Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sen. Albertson: Leave ol' Willie alone

Serious fans of country and gospel music have long known about Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, a state legislator with a nice touch with people, a mane of snow white hair and a flair for writing songs and recording them with his band.

Albertson, who represents Duplin County as well as Lenoir and Sampson counties, was appalled when local law enforcement officials busted Willie Nelson and his band last month before a concert down in Kenansville. Albertson, who has announced he won't run for re-election this year, has written and recorded a song "Leave the man alone" about that incident. It's worth a listen. Here's a link to a Wilmington StarNewsOnline site where you can read more and listen to the music.

Who knows? Maybe Ol' Willie will ask the singing senator to join him in a few gigs after the legislative one winds up.

Justice Center's 'favorite' health insurance innovations

Adam Linker, a policy analyst who often writes about health care issues on the North Carolina PolicyWatch blog for the N.C. Justice Center, has a piece about the "Top 10 Favorite Health Insurance Company Innovations." It's a timely send-up because of President Obama's health reform summit today.

Here's a link: The list is funny, but it would be a lot funnier if it were not right on target in so many cases.

Take Number 7 on the list, for example:
Charging women more than men for the same coverage. Let’s face it, women keep having children. When women have children they demand a room and a bed and all kinds of services that men of the same age rarely use. Luckily, insurance companies have figured out how to saddle women with the expenses of childbirth instead of making men, and society at large, share the costs. After all, men didn’t have anything to do with the pregnancy.

Or Number 4:
Lifetime caps. If you break an arm or scrape a knee you should know that your insurance company is there to help you pay the bill. But if you are going to get hit by a car or take a trip to intensive care, well, the insurance company isn’t going to sit around paying bills forever. After a certain amount you reach your lifetime insurance limit. That will teach you not to get cancer.

Linker notes: "I don’t understand why President Obama would want to thwart any of these great American inventions."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tom Ross: UNC or MLB?

Old friend D.G. Martin mentions Davidson College President Tom Ross in this morning's Observer as one potential successor to Erskine Bowles as president of the University of North Carolina system. Martin should be a good judge of academic administrators -- his father was once president of Davidson, where Martin took his undergraduate degree, and Martin himself was a vice president of the UNC system as well as a ranking official at what is now UNC Pembroke.

But would Ross leave his beloved Davidson, even for Chapel Hill where he has pulled for the Tar Heels as long as they weren't playing the Wildcats? I don't know. That job would have a mighty strong pull. But I remember Ross once saying, a good many years ago, that the only two jobs he wanted in life were either president of Davidson College, or Commissioner of Major League Baseball. As a lawyer, former judge, former foundation head and college administrator, he'd be good at the helm of baseball, and gosh knows the sport needs someone good at the job for a change.

Me? I'm still angling for Commissioner of Barbecue, but I think Jerry Bledsoe has first dibs if the job is ever created.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter in the hills

One of my best years as a boy came 50 years ago, when it snowed three or four Wednesdays in a row and school was canceled for the rest of the week. It was a wonderful time for an eighth-grader struggling with basic algebra concepts, not to mention the complexities of a biology course I had no business taking. The weather bailed me out each week and I've ever been grateful to the cold hand of nature for saving me from some of those dreary days. Never have gotten enough snow.

But this year I'm getting close. Up in the Blue Ridge in Patrick County, Va., it has snowed more this winter than anytime since at least the 1980s, according to faithful bloggers on one of my favorite Web sites, Kevin Myatt's The Weather Journal. Myatt is a copy editor and "principal weather geek" on The Roanoke Times, a newspaper I once served as a Washington correspondent, and it's clearly a site for snow lovers looking for the next big storm. I've read more comprehensive information about coming storms in southwest Virginia -- and along the N.C. state line -- than anywhere else I can recall, and it has been helpful to understand each time we were about to get another 12-16 inches of snow.

