That Was Absolutely The Most Dysfunctional School Board Meeting Ever Witnessed

We need strong leadership in our public school systems especially when it pertains to local school boards. When it is not there, things suffer: schools, students, teachers, communities, parents, etc.

Even when people are not in total agreement and people have rather strong debates on heavy issues, strong leadership from a group of elected officials can still be shown.

But what I saw in last night’s WSFCS School Board meeting was far from showing leadership. And since this system is about to look for yet another superintendent, this school board needs to really step forward. Last night was three steps back.

And this school system is suffering.

Yes, I am a teacher, but I am also a parent of a special needs child in the public schools. His IEP literally stipulates socialization with other students, specifically typically-developing children when possible. What happened to him last March when remote learning started was an unmitigated disaster. His learning regressed and he missed his schoolmates. But physically, he is much more compromised if he contracts the virus than most students. 

His mother and I want him to go to school. It’s that necessary for his growth. But the plan hatched from last night’s WSFCS School Board in no way satisfies my concerns as a parent.

Last night’s meeting was possibly one of the most dysfunctional gatherings of people (who spent time and money to sit in those very chairs) as I have seen in my 23-year career. After witnessing and listening to comments, arguments, motions, and opinions during that school board meeting last night, I felt nothing but disappointment and a void that comes from lack of leadership. 

It does not take much effort to see that many on the board do not like each other. I could care less if they did or not. It’s not a prerequisite. But it is also apparent that the board does not work well together. And that is a must have if a school system is to navigate through a time of crisis such as this.

Not only was last night’s meeting a prime example of why not to have PARTISAN school boards, but it was an embarrassment as a taxpayer, a parent of public school children, and as a teacher in one of its schools.

If I am correct, what happened last night was that a plan to bring students back into schools was voted on without a single metric in place, something that was supposed to be decided and voted upon. 

If I am correct, there was no standard policy on wearing masks that was voted upon.

If I am correct, the board neglected to make sure that ventilation in each school building was up to CDC standards.

If I am correct, there is only a loosely constructed plan to keep spacing and cleanliness up to CDC standards.

If I am correct, teachers were not part of the dialogue.

If I am correct, science seemed to take a backseat to emotions and politics.

Just looking at this morning’s report in the Winston-Salem Journal it is apparent that what happened last night seems more rooted in people-pleasing than safety.

The board also reversed its decision to rely on two core indicators established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommended by the Forsyth County Department of Public Health to guide the district’s reopening. Those indicators are the number of cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period and the positivity rate over a 14-day period. 

Based on those indicators, the district falls into a zone where transmission of the disease is at a high level. 

But what happened last night was based on other “metrics.”

Crowley noted that there are other metrics to be considered, such as the impact on mental health, the rate of child abuse and the toll that remote learning takes on families. 

“I respect the COVID metrics, but there are other things,” she said.

“Look guys, this is a terrible burden for everybody sitting behind this panel and the three who are at home,” Crowley said of her fellow board members. “It’s incredibly stressful trying to come up with the right answer when there is no precedent, and yes it does seem like the target keeps moving because everything says high risk…. High risk doesn’t mean everyone is getting infected.”

No, “high risk” actually means “high risk.” 

“High risk” means that everyone is in danger. “High risk” means keeping people from being infected.

Two board members in responses to inquiries about the vote last night cited increases on “child and domestic abuse, alcohol and drug use, overdoses and suicides, mental health complications, crime and others.”

Alright, then show me those metrics. Show me the data. And why was that data not brought up in the school board meeting? 

And if those things are on the rise, then that means they were already present. So then, how has this school board fought for more resources to deal with those problems when there was no pandemic? Ironically, all of those factors existed before we went to remote instruction.

Covid-19 didn’t exist though.

And do the members of the board who voted in favor of last night’s plan really believe that every mitigating action that can be performed like masks, distancing, cleaning, temperature checks, and the like will always be followed by every student in every school building? By every adult?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions. They need answers along with an agreement from each person on the board to substitute teach in a variety of schools later in November or December. 

And the flu season is about to start and the weather is about to get colder. All of the environmental and seasonal buffers that school systems relied on in August to help with curbing the spread will be taken away.

Oh, and there’s this – the NCDHHS data graph of new cases.

So much seemed to not matter in last night’s meeting that should have. 

I expected so much more as a taxpayer, parent, and teacher.

Much, much more.

Sen. Berger, Isn’t This Your District?

