School Board Supports Shubert Plan
Thank You, Jim Black
In keeping with my policy of giving credit where it is due, I have to thank Speaker Jim Black for appointing me to the Transportation Committee. My only committee requests were education and transportation, and I didn't get any education committees, but I did get Transportation and for that I am thankful.
My other committee assignments are Appropriations and the Capital subcommittee of Appropriations, Pensions and Retirement, and Military, Veteran and Indian Affairs. While I served on Appropriations as a member of the Education Appropriations subcommittee from 1995-1998, I have never served on any of these other committees. I am looking forward to learning about new areas.
Other Transportation News
This week a regional group composed primarily of representatives from Mecklenburg-area Chambers of Commerce held a breakfast meeting at the legislature to talk to legislators about transportation initiatives they plan to support.
Most of the focus was on raising revenue to pay for more roads, but they also wanted to push for state funding and additional taxes for mass transit. While they had a good deal of interesting information, their statement that they support an additional 1 cent sales tax to be kept by the county in which the sale is made causes me great concern.
Many families are having a hard time meeting their personal expenses as is. Higher taxes take money from the family budget to give to the government budget. A point of sale tax means that while Union County may gain revenue from Anson or South Carolina residents who shop here, we will lose any tax on purchases our residents make in Charlotte. I see why Mecklenburg's Chamber supports this, but I'd like to see other alternatives.
School Board Supports Shubert Plan to End Portfolio Mandates
Saturday morning at Shoney's, several representatives of the Union County School Board met local legislators to discuss the school board's legislative requests for this session. I was there along with Representative Jeff Barnhardt and Senator Aaron Plyler.
One of the major topics of the breakfast was a discussion of the problems that the state's new portfolio requirement (Performance Based Licensure Product or PBL) is causing in teacher recruitment and retention. Two teachers were present to express first hand the dissatisfaction they and other teachers feel with this new administrative burden. They clearly believe PBL is a problem.
According to the school board, several teachers have already informed Union County Public Schools that they will not return because of this requirement. Worse yet, Superintendent Thomas revealed that other states are using this requirement to discourage teachers from even considering job offers from North Carolina schools.
All who spoke agreed that the requirement simply takes time away from efforts that would benefit students while doing little or nothing to improve teacher performance. No one present expressed support for the current requirement.
I distributed a draft of legislation I hope to offer to end the state mandate, and asked those present to circulate the draft and offer any feedback. The teachers present said they thought the change I proposed would address their concerns.
Not surprisingly, those responsible for this remarkable waste of time and money have lost no time in spreading misinformation to protect their mandate. They claim the portfolio process raises teacher standards. The Union County teachers who have talked to me are adamant in their assertion that it does the exact opposite. Principals, assistant principals, and now school board members have said the same thing.
What a Difference a Day Makes
What a difference a day (or, to be more precise, a couple of years) makes. In 1998 some people made a big deal of how much it supposedly cost taxpayers because the legislature was still in session. In my opinion, we saved the taxpayers millions because we refused to rubber stamp a bloated budget in order to get a budget agreement. We stayed in Raleigh and worked to reach an acceptable compromise and we finally did.
This year we have been in Raleigh since January 24 and House members are only now getting committee assignments. Bills have not been heard, because there were no committees to hear them. This time, when money is being wasted, there is little outcry. Wonder why the people who were so outraged before are so silent now? Were their complaints in '98 partisan?
I have found plenty to do with this unscheduled time. Monday and Tuesday I attended the Emerging Issues Forum at the invitation of Governor Hunt. The focus was on education and the Speakers were excellent. Of course, I probably enjoyed it because so many people were now saying the sorts of things I have been saying for years.
Wednesday I was delighted to be able to attend an Educational Leadership Forum where once again I found that people's views are shifting to focus on student achievement. Even though my party is not in power in Raleigh, I am more optimistic about our chances for improving education than I have ever been.
A web site with wonderful information on education (besides www.nrrf.org) is www.educationmatters.org. As the web spreads information, change is almost inevitable.
Budget Crisis is Early Warning of Bigger Problems On the Way
Even though I am not on the Finance Committee, I attended their first meeting and I'm glad I did. While listening to the speaker describe how the tremendous loss of manufacturing jobs was contributing to budget shortfalls, I was sitting next to someone who neatly summarized a larger problem. He told of calling a computer help desk for assistance with a computer problem. Noting that the help desk person had an unusual accent, he asked where they were located. The answer: Ireland.
Losing manufacturing hurts. What happens as high tech industries realize that the telecommunications/internet revolution permits outsourcing of high tech jobs to any English-speaking country? That will hurt even more.
The new head of Bell South, speaking at the Emerging Issues Forum, said that the majority of high school graduates they tested for entry level jobs could not pass the test. (The results were so bad, I don't even want to repeat the percentage because it is almost unbelievable, unless you've tried to hire people recently.)
In many areas, business leaders are taking the lead in trying to address this problem because they see it first hand. The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is backing a major initiative to reform reading through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Partners for School Reform. They have invited national leaders in research-based curriculum to share information that, if followed, can actually solve most of our educational problems.
Union County can certainly benefit by following the Charlotte Chamber's example on this critical issue. Don't rely on the people in Raleigh who caused the problem to solve it. Look to national leaders who have real answers.
Additional Notes on Education
The school board had several things on their wishlist besides help in getting rid of the portfolio mandate.
One item, dedicated state funding for school construction, was one I have tried to push ever since I was first elected. I even wrote Governor Hunt asking if he would work together on this so we could get the same sort of bipartisan support that we generated for the Excellent Schools Act. Unfortunately, the other party's legislative leaders did not support this then, when times were good, and the tight budget and their tight control make this unlikely at this time.
Another request, on an issue I have long supported, was for help on differentiated pay. Colleges and universities and private K-12 schools would never imagine that they could ignore supply and demand when setting instructional salaries. It amazes me how long our state has ignored the need to recognize reality when it comes to our public school hiring practices.
Of course, ignoring reality has some inevitable consequences. For example, far too many students are being taught math and science by people who are not trained in math and science. Our math and science scores reflect this. I will certainly seek to provide funds and more local flexibility to help our schools address this issue.
We can't force people to work for less than their skills are worth. We must have good teachers if we want good results. This hiring barrier must be removed.
A Kind Word for Mike Easley
Maybe it is the influence of Valentine's Day, but after saying nice things about Jim Black and Jim Hunt, I still have something nice left to say about our new governor, Mike Easley.
Governor Easley just announced a new plan to put state purchasing on the internet. While it is obviously too early to pass final judgment, the plan sounds wonderful. It should save serious money.
State purchasing has been one of my "pet peeves" ever since folks started telling me one example after another of being overcharged by state purchasing. Teachers and PTA members were very outspoken in recounting being forced to pay more through purchasing than things cost at local merchants, but regular state employees would share similar stories "off the record."
When I co-chaired the education issues study commission, one of the issues we studied was state purchasing. No question, that agency has problems. One of the teachers on the commission (appointed by Mark Basnight) told of being overcharged on mimeograph fluid. The gentleman from state purchasing told her she didn't know what she was talking about. She was back the next month with documentation, but the gentleman wisely failed to return.
I have a feeling that the teacher may have had the last word on this matter, even if it took a little while for purchasing to hear it. I certainly hope so.