Around our place just a few hundred yards from the highest point in Patrick County (barely visible at top right of the picture), we've gotten at least three major snows, two or perhaps all three of them followed by freezing rain and ice storms, and at least two smaller snows that have brought the white level back up to 10 each week. We've had our driveway plowed twice by Garrett Goad, the indefatigable plow king of Vesta, Va. Garrett gave me good advice: When it snows, you've got to plow it soon before it sets up. Amen, Brother.

We shoveled our way to our front steps through waist-deep snow twice. There's three feet of snow on our deck in two places where it has slid off the steel roof, and walking to the barn is an exercise in, well, exercise.

With a couple of frozen levels in the snow and a slick crust on top, I had to dig out my old baseball spikes to get around before discovering some semi-crampons called Yaktrax. They were a big help in getting to the barn so I could dig out the snowplow for the ATV, whereupon we made it all of about 10 feet before miring up in a hard icy slush the consistency and weight of concrete that was poured maybe an hour earlier.

I was going to try to find a used scrape blade this week for the tractor until the truck radiator blew out, so now I'm trying to figure out how to adapt a loader bucket for a plow. My engineering's coming along about as well as that eighth-grade algebra-and-biology business.

An ice storm around Christmas day left us with several hundred trees badly damaged -- most of them along the tree line around our fields. Some were large limbs broken off but still hung up; our favorite deckside maple snapped in half; and a lot of elderly locusts simply gave up and lay down under the cold blanket of ice. I've been replacing the blades on the old chipper-shredder to help reduce the stuff, assuming the snow and ice ever melt. If that day ever comes, it's going to take a long time to clean it all up.

The sun was out over the weekend and the temperature soared to 51.2 degrees, and a lot of stuff melted from the roof. A few bare patches appeared in the driveway and a six-foot icicle on the shady side of the house disappeared under a brief but noisy avalanche of ice, snow and melt water.

Wakely Phillips, who helps his son Jimmy keep our old tractor running, told me a while back we wouldn't see bare fields again until April. I thought he was joking, but that was 27 inches of snow ago, and now Kevin Myatt says watch out. Temperatures will plunge again, and while there's not much chance of a big snow this week, he cautions: "Long term, there appear to be a couple of train cars on the tracks (moist systems from the Pacific) rolling into the first week of March as cold air dominates. We'll just have to watch them one by one."

We will indeed. I'll have to say I've thoroughly enjoyed the snows we've had this winter, but after trying to clear a path across the deck and down a few steps Sunday morning, I've realized that I'm mighty doggone close to having my fill of this stuff, thank you very much.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lake: Innocence process "most important thing I've done'

A regular attendee of the special session of Wake Superior Court over the past two weeks has been former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Bev Lake, whose 2002 decision to set up a study commission on how to handle claims of innocence by convicted inmates led to the General Assembly's creation of the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission. It also led to the adversarial process by which convicted murderer Greg Taylor proved to three Superior Court judges that he was innocent of the crime -- not just not guilty, but innocent.

Moments after Judge Howdy Manning read the decision of the unanimous panel, I asked Lake what the decision said about N.C. justice. "I've always said that we have the best system in the world," Lake said, "but it's not perfect."

Lake, now retired, has had an interesting career -- serving as a deputy attorney general in the state Department of Justice, as a Wake County state senator (update: A Democrat, Perry Woods reminds me, not a Republican back in those days), as a Republican candidate for governor in 1980 (unsuccessful, against Gov. Jim Hunt), as a Superior Court judge, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court and then as chief justice. Among other things, he wrote an important decision requiring the state to refund $1.2 billion in intangible taxes the court ruled the state unconstitutionally collected.

Where, I asked, did he rank creation of the innocence process in his long career? Lake thought for a moment and said, "All said and done, this is probably the most important thing I've done."

