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CHCCS Looks To Revamp Teacher Pay Plan

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools officials want to move away from longevity bonuses for teachers to a pay scale that rewards professional development. While that might mean more money for some educators, it could come at a cost to others.

“Some will be very upset, yet I think it’s the best thing to do, in the long-term, for teachers, so that you don’t have to go be an assistant principal in order to make more money,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Jamezetta Bedford, speaking at a board meeting last week.

Last year the North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget that requires school systems to submit a plan for differentiated teacher pay. But CHCCS officials say they want to make sure the pay plan the district adopts will support the progress of all teachers, not just the top performers.

Board Chair Mike Kelley said the plan under consideration now meets that goal.

“A possible alternative that the state legislature could impose on us might look very ugly, but this to me seems like its homegrown- it comes from our professionals and it’s been developed and thought out in a way which is very careful, deliberative and not reactionary,” said Kelley.

A committee of teachers, staffers and advisors from UNC’s School of Education recently sat down to evaluate options for reconfiguring teacher pay.

They came up with a plan in which teachers would earn points for participating in professional development and get credit for rising student test scores. These points would then translate to salary increases.

But this could mean those teachers who don’t invest in professional development might lose out on potential pay raises, as longevity bonuses would no longer be guaranteed.

Still, given that many teachers have seen their compensation levels frozen for years, Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said the new plan might be better than the status quo.

“Their current reality is they’ve been standstill for six, seven years, and now the new model that the state has in terms of the salary schedule shows that raises come every five years,” LoFrese told the board. “So we’re trying to change that and we think this is a positive step in that direction.”

Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board last week the full financial details are not yet available, but administrators want to make sure it doesn’t cost the district more, or cause those currently employed as teachers to lose ground. Board Chair Kelley warned it might be tough to do both.

“Unless there’s new money for salaries- and that would probably have to come from the state in some fashion, because it is probably not likely going to come from the district- then there may have to be some redistribution of the funds that are available,” said Kelley.

The school board will discuss the plan further at the district’s planning retreat in February. Administrators will present a final proposal to the board in March.

Local Leaders Eye 2015 NCGA With Cautious Optimism

As the General Assembly reconvenes, local leaders say they hope legislators will take a more favorable view of municipal issues in 2015.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says during the last legislative session, some members of the General Assembly declared war on North Carolina’s cities.

“In the last legislature, the relationship between the legislature and cities was not very good,” says Kleinschmidt. “We had several members of the legislature who seemed to be at war with the cities that they were representing, particularly Representative Stone and Representative Moffitt.”

But Kleinschmidt says he’s optimistic that this year will be different, in part because those representatives were voted out of office.

Though the House and Senate are still under firm Republican control, state Democrats managed to gain three seats in the November election. Two of the incumbents who lost their seats led the charge to rein in municipal authority. Kleinschmidt says their loss sends a message to those who would target city government.

He’s also looking to Governor Pat McCrory to take a stand on a number of controversial issues including the statewide expansion of Medicaid.

“Now he’s got to decide if he’s going to pick some fights, and it looks like he’s already laying the groundwork for some of those fights,” says Kleinschmidt.

A recent report from George Washington University shows North Carolina lost $2.7 billion dollars last year when Republican leaders decided to forgo Medicaid expansion. The state stands to lose $3.3 billion more next year.

There’s also a showdown looming on historic preservation tax credits. The General Assembly repealed them last year, but even before the legislature reconvened, civic leaders from across the state launched a bi-partisan effort to bring them back.

“We have some lines being drawn and that’s going to be fun to watch,” says Kleinschidt. “Now, can Chapel Hill and out legislative delegation get in there and exploit some of that? That remains to be seen.”

Kleinschmidt and other members of the Chapel Hill Town Council sat down recently with state Senators Valerie Foushee and Mike Woodard, as well as Representative Graig Meyer and a spokesperson from Representative Verla Insko’s office to hash out plans for the 2015 legislative session. Kleinschmidt says the local delegation will mostly be playing defense to help towns maintain their revenue sources and planning authority.

If the General Assembly follows through on a promise to do away with extra-territorial jurisdictions, it could throw a wrench in Chapel Hill’s plan to help fund a sewer project in the Rogers Road community by extending the town’s ETJ to encompass the neighborhood.

“It would take Chapel Hill out of the equation,” says Kleinschmidt. “We would have to find some roundabout ways to provide direct financial contributions.”

Despite reports that Republican leaders have already begun conducting closed-door sessions on education policy that shut out Democratic leaders, Kleinschmidt says he and other local leaders are looking to the upcoming legislative session with hope.

“At this point, let’s decide to be optimistic and hope that the end is near for those closed door meetings, that there will be attempts to bring in members of the minority to advise and provide some input into the policies of our state.”

The 2015 legislative session convenes Wednesday for a one-day organizational session. The General Assembly will reconvene on January 28.

Foushee, Meyer, Insko Easily Win State House And Senate Seats

Democratic incumbents swept away their Republican challengers in three local races for State House and Senate.

Valerie Foushee, Verla Insko and Graig Meyer will all be returning to Raleigh to represent Senate District 23 and House Districts 56 and 50.

Foushee defeated Mary Lopez-Carter with 68 percent of the vote for the Senate 23 seat representing Orange and Chatham counties.

Foushee says she’s hoping Democrats will be able to advocate for more progressive issues in the next legislative session .

“I think that there is a push across the state for consideration of Medicaid expansion,” says Foushee. “I think that we’ve heard from people that believe that North Carolina is what it is because of previous investments in education; we’ll be able to push that agenda again, so I look forward to that.”

Meyer beat Hillsborough pastor Rod Cheney with the smallest margin among the three Democrats. Meyer won with 57 percent of the vote, Chaney garnered 42 percent.

Meyer says he took nothing for granted in his first campaign for office. He raised more than $230,000 and contributed much of that to support candidates in more hotly contested races.

“It doesn’t do me any good to be in the back row of a minority party that can’t even break a veto,” says Meyer. “So I wanted to make sure that we elected Democrats in Wake County, Buncome County, Lee County, places where we had targeted races. People in some of those areas can’t raise as much money as Orange County, so I wanted to help do what I could to help elect those candidates so we can make some good changes in the legislature.”

In the House 56 race representing Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Verla Insko won against Dave Carter 81 percent to 18 percent.

Insko returns to the State House for her 10th term. Foushee and Meyer were appointed to their positions last fall following the resignation of former Senator Ellie Kinnaird.

More Than 400 Disenfranchised By New NC Voting Rules

Democracy North Carolina says 454 voters who would have had their ballots counted under 2012 election rules were not able to vote in the May Primary thanks to two key changes made by the General Assembly.

North Carolina’s sweeping election reform bill was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory in 2013. Among the many changes to voting rules, the new law did away with same-day registration during Early Voting and no longer allowed voters to cast a provisional ballot if they show up to vote outside their assigned precinct.

Democracy North Carolina says new analysis shows the laws are disproportionately affecting minority and Democratic voters.

Black voters, who make up 22 percent of the state’s registered voters, counted for 39 percent of those whose ballots were rejected. Democrats are 42 percent of all registered voters, but were 57 percent of those disenfranchised by the new rules.
The data was released one month before the deadline to register to vote in the November general election. Voting advocates say it’s important to double-check voting status now because the October 10 deadline is your last chance to register.

To check your registration status and see a sample ballot, go to

You can find the full report from Democracy North Carolina here.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.