UNC System President Praises GA’s Work On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Tom Ross

Tom Ross

UNC System President Tom Ross praised the North Carolina General Assembly for it’s attention to higher education with the signing of the 2014-15 budget, signed into law Thursday morning by Governor Pat McCrory. The reception wasn’t as rosy on the Pre-K-through-12 level.

President Ross released a statement shortly after the passage, reading, in part: “There is a lot to appreciate in this budget, including the first new investment by the General Assembly for parts of our strategic directions initiative and the support of the New Teacher Support Program.”

“We continue to focus on our responsibility to produce a well-equipped talent force for our businesses and our communities,” President Ross said. “Highly talented faculty and staff are critical to these efforts. As other states continue to reinvest in higher education, our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff will only get more challenging. We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly next session to address the issues that will hinder our State’s future competitiveness.”

The New Teacher Support Program’s goal is to cater to each young educators individual needs in order to make sure they are on the path to success.

Despite an average of seven-percent increase to teachers’ salaries in primary education, there are still concerns among educators.

Longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years 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 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost and those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18 percent increase.

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Representative Graig Meyer of Orange and Durham counties told WCHL Wednesday, after the announcement of Budget Director Art Pope’s resignation, that he’s also concerned about future budget decisions because there is now an $800,000 to $1 billion deficit that will have to be accounted for during 2015-16 budget talks.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/unc-system-president-praises-gas-work-budget/

UNC Campus Security Releases Final Safety Report

A last report was released today by the UNC Campus Security Initiative which provided an in-depth review and recommendations for improving safety and security for all University of North Carolina campuses.

This analysis by Initiative demonstrates what the UNC campuses do well, what the law requires, and how the University can do to improve security measures amidst a time of uncertainty.

The UNC Campus Security Initiative has encountered 26 findings and 36 recommendations in order to aid in collaboration efforts and the sharing of resources, along with many other opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to work together to make a safer UNC.

The office of Governor Pat McCrory worked alongside the Initiative to reduce the dangers alcohol and substance abuse, and many of the UNC campuses will work on this further for their program, which is focused on treatment and prevention.

The crime rate on each of the UNC campuses is still significantly under the statewide average, but the Initiative says that they will continue to “build on existing efforts with better coordination, clearer policies, and the best resources available.”

To see the full UNC Campus Security Initiative report, click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/unc-campus-security-releases-final-safety-report/

Common Core Elimination Bill Moves Forward

The Common Core curriculum standards that dictate what’s taught in grade school classrooms across the state are on their way out.

Gov. Pat McCrory signaled that he would sign a compromise bill that the House passed Wednesday and Senate signed off on it last week. The House approved the bill, 71-34, to rewrite the statewide curriculum to better tailor it for North Carolina students.

“I will sign this bill because it does not change any of North Carolina’s education standards,” McCrory said in a written statement. “It does initiate a much-needed, comprehensive and thorough review of standards. No standards will change without the approval of the State Board of Education.”

Both chambers had competing bills on how to change the state’s curriculum, but came to a compromise that allowed the state to potentially use some materials from the Common Core program that are effective.

The bill “melds the two versions quite well,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. “We are not taking anything off the table from the standpoint of being able to access the best ideas in the country to ensure that we have high academic standards.”

The bill directs the State Board of Education to rewrite the Common Core standards for the state’s K-12 standards. A new standards advisory commission would be formed to make curriculum recommendations to the board. The bill does not bar the commission or State Board from integrating current Common Core standards with the new ones. The commission would be made up of 11 members, some appointed by legislative leaders, one by the governor and others by the State Board of Education.

Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.

The curriculum standards were developed by the nation’s governors and school chiefs and have been approved by more than 40 states. But North Carolina and a handful of other states are responding to complaints from teachers, parents and conservative advocates that the standards are causing confusion and leading to the use of curriculum that is age-inappropriate.

The state Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday they support the curriculum rewrite and that it brings predictability and certainty to education in the state.