Lake, of course, did not create the process adopted by the legislature. That took a lot of work from Democrats as well as Republicans in the General Assembly who hashed out how it would work. Credit is also due to such folks as Chris Mumma, who has directed the nonprofit N.C. Center on Actual Innocence for years, as well as members of the study commission that examined the issue. But without the credibility that Lake gave the movement back in 2002 when he asked for a study, the process might never have become law -- and Greg Taylor would still be behind bars.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Geithner: Growth stronger, but jobless rate will take time to drop

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner dropped by the N&O building this afternoon to talk with reporters and editors about the economy. Geithner was hampered by the loss of much of his voice, but he had some things to say:

-- The economy is in "dramatically stronger shape than it was a year or 18 months ago" but added, "It'll take us a long time to heal" the problems in the economy.

-- The price of credit has come dramatically down, he noted, and consumers are being more careful. "Consumers are borrowing much less and that's healthy" for individuals, he said.

-- A case can be made for "a series of targeted incentives" including tax credits to boost the economy. While people generally have their doubts about last year's stimulus, it helped stave off panic. And individual parts of the stimulus -- such as helping retain teachers and improving infrastructure -- actually were very popular with people, he said.

-- We can't go on forever without bringing down the deficit, he said, but we can't do it right now.

-- Asked if he was surprised that the unemployment rate remains high, he said, "I think the growth is stronger, sooner, than almost anyone predicted," but it going to take a long time for unemployment to come down.

-- Two things are notable about the economy now, he said. Productivity is very strong, and we're seeing "a huge amount of innovation" in companies. Companies are also expanding the work week and rehiring, but we have a long way to go because the economic crisis has caused a "huge amount of damage to people's confidence."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Judges proclaim Taylor innocent after 17 years in prison

Three judges of the N.C. Superior Courts unanimously found Greg Taylor innocent of murder charges Wednesday afternoon after Taylor spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge Calvin Murphy and Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace of Rockingham found that Taylor's lawyers had proved "by clear and convincing evidence" that Taylor was innocent in the murder of Jacquetta Thomas.

Immediately after the decision was announced, Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby walked over to Taylor, extended his hand and told him he was sorry that Taylor had been convicted in the case in 1993.

Minutes later, Taylor was taken into a side room of the new state business courtroom in Campbell University's Wiggins School of Law in downtown Raleigh. His shackles were removed and he was freed.

Taylor was the first inmate to be freed after a three-judge panel hearing under the state's new Innocence Inquiry Commission law. In Taylor's case, the Innocence Commission ruled 8-0 last fall there was a high probability Taylor was innocent. With the conclusion by three judges that he is indeed innocent, the state officials charged with the duty of deciding his case have now voted 11-0 in Taylor's favor -- a convincing ruling.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bev Perdue's numbers creeping back up

Gov. Bev Perdue's numbers have been down so long that it's hard to imagine taking much comfort from a 30 percent approval rating. But politicians must take improvement where they can, and Tom Jensen of the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling says her numbers are a little better. She's a long way from popular again, but she doesn't have to run for two more years -- at least not in an election, anyway, and "fewer North Carolinians think she's doing a bad job now," Jensen says. His latest:

Bev Perdue's poll numbers are still pretty bad, but after almost a year of nothing but bad news they're beginning to show some positive signs.

30% of voters in the state express approval of the job she's doing with 47% disapproving. Here are the positives:

-47% is the lowest percentage of North Carolinians disapproving of Perdue since last April when it was 40%. From May to December of 2008 a majority of the state's voters gave Perdue bad marks in all but one month, but now both PPP surveys in 2010 have shown her disapproval back below 50%.

-Perdue's 29% approval rating with independents is the best it's been since that April poll and her 17% with Republicans is the strongest it's been since last March. Those numbers with Republicans and independents are about par for the course for a Democrat in this tough political climate.

Her overall numbers are still pretty bad because voters within her own party continue to be unenthusiastic about her. Just 41% of Democrats like the job she's doing with 37% disapproving. She's particularly struggling with black voters who were critical to her victory in the primary two years ago- 42% of them disapprove of Perdue to just 37% giving her good marks.

The last time Perdue's approval rating was in positive territory she was at a 61/22 spread with Democrats, so those are the kinds of numbers she needs with her base to get her overall approval back to a healthy level.

