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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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/state-budget-cuts-pose-challenge-for-mayoral-candidates/

CHCCS Budget Funds Teaching Assists., Gifted Ed

Photo by Doug Wilson.

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board unanimously adopted a new budget Thursday, after administrators dropped a plan to reduce  the number of gifted education specialists at each elementary school.

Instead, the district will forgo hiring new middle school literacy coaches and skip a one-time bonus for school employees.

The reductions will allow school officials to set aside nearly $870,000 to fill teaching assistant positions that state budget proposals do not cover.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said the district is still waiting on final numbers from the General Assembly.

“If the reductions are less than $870,000 then the board could consider re-appropriating that funding for different priorities, or if they are greater, then we would have to look at additional reductions,” Lofrese told the board.

If state cuts to education funding total more than the district has set aside, each elementary could lose one teaching assistant.

The board also reserved $40,000 to cover the cost of Driver’s Education, another state-funded program possibly on the chopping block. LoFrese said school officials will spend whatever state money is allocated for Drivers Education before dipping into local funds.

The 2013-2014 budget is balanced using $3.2 million of the district’s reserve funds, but LoFrese told the board that means next budget season the district will start off with a deficit.

“We do not anticipate having this additional funding available next year,” said LoFrese. “We’re starting with what we believe is a $2.2 million dollar hole at the start of the budget development process.”

While the full impact of the state cuts on local schools is still unclear, district leaders could get answers soon, as the North Carolina House and Senate are expected to finalize the state budget next week.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-budget-funds-teaching-assistants-and-gifted-ed/

CHCCS Board Eyes Cuts To Gifted Ed To Balance Budget

CHAPEL HILL- As local leaders wait and wait for a final state budget, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board members are struggling with how to fill the funding gaps, even before they know exactly what those gaps will be.

The school board came together for an unusual Monday meeting to consider a $1.7 million dollar package of possible reductions at the local level that could help ease the blow of projected cuts to the state education budget.

And while board members agreed that tough choices must be made, the board was split on a plan to cut the number of gifted education specialists down to one at each elementary school.

Jamezetta Bedford said after four years of budget cuts, the reductions might be unavoidable.

“I’m very reluctant, but I don’t know what else to cut,” said Bedford. “Because we have cut athletics, we have cut foreign languages. I don’t know what else to give up.”

The plan would reduce the total number of specialists through attrition and reassignment, saving the district $385,000. But nearly a dozen gifted education teachers and parents of gifted children came out to protest the cuts, saying it would jeopardize an already overburdened program.

Wendy Morgan has a child in the gifted education program at Morris Grove.

“I’m concerned that the creative energies that allow our gifted children to accomplish difficult and impressive feats could easily be overlooked,” said Morgan. “Without the appropriate channels for their gifts, it’s not only possible, but it is likely that many gifted children will become classroom behavior problems.”

Board members argued the size and scope of the gifted program is part of the problem. Citing failures to implement new teaching models and inconsistent implementation from school to school, James Barrett said it’s clear the current model isn’t working.

“We have a demonstrated need for better gifted education,” said Barrett. “What they’re doing today is not better gifted education, and so taking the cut, in some ways, is the shock that’s needed to improve the process.”

Still, some on the board including Michelle Brownstein worried that cutting the staff by a third without revamping the program would leave students underserved.

“We’re not there yet,” said Brownstein. “The best we have right now is our gifted education specialists. I don’t see how the classroom teacher can meet the needs of all the kids in these classrooms without their help.”

Adding to the confusion is the ongoing delay in the state legislature, as next year’s spending plan is tied up in negotiations about a possible tax system overhaul.

Lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through July 31, but local leaders hope to sign off on a budget next week.

Under the Senate’s proposal, the district could lose as much as $1.3 million in funding for teaching assistants, while the House plan would only cut about $300,000. If the final budget more closely resembles the House plan, administrators might not need to implement the proposed reductions at all.