Remember that press confernece in Raleigh where Phil Berger, Dan Forest, and Catherine Truitt all made a baseless overture for opening schools?

The News & Observer opened its report with this:

North Carolina Republican leaders, joined by a group of parents, demanded Wednesday that families be given an option for full-time, in-person instruction at schools.

Few, if any, of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students are getting daily face-to-face classes at the start of the school year. Senate leader Phil Berger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and GOP state superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt said Wednesday that they intend to mobilize people across the state to pressure Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to give parents the option of in-person, full-time school. They held a news conference at the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh.

Well, this just happened. From WFMY.com:

Rockingham County is Berger’s home county.

Run, Forest! Run… Far Away. Why Forrest Gump Would Never Vote For Dan Forest

On my way to and from the public school where I teach, I see collections of campaign signs grouped together at certain interchanges that cleverly repeat a line made famous by the Oscar Award winning film Forrest Gump – “Run, Forrest! Run!”

Take away an “r” and you have a clever campaign slogan. But it is not accurate. Forest’s campaign slogan as it is written on the tour bus and on his signs is actually an error because he is slamming an imperative sentence with yet another imperative.

Nor is it appropriate given the context of both the movie and his actions as Lt. Gov. of NC.

Because Forrest Gump would never vote for Dan Forest.

So here are some other more accurate, slogans.

“Fund, Forest! Fund!”

Every time I see Forest’s campaign signs I am reminded of that Forrest Gump needed special attention in school as he was “differently-abled.” Forest’s championing of charter schools and of vouchers would be as hard for Forrest’s mother (although fictional) as it is for the person writing this post – a parent, voter, and teacher.

My wife and I have two children, one of whom has Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down Syndrome. Like any concerned parents of a child with special needs, we investigated all possible avenues for his early education. We were fortunate that a family member was willing to pay for tuition at any institution in the area if it meant that our son could have the best start to his academic journey, one which will probably take different routes than typical children.

No private school in our area would take him. They said that they did not have the resources. They exercised a freedom because they felt that they could not be accountable for his progress. They took security in knowing that they could choose whom to be accountable for when it comes to academic achievement.

Even the charter schools that existed would not take him. None were prepared to do so. So we sent him to his neighborhood public school.

And he has thrived. Why? Teachers. Teachers who loved him and wanted him to succeed before they even met him. They did not choose to have him as a student; they already wanted to have him as a student. But they are having a harder time being able to secure resources because Dan Forest and others are intent on the use of vouchers and charter schools that siphon tax-payer money away from traditional schools which are still held accountable for his progress.

“Repeal, Forest! Repeal”

Forest was an ardent supporter of HB2 – the Bathroom Bill which targeted a nonexistent problem yet encouraged prejudice against some of our citizens.

He said following PayPal’s announcement not to expand in NC back in April, 2016 in response to HB2:

“If our action in keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and showers protected the life of just one child or one woman from being molested or assaulted, then it was worth it. “North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children. They are precious and priceless.”

That’s a bold statement in defense of our women and children.

Did Forest ever call for Medicaid expansion or ask the NCGA to invest more in unemployment benefits in the wake of a pandemic?

Nope. Probably that price tag. Even for those same women and children.

“Renounce, Forest! Renounce!”

Two specific images really define the type of person Forrest Gump was/is.

That first image is from the part in the movie where Forrest seems to advocate the desegregation of the University of Alabama.

The second is when Forrest meets Bubba who would become his best friend.

Contrast that with this from Dan Forest a couple of summers ago IN A CHURCH nonetheless.

“No other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today, because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division, and because of this identity politics. But no other nation has ever been founded on the principles of Jesus Christ, that begin the redemption and reconciliation through the atoning blood of our savior.” – Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Forrest Gump would have never said that. And he went to church.

Even sang in the choir.

Bubba Quotes From Trailer Park. QuotesGram

Plan, Forest! Plan!”

#NoPlanDan has become more than just an appropriate hashtag associated with Forest. Calling for reopening of schools and nursing homes in his campaign has never been presented with an actual plan for safely happening.

Forrest Gump planned. Very well actually.

Dan Forest Came up with this:

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License plates to fund teacher salaries.

Would have taken millions of plates to do what would be needed.

Oddly enough, I have not seen one on the roads of North Carolina.

That’s because the demand never reached 500 to start the production.

“Science, Forest! Science!”

Climate change? Dan forest is not much on that. Masks do not help with Covid-19 spread? Dan Forest has been touting that.