This much seems clear for Perdue though: the bleeding has stopped. Fewer North Carolinians think she's doing a bad job now. What she hasn't done yet is convince enough that she's doing a good job. A lot of voters have moved from the disapprove column to the ambivalent one. Perdue still has a lot of work to do but things don't look nearly as dire for her as they did last summer. And that makes her a rare Democratic politician whose position is improving this winter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Does N.C. have worse political culture than New Jersey ?

In a much-talked about press conference at the time, former Gov. Jim Hunt during his first term in office warned against "creeping New Jersey." If memory serves, it was 1979 and he was talking about urban sprawl and inappropriate development.

He was not talking about public corruption or political culture. But one reader of Sunday's column about Gov. Mike Easley and an adjacent column by Gail Collins on whether Illinois or New York has the worst political culture (New Jersey, she noted, was in third place) has a question: Why isn't North Carolina on the list? He wrote:

Jack Betts’ column on Sunday was filled with insight about the ego and arrogance of former Governor Easley. It showed classic examples of the legnths politicians will go to to burnish their reputations, whether or not those reputations are earned.
It is no coincidence that Gail Collins’ column was right next to Jack’s, trying to decide which state’s politics were the worst, New York or Illinois. After reading the Betts column and having followed the current long list of possible malfeasance by those in the Easley administration, it would probably be appropriate to ask Gail Collins the following quiestion:’ How come you gave New Jersey third place?’
Doug Samut
Mooresville, NC

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bowles retiring as UNC president by end of year

UNC President Erskine Bowles, a former Charlotte businessman, announced today that he'll retire by the end of the year, WRAL-TV and the N&O report. At a Board of Governors meeting in Chapel Hill, Bowles said he had always planned to stay five years after joining the system in 2006.

"I know in my head that this is the right decision at the right time," WRAL quoted Bowles saying. WRAL also said Bowles called the university system "the best in the country."

Here's my take: Bowles ran twice unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, and his father was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1972 and withdrew from the 1976 race. But Bowles has had a storied career, rising from head of the Small Business Administration in the Clinton Administration to White House chief of staff, essentially running the country during Clinton's years of turmoil, insiders say.

And while Bowles never won elective office here, he probably has made far more impact on North Carolina, its university system and hundreds of thousands of students who have attended its campuses on his watch, than he would have as a member of the U.S. Senate.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Judge to corruption defendants: Spill the beans

Federal Judge Terrence Boyle has made it clear that anyone convicted of corruption in his court who wants a break had better cooperate with investigators, Ben Niolet reports. Niolet was in Boyle's courtroom Wednesday when he sentenced two men who had bribed a state official to get environmental permits for an ethanol plant they were interested in, and reported this in the News & Observer:

U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle was conducting a sentencing hearing Wednesday for two men who had previously pleaded guilty in a scheme to bribe a state official to secure quick permits for an Eastern North Carolina ethanol plant. One of those men, David Lee Brady, 77, asked through his attorney for a sentence that would keep him out of prison so he could take care of his wife, who has lung cancer, Alzheimer's and other serious medical problems.
Boyle spent several minutes asking why Brady did not agree to help investigators after he admitted to his role in the bribery scheme. His lawyer, Stephen Smith of Raleigh, said the investigation was nearly complete and Brady had a faulty memory.
The judge said that, in various corruption cases he has seen in the past decade, he has been disappointed that none of those charged has "spilled the beans" on wider corruption. Telling the whole truth is the first step toward making amends, Boyle said.
"I'm scouring my memory to try to recall one who has come up with open and complete disclosure," Boyle said, adding that even if Brady didn't think he had anything to add to the nearly complete federal investigation, he should have talked anyway.
U.S. Attorney George Holding interpreted Boyle's comments after court.
"To get mercy from the court, cooperation is the route," Holding told reporters.

I've spent some time watching Boyle handle both civil and criminal cases, and while most federal judges I've seen are pretty much no-nonsense jurists, Boyle is about as direct as they come. And just in case someone didn't get the message from Boyle or from Holding, here it is: public officials accused and convicted of corruption are going to get tough sentences unless they cooperate with investigators and help move the case along.