No votes were taken, but the board gave general approval to a series of less controversial cuts, including delaying the addition of a special education classroom and forgoing a onetime bonus to personnel. Members were less certain about a plan to start charging a fee for driver’s education, pending more information about a waiver system.

The proposed spending cuts will return for a formal vote next Thursday, when school board members plan to approve the final budget, even if the state budget is still in limbo.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-board-eyes-cuts-to-gifted-ed-to-balance-budget/

McCrory’s Got Problems With House, Senate Budgets

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Gov. Pat McCrory says he’s unsure if he and legislative leaders can agree on a final North Carolina state government budget before the new fiscal year begins in about two weeks.

McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview Monday his goal is still to have a budget he can sign into law by July 1. But McCrory says he has problems with parts of both the House and Senate versions of the two-year spending plan.

Negotiations are expected to begin in earnest after the Senate rejected the House version of the budget Monday night. A conference committee will now work out differences.

McCrory laid out several specific concerns he had with the Senate budget four weeks ago. He hasn’t been as explicit with shortcomings in the House version.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/mccrorys-got-problems-with-house-senate-budgets/

Good Use of our Money?

     I am a bit confused about something and I’m going to share my perplexity with you.  
 
     Let’s just say there’s already a law against something.  Let’s also say money is tight.  Schools need money, social programs need money (because more people need social programs)… I think we can all agree there’s just not enough money to go around these days.  
 
     Can we also agree that special legislative sessions cost money?  I’ve read it’s about $50,000/day.  I don’t know how much it costs to put a constitutional amendment before voters but it probably isn’t $0.  
 
     So, therein lies my confusion: North Carolina already bans same-sex marriage so why spend money we clearly don’t have to put that ban in the constitution?  I don’t understand how it could be made more illegal than it currently is.  Is doubling-down on this “illegality” worth more than aid to Hurricane Irene’s coastal victims?  Is it worth more than limiting which 4-year olds get more education?  Is it worth more than treatment for victims of domestic abuse or the mentally ill?  Some people clearly think so.  
 
     Well, like it or not the money has been/is being spent and we will all get to decide in May.   
 
     I have my personal, moral, humanistic code on this question but I write today as a Savvy Spender and so I have to wonder which fiscal conservatives think this is money well spent?  Which proponents of small(er) government are backing this enlarging of an already existing law?
 
     May I tell you what else I don’t understand?  In a state that has come a long way from a discriminatory past, why don’t our legislators learn from our own history?  There are plenty of people who say it’s a moral issue and, if that’s true for you, that’s your code. But why legislate everyone’s code?   It’s a religious issue for you?  Ok, I respect your faith but didn’t the nation’s founders call for a separation of church and state as they fled religious oppression?  
 
     There’s just so much I don’t understand.  Here’s another bit:  There’s a whole bunch of people who hate us just for being Americans.  I am an American and I wouldn’t want to be anything else.  I can’t imagine why that’s deserving of hatred and violence.  Suppose the folks behind al-Qaida formed a government and voted that to discriminate against Americans is okay?  While that’s less offensive than killing thousands of us and plotting to kill more, I believe its members would say its part of their moral code.  Isn’t there enough hate in the world that we don’t need more of it?  
 
As I am truly puzzled by this plan, I would appreciate hearing from someone with a different point of view.  Please leave a comment below or write to me at donnabeth@chapelboro.com It’s an emotionally charged issue so I ask that all notes and comments be courteous.  Disagree and I’m happy to read it but any vitriol will be disregarded.  
 
     A final and unrelated note:  Last week I wrote about University Mall’s programming and I didn’t touch on specific retailers.  Well, here’s a postscript to that column:  I attended Chapel Hill 2020 this past week and the topic of shopping came up among my small breakout group.  I want to share that there was a rousing cheer for Roses.  That kind of emotional response to a store or a brand is something big corporations pay a lot of money to engender.  What do you think other businesses can learn from this?  
http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/good-use-of-our-money/