to account for the shortfall in the Senate’s budget proposal, which calls for an 11 percent pay raise while slashing funding for teaching assistants.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board hiring for 80 teaching assistant positions is on hold until the state’s final budget is approved.

“We’ve been preparing for this for over a year, and so the teaching assistants that were hired all throughout last year were placed on interim contracts, and while we’d like to hire them back, we’re not going to do so until we have clarity,” said LoFrese.

School board officials hope to sign off on the budget July 17, but they say another emergency meeting could be needed if the legislature unveils any last minute surprises.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-schools-limbo-awaiting-state-budget/

NC GOP Unpopular – But Are They In Danger?

Pat McCrory is unpopular and the North Carolina General Assembly is extremely unpopular – but it doesn’t look like there will be much of a shakeup in Raleigh when North Carolinians go to vote this November.

That’s the upshot of the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, released last week.

Read the report here.

Governor McCrory’s approval rating is only 39 percent and his disapproval rating is 45 percent – marking the 12th month in a row that McCrory has been in negative territory. PPP director Tom Jensen says that may be because voters see McCrory as a weak governor: only 27 percent believe he’s calling the shots in Raleigh, while 43 percent think the General Assembly is in control. (And voters don’t see that as a good thing: only 18 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the NCGA is doing.)

But voters disapprove of Democrats in the NCGA as much as they disapprove of Republicans – so even though the NCGA is in Republican hands, there doesn’t appear to be a groundswell of support for Democrats yet. Republicans actually lead a generic legislative ballot 43-41, which Jensen says would give the GOP essentially the same majority for the next two years that it enjoys today. (That’s in spite of the fact that most of the policies being passed in the House and Senate are themselves unpopular as well.)

Tom Jensen joined Aaron Keck on the Tuesday afternoon news to discuss the poll.

As for the 2016 election, Jensen says to expect some close races: McCrory currently holds a 44-42 lead over attorney general Roy Cooper, the presumptive Democratic challenger (owing partly to Cooper’s low name recognition, Jensen says), while Hillary Clinton leads the most likely Republican candidates in the presidential race by equally narrow margins.

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/nc-gop-unpopular-danger/

Local Electeds React To State Senate Budget

The North Carolina General Assembly is meeting in “short session” this year – but there’s been no shortness of controversy.

At the center of debate last week was the budget proposal released by State Senate Republicans, which includes more than $400 million for a significant hike in teacher salaries – but that raise comes (among other things) at the expense of massive cuts to teacher assistants in grades 2 and 3.

Already facing a multi-million-dollar shortfall, officials at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools say the Senate’s proposal would likely force the district to make even more cuts than they were initially planning – unless they can persuade County Commissioners to dig even deeper into the pool of local money. (Fully funding the budget requests of both the county’s districts would almost certainly necessitate a tax increase, though, which County Commissioners and county staff have been reluctant to impose.)

Meanwhile – though it hasn’t received as much media attention – local municipalities across the state are also contending with the repeal of a business privilege tax, which the AP reports could cost municipalities a total of $62 million statewide. Governor Pat McCrory signed the repeal on Thursday.

With those and other issues in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member James Barrett to the studio on Thursday, for a pair of conversations about the local impact of recent actions at the NCGA.

Mark Kleinschmidt:

James Barrett:

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/local-electeds-react-state-senate-budget/

Three NCGA Legislators From Orange Give a Preview of the Short Session

The short session of the North Carolina General Assembly begins Wednesday.

Three state legislators from Orange County, all Democrats, spoke recently with WCHL about their expectations for this session.

“There is absolutely no evidence that the tax cut has stimulated the economy in any way,” says Rep. Verla Insko of District 56. “And we are still about 60,000 jobs short of the people that were employed in 2007, or 2008.”

She says the Republican majority in Raleigh has been “reckless” with budgeting policies over the past three years – in particular, with tax cuts that brought down revenue.

Insko says the recent news of a $445 million shortfall should not have surprised Republican legislators. And she’s not a fan of dipping into $6 million in reserves, as a solution.

“It’s one-time money,” says Insko. “And Democrats did use one-time money to fill holes. So it’s not that it’s never been done. But we didn’t try to fund significant recurring expense with that money.”

Insko and her fellow Orange County legislators – District 50 Rep, Graig Meyer, and District 23 Senator Valerie Foushee – all agree that tweaking the budget will be the top priority.

And within that task, the top issue is raising teacher pay.

“We do need and across-the board pay raise for teachers,” says Meyer, “and I’m glad that the governor recognizes that. But along with the small raise that he proposed for this year, we need a serious plan for how we’re going to boost the pay of our teachers up to the national average or above.

“And the governor’s plan doesn’t do that. The base salary scale on his plan tops out at $50,000. And the nationwide average for teacher pay is $55,000.”

Like Insko and Foushee, he’s worried about where the money will come from.

“If the legislature decides to cut the university system significantly in order to give teachers a raise, I don’t see that as good legislation, and I’m not sure I could vote for that.”

Another top item on the to-do list mentioned by all three legislators is enforcing the cleanup of all of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, in addition to the one that spilled into the Dan River back in February.

“When people look at what’s happening now, they expect the state to ensure that Duke Energy does indeed clean up those ponds,” says Foushee,” and that there’s a plan in place that ensures that this sort of thing won’t happen again; and that rate payers are not going to ones that pay for the cleanup.”

Foushee told WCHL that she has one reason to feel optimistic about this legislative session.

“What I’m hearing is that we’re not going to be there very long,” says Foushee. “And that would suggest to me that there won’t be a lot of controversial legislation proposed or passed.

“I think that, right now, that is probably the best that we can expect.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/three-ncga-legislators-orange-give-preview-short-session/