But as we've seen, cooperation doesn't always bring an immediate break. Judge James Dever first sentenced former legislator Michael Decker to 48 months in prison, a longer sentence than even prosecutors asked for after Decker helped prosecutors with their case against former Speaker Jim Black. But last summer, Dever cut Decker's sentence by 12 months. He said, "Indeed, but for Decker's cooperation, Black might still be in office."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NYT: Duke-UNC not even tonight's best game

Everybody who pays attention knows this isn't the ACC's best year for men's basketball. UNC's Tar Heels are having a tough season and Duke, which has done much better, is hardly having what its partisans would describe as a great year. Much the same for the rest of the league.

But still, the story in today's New York Times on the NCAA's best rivalry had this diss: "…when the vintage rivals meet in Chapel Hill, the No. 8 Blue Devils versus the unranked Tar Heels does not even present as the best game of the night. That would be No. 15 New Mexico visiting No. 23 U.N.L.V."

The article, by Pete Thamel, goes on to note that Duke is "talented but flawed" and "sits on the fringe of a group of strong but not quite elite teams that could win the national title." Thamel also wrote that midmajor teams may have a revival because of "blue-blood teams like North Carolina needing a tourniquet..."

This old Tar Heel fan has to say: Ouch!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Hunt: This governor shows up

Former Gov. Jim Hunt is pretty good at heaping on the praise of other politicians, and he certainly covered Gov. Bev Perdue with hosannas Monday afternoon in his introduction of Perdue at the 25th Emerging Issues Forum. One of his comments about Perdue didn't mention another governor by name, but it was hard not to make the connection with former Gov. Mike Easley, who was notorious among state and local economic developers for being slow to commit to meeting with business officials of companies that were considering moving here. He said no to a lot of them. And Commerce Department officials during his years in office privately complained they never knew whether the governor would show up or not.

But Perdue, Hunt said, meets with every CEO that ever expresses interest in moving to North Carolina. "She never says no. She always shows up," Hunt said. "That's what you have to do" if you going to land new jobs, he added.

Pawlenty: Get ready for radical decentralization

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- a Republican who's getting frequent mention as a GOP contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, was in Raleigh Monday to speak to the 25th Annual Emerging Issues Forum sponsored by N.C. State University and its Institute for Emerging Issues. Pawlenty showed an engaging, thoughtful style that could help him as a contender -- if he chooses to run. He hasn't decided, he said.

But it's clear that he can hold an audience's attention. At the forum -- whose theme this year is creativity -- Pawlenty talked about change and creativity and how they come about. It's an issue he has dealt with constantly as governor of a Midwestern state that is in constant change. Among other things:

-- The notion that everything will be the same is deeply flawed.

-- Change can come for three reasons -- as a result of crisis, as a result of inspired leadership or -- more often -- as a result of innovation, technology and creativity.

-- Change seems less likely to come from government, which is resistant to change. Technology, he said, will deliver change. Government, he went on, is on the cutting edge of obsolescence when it comes to technology.

-- More likely, change is driven by radical decentralization. A perfect example: The public doesn't depend only on the evening news broadcast or the daily newspapers for its news. It gets news from a whole host of sources all day long.

-- Education delivery is changing rapidly; within a generation, fewer students will take courses in huge lecture halls with learned professors using chalkboard on campus at colleges and universities; most students will expect to dial up Econ 101 for a fee of $299. We want colleges and universities in Minnesota to have 25 percent of their courses online by 2015.

-- Most educational institutions have no idea what's coming in the online delivery of educational materials. Some do -- including the UNC system, because President Erskine Bowles is tuned into it and pushing for it.

-- America must solve its high school dropout problem. We can't have a country where one-third of our team is on the bench. Most of the students failing are coming from poor socio-economic backgrounds. It's a civil rights issue.