But science says otherwise.

Forrest Gump seemed to rely on science and believed in it. Sceince helped his body recover in his early years. His mother took him to a doctor to help with Forrest’s back as it was “crooked as a question mark.”

The doctor outfitted him with leg braces to force his legs and back to position a certain way.

My life has been just like Forrest Gump's' – The Sun

Funny that the doctor commented that Forrest’s back was as “crooked as a politician.”

And this week NC will feel the effects of another tropical storm. Sometimes those become hurricanes. Forrest knows something about those.

Forrest Gump Shrimping Before The Storm - YouTube

But the one slogan that resonates most is:

Run, Forest! Run…away!

Remember These 12 Glaring Data Exhibits From The Leandro Report This Election

It’s hard to look at how this state could have sat on a large manufactured state surplus and extended more corporate tax cuts while conditions in the public schools exist to the level explained clearly in the Leandro Report.

Again, it is important to look at the entire report – Sound Basic Education for All – An Action Plan for North Carolina.

These are the 12 basic findings listed below.

  • Finding #1: Funding in North Carolina has declined over the last decade.
  • Finding #2: The current distribution of education funding is inequitable.
  • Finding #3: Specific student populations need higher levels of funding.
  • Finding #4: Greater concentrations of higher-needs students increases funding needs.
  • Finding #5: Regional variations in costs impact funding needs.
  • Finding #6: The scale of district operations impacts costs.
  • Finding #7: Local funding and the Classroom Teacher allotments create additional funding inequities.
  • Finding #8: New constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs.
  • Finding #9: Restrictions on Classroom Teacher allotments reduce flexibility and funding levels.
  • Finding #10: Frequent changes in funding regulations hamper budget planning.
  • Finding #11: The state budget timeline and adjustments create instability.
  • Finding #12: There is inadequate funding to meet student needs.

These 12 data exhibits help to summarize some of those issues as far as the effects of poverty on school systems, lower numbers of teacher candidates, attrition levels, per-pupil expenditures, and how it is hard to compare NC to other states in how it funds its schools.

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AND THAT WAS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC!

A Last Max Donation From A Privatizer For Catherine Truitt

This man gave the maximum to the campaign of Catherine Truitt.

From his bio on the John Locke Foundation website:

Last minute maximum contributions get reported separately.

Charter schools and private schools. They want Truitt to run public schools?

Of course they do.

Oh, and he wrote this:

Clean The “Privatization Petri Dish” That North Carolina Has Become. Vote Pro-Public Education.

Long before Mark Johnson was elected state superintendent, people like Phil Berger and those he controlled began to institute “reforms” into public education without fear of reprisal.

Those reforms turned a once progressive state system of public education into one of regression. Eliminating longevity pay, taking away graduate degree pay and career status from newer teachers, revamping the salary scales,  and cutting teacher assistants were just a few of the actions taken to “reform” public education.

What Berger and others also started in 2011 and continue to champion today is making North Carolina the literal working laboratory for ALEC-inspired reforms that are targeting the vitality of public schools and enabling a variety of privatization initiatives that are padding the pockets of many at the expense of taxpayers.

In fact, in under a decade, NC has become the nation’s Petri Dish for harmful educational reforms.

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These “reforms” are not original – just maybe some adjustments to make them especially “effective” in North Carolina.

Vouchers are certainly not an NC original, but the fact that the Opportunity Grants are the least transparent voucher system in the country was intentionally determined in Raleigh and most of the money from vouchers goes to religious schools.

The School Performance Grading system came from Florida. Make the formula favor test scores over student growth and then it becomes the North Carolina version. The Read to Achieve model also comes from Florida and has led to a number of interesting purchases and use of money like six million dollars in iPads for reading teachers. The 2019 scandal with iStation centers around Read to Achieve as well.

Charter School growth has gone rather wild with the number of charter schools doubling in the last few years and many of them are operated by out-of-state entities.

The Educational Savings Accounts for special needs students is more deregulated than most others in the nation and other states who use it report rampant abuse of the money.

Business model reforms have helped to guide policy on teacher pay with unsuccessful initiatives involving merit pay and bonuses for a select few.

As recent as 2019, North Carolina had more than 50 standardized tests given to its students and all high schoolers have to take an administration of the ACT even if they are not college bound.

The push to “innovate” and “personalize” learning has led to more technology in the classrooms that seems to take away students from engagement with a professional teacher BEFORE THE PANDEMIC. Just look at iStation and the virtual pre-school idea set forth by Rep. Craig Horn in 2019.