“This is a significant step toward a reasonable approach to make standards higher and our top priority is pushing for the absolute best academic standards for the state,” said Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, in a statement.

Educators and families on both sides of the aisle have been complaining about Common Core and ask that it be replaced, said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

“The bottom line is it’s a terrible system. There may be some good things about it and though this bill will allow them to sue those things if they need to,” he said. “It’s not something we should have ever accepted.”

Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, said repealing the rules is a solution in search of a problem, sends a bad signal and puts an unfair burden on schools, teachers and parents, who already invested and trained with Common Core.

“Why are we really doing this?” she said. “Is this really to better education or is this more political in nature? I worry that this is more political.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/common-core-elimination-bill-moves-forward/

McCrory Threatens Senate Budget Veto

RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory says he’d veto any North Carolina budget plan on his desk that raises teacher pay dramatically like the Senate wants because it would mean huge cuts elsewhere to pay for it.

McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday he’s not going to risk key government services and allow Medicaid reductions to accept the Senate’s average 11 percent pay offer. The original Senate proposal cut funding for thousands of teacher assistants to pay for it.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) issued the following statement Thursday:

“I’m disappointed by the governor’s threat to veto the largest teacher pay raise in state history and surprised by his demand for a budget without cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid – given that his own budget included almost $20 million in cuts to teacher assistants along with significant, though ultimately achievable, cuts to Medicaid.

“The governor has been unable to sustain any of his previous vetoes in the Senate. It would be more helpful for him to work with members of both chambers of the legislature, since his unwillingness to listen to those who have an honest disagreement with him on spending priorities in favor of staging media stunts and budget gimmicks is a major reason the budget has not been finalized.”

The governor is siding with the latest House offer to raises teacher pay on average by 6 percent, up from 5 percent. He says 6 percent is about as far as he can go and feel comfortable.

The two chambers are negotiating budget adjustment for the year that started July 1.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/mccrory-threatens-senate-budget-veto/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/state-teacher-pay-task-force-report-draws-criticism-educators/

Poll: Voters Think Duke Energy Should Pay For Coal Ash Clean-Up, Not Customers

A new poll finds that almost 80 percent of North Carolinians think Duke Energy alone should pay for the clean-up efforts from the recent coal ash spill on the Dan River. Earlier this month, the nation’s largest utility decided that its customers would bear the burden through increased rates.

Tom Jensen, of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, says the numbers also show bipartisan agreement that Duke Energy should pay for the clean-up.

“We find that 81 percent of Independents, 79 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of Democrats alike think that it isn’t something that should be passed on to customers. It isn’t something that should be passed on to taxpayers,” Jensen says. “They all feel with regard to no party divide at all that it should be Duke Energy’s responsibility to clean this up.”

On February 2, an old stormwater pipe collapsed at Duke Energy’s plant in Eden on the Dan River. It has been estimated that the spill dumped at least 30,000 tons of pollutant into the river, coating approximately 70 miles. Coal ash contains toxic contaminants such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

Governor Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke Energy for more than 30 years, told reporters Monday that his main concern is cleaning up the spill and then finding a long-term solution for the more than 30 coal ash ponds located in North Carolina.

When it comes to how the Republican leader has handled the spill, the poll found a greater partisan divide. Jensen says Republicans think McCrory has done an “all right job,” whereas Democrats think he has done a poor job.

Overall, only 30 percent of voters give him good marks for how he has responded to the spill compared to 44 percent who disapprove. That is worse than his overall approval numbers, Jensen explains. Forty-seven percent of voters disapprove of the job McCrory is doing, compared to forty percent of who voters approve.

“And I definitely think that what your are seeing there with the coal ash numbers being worse than his overall numbers is some feeling that maybe he is not being tough with Duke Energy. I certainly think that a part of that could be his former employment there.”

Jensen says that not surprisingly, the coal ash spill has had a negative impact on Duke Energy’s image.

“Only 26 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the company [compared to] 52 percent with an unfavorable opinion,” he says.