Do Duke, UNC fans hate each other? Not so much

Tom Jensen, explainer of most things political at Public Policy Polling, also has some 'splainin' about sports, particularly the rivalry between UNC Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils as the two universities' men's basketball teams prepared to square off in Chapel Hill Wednesday night.

And the findings might surprise you: Partisans of each school don't despise one another as much as the heated rivalry might indicate, though there are variations in the degree of dislike. Read on:

Every year around this time we're saturated with news stories, essays, even books about how much hatred there is in the UNC-Duke rivalry. But do most Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans really hate each other's schools? Our scientific polling indicates no.

35% of North Carolinians will be rooting for UNC Wednesday night compared to 21% pulling for Duke and 44% who don't care one way or the other. Among those respondents who do have a team they prefer in the game just 18%- 20% of Duke fans and 17% of UNC fans- say that they 'hate' their rival.

We broke that down further by whether folks are 'hardcore,' 'moderate,' or just 'casual' fans of that school. Not surprisingly the most passionate fans are the most likely to express hatred of their rival -32% of them do- 42% of Duke fans and 29% of UNC fans. But it's still nowhere near a majority.

So even if UNC and Duke fans don't generally hate each other's schools they must at least hate each other's coaches, right? Not so much. UNC backers view Mike Krzyzewski favorably by a 46/26 margin, while Duke fans see Roy Williams in a positive light by a much more narrow 27/24 spread. Those positive numbers hold true with even with the strongest backers of each team- Krzyzewski is at 45/35 with hardcore UNC fans and Williams is at 46/32 with the same for Duke.

UNC and Duke fans have more respect for each other's schools than we ever would have thought.

Here are some other notes from the poll:

-Despite the UNC basketball team's woes this season Roy Williams isn't seeing much of a dip in his popularity. He's viewed favorably by a 72/3 margin among all UNC fans and by an 82/2 spread with hardcore ones. This poll was taken right after the team's back to back losses to Clemson and Georgia Tech in mid-January.

-UNC fans are much more into it than Duke ones. 39% of Tar Heel backers describe themselves as hardcore to 28% casual. For Duke it's 19% hardcore and 43% casual.
-North Carolinians are more likely to have an opinion one way or the other about Krzyzewski than Williams- 57% for the Duke coach to 49% for UNC's.

-Confirming the conventional wisdom, the further you move left across the ideological spectrum the more likely you are to be cheering for Carolina Wednesday night. Conservatives go for UNC by a 32-23 margin, followed by moderates at 36-20, and liberals at 41-17.

This analysis is also available on our blog:

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Reality and the school revolution in Wake

The new Wake County School Board is running into some unexpected issues in its quest to get rid of a diversity policy and create a new school assignment system designed around the notion of zones -- which sounds to some like a return to acceptance of a segregated schools system of the sort the county worked hard to get rid of decades ago.

Chris Fitzsimon, a former television newsman and former aide to then-House Speaker Dan Blue, has some pointed commentary on his blog about this process, including a new survey where most parents said they were satisfied with assignments. Fitzsimon, a regular on TV's N.C. Spin who keeps a close watch on happenings in Raleigh, had this to say about recent developments:

Fitzsimon File
Missteps in the march to resegregation
By Chris Fitzsimon
The Gang of Five that now runs the Wake County Board of Education can't be too happy these days, as their clumsy ideological efforts to dismantle the system's nationally recognized student assignment policy are running into trouble at every turn.

Tuesday, the board majority learned that 94.5 percent of parents who responded to a recent survey about year-round schools said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their child's school without regard to the calendar.

That does not sound like a community clamoring for major changes in the way the school system is run or the way students are assigned.

The board also declined to approve changes in assignments for several hundred students in response to a board vote last month changing the way assignments to year-round schools are made. Board members said they weren't ready to change the assignments without more review and discussion.

It turns out overhauling student assignments is more complicated that the Gang of Five's campaign rhetoric claimed.

School officials will instead proceed with taking requests from parents for magnets and year-round schools under the second-year of the three-year assignment plan approved by the old board, the one intent on maintaining healthy diverse schools, not abandoning them.

In the days leading up to Tuesday's meeting, Gang of Five leader John Tedesco explained his vision for a new reassignment plan to abolish the diversity policy and create what he calls community schools based on assignment zones. Tedesco admitted that his proposal would lead to the creation of high poverty schools and would significantly change the popular magnet school program, an important piece of the diversity plan.

Debra Goldman, the increasingly more reluctant Gang of Fiver, told reporters she wanted to protect the magnet system, not overhaul it, which throws a major wrench into Tedesco's plan.

Tedesco's admission that his zone assignment scheme would create high poverty schools contradicts the repeated promises by Tedesco and the new majority that they would not resegregate the schools. Race and economic status are sadly closely aligned in Wake County.

Assistant Superintendent Chuck Delaney told the Independent Weekly that abandoning the diversity policy would create as many as 10 high-poverty schools with as many as 80 percent of the students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

The experience of other districts shows that a concentration of poor students at that level is likely to prompt middle class parents to abandon the schools, often leaving them with close to 100 percent poor students.

Research is clear that schools with high concentrations of students eligible for free and reduced lunch are less likely to have experienced, top flight teachers, one of the most important factors in student learning.

Former school board member Bill Fletcher, a conservative Republican, told WRAL-TV that the high poverty schools would be a disaster. "If we're not careful, we will see our teacher turnover rate go up, costing the district at least $15,000 for every position vacated," Fletcher said. "We'll see academic achievement suffer. We'll see teacher attraction suffer."

Given that poor students don't perform as well in overwhelmingly poor schools, Tedesco's grand plan would create two school systems, one middle class, white and successful and one poor and struggling in which the vast majority of the students are African-American and Latino.

Tedesco says his plan would address that with more funding for poor schools, which Dr. Gerald Grant described as throwing money over the wall in his book comparing Wake County Schools to systems in Syracuse.

The experience of school districts around the country shows that doesn't work, not to mention that it sounds a bit odd for politicians so closely aligned with Republican Party to propose throwing money at a problem to make it go away.

Tedesco and most of the rest of the Gang of Five acknowledge that the zone scheme or any proposal to end the diversity policy can't be implemented until the 2011-2012 school year. And that's assuming that Tedesco can convince Goldman to rethink her opposition to dramatically reworking the magnet system.

The delay is good news for people worried about Tedesco's plan for rich zones and poor zones, and it gives more time for parents who are currently satisfied with their children's schools to speak out, all 94.5 percent of them.
Progressive Pulse Blog

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

N.C. Supreme Court arguments as spectator sport

It's not often that folks look forward to oral arguments before the N.C. Supreme Court as something of a spectator sport. Usually they're pretty dry affairs -- often with a courtroom full of lawyers and a carefully orchestrated performance before the justices using rules that allot each side a certain amount of time for argument and counter argument.

But the Feb. 16 session of the court will be interesting from any number of viewpoints. That's the day the seven-member court, headed by Chief Justice Sarah Parker of Charlotte, hears arguments whether Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand was correct in ruling that the state cannot continue to confine two prison inmates whose time behind bars, their lawyers argue, has expired. Potentially dozens more felons, including murderers and rapists, could also be released if the high court upholds Rand and, by extension, a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals that ruled in 2008 in an inmate's favor and said prison officials have to recalculate time served and determine if the inmate should now be released.

At issue are legislative amendments to the old Fair Sentencing Act going back three decades and the Department of Correction's interpretation of when and how time-off credits should be applied.

More interesting to many is the question how the Supreme Court will look at the Court of Appeals decision, which was delivered by three Republican judges, all of them regarded as conservative jurists but who ruled in the inmate's favor. The judges were then-Judge Doug McCullough (unseated in the last election), Judge Ann Marie Calabria and Judge John Tyson, who now serves as an Emergency Recall Judge.