To see the full results of the poll, which was conducted between March 6-9, click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-news/poll-voters-think-duke-energy-pay-coal-ash-clean-customers/

Gov. McCrory Announces Raise For Incoming Teachers

JAMESTOWN, NC – Governor Pat McCrory and other state leaders announced a plan Monday morning to increase starting teachers’ salaries nearly 14 percent in the next two years, but no immediate increase was mentioned for teaching professionals already in place.

This year, starting teacher pay will increase $2,200 to $33,000; next year an additional $2,000 will be added taking salaries to $35,000.

Supplemental pay for teachers who completed their coursework for their Master’s degrees has been extended up until July 1, 2013 as well.

However, there was no discussion of raising teachers’ salaries for those who are just getting their start.

The announcement to raise incoming teachers’ salaries $4,200 in the next two years was made at Gov. McCrory’s former high school, Ragsdale, with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Senate Leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Thom Tillis in attendance.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/gov-mccrory-announces-raise-incoming-teachers/

McCrory’s Approval Ratings Drop After Three-Month Improvement

CHAPEL HILL - After hitting a low point in September, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory’s approval rating began to improve.  But, according to a new poll, after three months of improvement, his numbers are down this month.

“We have found that for three months in a row going back to September that McCrory’s approval numbers have been improving, but this month they took a step back from a 42 percent approval in last month to a 37 percent approval rating,” says Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh.

Jensen says that McCrory’s approval rating is now about the same as back in September, when only 35 percent of voters approved of the work he was doing.

Thoughts On President’s Approval Rating

Jensen explains that North Carolinians aren’t happy with President Barack Obama either, whose approval numbers have hit a record low in the State with only 40 percent of voters who approve and 54 percent of voters who disapprove.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/mccrorys-approval-ratings-drop-three-month-improvement/

AP Factcheck: Many Pay More Under New NC Tax Laws

RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory and his Republican allies at the legislature have hammered home a simple message about the tax reform package they passed into law earlier this year. 

On Dec. 18, McCrory said, “North Carolinians will keep more of their hard-earned money thanks to historic tax reform.”

It’s true that the state’s income tax rate is going down for everyone in 2014. But that doesn’t mean all taxpayers will actually pay less in the coming year.

Republican lawmakers allowed the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to expire and increased some sales taxes. As a result, many of the state’s poorest taxpayers will pay more in the coming year.

McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo says that when the governor spoke of new benefits for North Carolinians, he wasn’t referring to every taxpayer.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/ap-factcheck-many-pay-new-nc-tax-laws/

Chapel Hill Man Receives Pardon Of Innocence For ’88 Murder

RALEIGH – A Chapel Hill man has been granted a pardon of innocence by Governor Pat McCrory after 16 and a half years behind bars.

Gov. McCrory called 63-year-old LaMonte Burton Armstrong Monday to tell him the news. The pardon of innocence makes Armstrong eligible for up to $750,000 to compensate for the wrongful conviction.

According to a news release sent out by the governor’s office, Armstong was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1995 for the murder of a North Carolina A&T professor in 1988 when Ernestine Compton was found dead in her Greensboro home.

Although no evidence ever linked Armstrong to the crime scene, an acquaintance, Charles Blackwell, turned him in. In 2010, Blackwell told investigators that he only did that to collect the reward from Crime Stoppers.

In 2011, the Duke Wrongful Conviction Clinic reviewed Armstrong’s case and requested a Motion for Appropriate Relief (MAR).

Less than a year later, State investigators re-ran all known prints from the case. One of these prints was an unidentified partial palm print found on a door frame above the victim’s body. Using a new database, the palm print was matched to another suspect in the case. He was released on June 29, 2012.

Armstrong works for The Freedom House in Chapel Hill where he serves as an outpatient substance abuse counselor. He’s attending Wake Technical Community College to become certified as a substance abuse counselor.

During the call with Gov. McCrory, Armstrong asked that he got a chance to shoot the basketball a bit with the governor, to which he accepted.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/chapel-hill-man-receives-pardon-innocence-88-murder/