The state appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, and the court agreed to hear the arguments. It did so -- and then in a curious one-page filing, the court stated only that its decision to review the lower court decision had been "improvidently allowed." There are all kinds of ways to interpret that, but the simplest fact is that the Supremes did not choose to interfere with the lower appellate court ruling. It's especially interesting in that the N.C. Supreme Court is fairly conservative, too. While its judges no longer run on partisan party platforms, it's well-known that four of the judges are Republicans and three, including Parker, are Democrats.

It's also interesting because of a set of e-mails the News & Observer published Tuesday showing that the Perdue administration was all set to release a number of inmates after Perdue made a public statement that the courts were forcing the state to release the inmates. I'd guess she, and her handlers, would like to have that one back.

So spectators are looking forward to the second round of arguments before the Supreme Court on essentially the same issue, with Democratic Gov. Bev. Perdue's administration trying to persuade Republicans, and Democrats, too, to keep the inmates behind bars. Wonder if there will be any improvident allowing this time around?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Perdue back in the saddle

Last week Gov. Bev Perdue got away from it all at a publically undisclosed location -- she told a reporter only that she was going somewhere nice and warm, as we noted in a snarky editorial that also observed that things in Raleigh were pretty warm, too, what with Republicans giving her a regular roasting, and suggesting she might want to hurry on back to the hot seat.

Since Friday, however, it's been All Perdue All the Time. Starting Friday morning with an 8:50 a.m. news release about the state's getting $545 million in federal funds for high speed rail and another about an electronics manufacturer bringing 155 jobs to Durham County, she has been in full speed ahead mode. There was also a late morning news release about the appointment of a new State Poet Laureate (Cathy Smith Bowers) and a mid-afternoon announcement about her plans to attend the Monday opening of the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, another release on the rail funding that night just before 10 p.m. Saturday morning there was an announcement of a 10 a.m. press conference to deal with the winter storms, and frequent appearances on television that showed her out and about in the snow and ice, and yet another news release around 4 p.m. about Perdue's declaration of a state of emergency. Sunday, there was another Perdue release at midday about a mid-afternoon weather briefing, and that evening she was on the news saying state offices would be open first thing Monday. Perdue herself was in Greensboro Monday morning for the formal opening of the museum.

Looks like she got right back into that hot seat. Shoot, she's made more public appearances in one weekend than Mike Easley made in some entire months.

Virginia lawmakers opposed to OLF? Nah

The other day a blogpost ran here that raised the question whether the Virginia General Assembly, now in session, would adopt legislation similar to North Carolina's making it harder for the Navy to construct an Outlying Landing Field in the Old Dominion.

Citizens in Northeastern North Carolina waged a long campaign against an OLF in Washington and Beaufort counties that would pit Super Hornet jets against large migratory waterfowl in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, possibly causing damage to jets and pilots, not to mention tundra swans and snow geese.

Turns out the Virginia legislature wasn't interested in one bill to make it harder for the Navy to find a landing site. That bill went down in committee, though another is pending but has no more than a 50-50 chance, according to one legislator's forecast.

Here's an excerpt from Amelia Reddington's story in the Tidewater News:

"RICHMOND — One bill is grounded, and another is in a holding pattern: That is the status of two pieces of legislation affecting the proposed location of an Outlying Landing Field in Virginia.
"A Senate committee this week killed Sen. Fredrick M. Quayle’s bill requiring the Navy to get General Assembly approval before it acquires property for an OLF. The Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections voted 8-5 to “pass by indefinitely” Senate Bill 6.
"However, a different OLF bill is still alive in the House. Delegate William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, is sponsoring House Bill 887, which makes land use a local matter to be decided by local officials.
“It is an attempt to prevent the Navy from locating an OLF in the three areas of Virginia” that the Navy is considering for an OLF, Barlow said. Those possible sites are:
* Cabin Point (in Surry County, bordering Prince George and Sussex counties)
* Dory (in Southampton County)
* Mason (straddling Sussex and Southampton counties, bordering Greenville County)
"Barlow said that if his legislation passes, the federal government would not be able to tell local officials how to use the area’s land, giving localities control over land use."