And then there was HB17 that was “passed” in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly after the 2016 elections and before the new terms began. That bill gave the office of the state superintendent more power over the public school system than any previous state superintendent had and removed part of the checks and balances that the state board of education provided.

In short, it was a power grab. And that new state super, Mark Johnson, walked into the office with more power than any predecessor. He also had by far the least experience of any in public school administration.

And Mark Johnson was not given this power to champion the public schools; he is actually still there to champion those entities that want to weaken public schools and allow more private entities to take a foothold in North Carolina such as charter schools.

He is there to keep the Petri Dish that is North Carolina full of “reforms.”

Remember the state board did not go easily after HB17. For the next 18 months Mark Johnson and the SBOE fought in court over control of the public school system. Johnson “won” in a state that has seen the NCGA try everything in its power to gain a stronghold of the judicial branch of the state government. After that win, Johnson reorganized DPI into its own silos.

That reorg made sure that Mark Johnson was in complete control of what happened in DPI without having to answer fully to the State Board of Education.

It also made sure that Phil Berger retained control of public education in North Carolina because it is more than apparent that the neophyte currently serving as the state superintendent is under the control of Berger.

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It makes one think though. What happens if Jen Mangrum is elected state superintendent in 2020? Does Berger try and hold a special session to withdraw the powers extended to the office of the state super that came with HB17?

The elections for 2020 can not come soon enough because it’s time that this “experiment” of dismantling public education in North Carolina stops.

Remembering That Letter From the State Treasurer to Teachers About Insurance Costs? So, Would He Send It Now?

“Did You Know?

During 2017, the state spent $3.3 billion on medical and pharmacy benefits. At the same time, costs have increased 5 to 10 percent while funding for the Plan only saw a 4 percent increase. In addition, the state has a $34 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care. This liability is a result of promises that were made for lifetime benefits but no money was ever put aside to pay for that benefit.

What Can You Do?

You can help sustain this benefit by taking control of your medical costs.”

Teachers and other state employees received those words from Dale Folwell, CPA in late 2018. Folwell is the State Treasurer for North Carolina. He sent that letter with new ID cards for the state health plan that is contracted through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Simply put, that letter was rather insulting at he time, at least to me and to some other teachers.

I could not help to think that in a missive meant to outline benefits to a person whom “North Carolina values,” I was also being told that I literally cost too much, was promised too much, and that it was my job to not be as much of a burden on the state, that it was my job to not put myself in situations where I might even risk becoming a financial burden on the state.

Folwell himself had to go to the hospital for COVID-19. Here’s a report from April 8’s Winston-Salem Journal – front page above the fold.  

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Here are some parts of it.

  • “This is probably the most intense thing I’ve ever been through, and my message to the readers is that taking the advice from both federal and state officials is going to ensure the safety from all of us,” Folwell said.
  • He went to the hospital Sunday, March 29, on the advice of his doctor after his oxygen levels dropped. Folwell said he only experienced the cough and breathing difficulties, and the other symptoms — such as fever — never appeared.
  • Before being diagnosed, Folwell traveled out of the state — to the “hinterlands of Utah with friends and family — and made several stops at various North Carolina newsrooms and media outlets, including the Winston-Salem Journal.
  • Two Journal employees self-quarantined after learning of Folwell’s diagnosis.
  • Folwell said he thinks he got the virus in North Carolina, not in Utah, and said no one on his trip showed any symptoms. He said he is not sure where in North Carolina he got the virus.

Again, Folwell said, “taking the advice from both federal and state officials is going to ensure the safety from all of us.” 

The day that that particular article ran was April 8th and it was after Folwell had recovered. But on April 8th, the state had a little over 200 new cases confirmed with COVID-19.

10 days before the Nov. 3rd election, that number is quite a bit higher.

And remember last summer, Folwell was wanting to help seek waivers for school districts that were thinking about going to in-person instruction when the school year started.

From EdNC.org on July 24th:

“State Treasurer Dale Folwell asked if there’s a waiver process for districts or charter schools that feel they can operate safely under Plan A, the least restrictive model that allows for in-person instruction.”

Makes you wonder what kind of letter he would send this year.

One Candidate For State Superintendent Cited Her “Direct Experience.” Might Want To Look At That.

“Of the two of us, I’m the only one who actually has direct experience working with the governor’s office and the State Board of Education and local superintendents.”

-CATHERINE TRUITT, SEPTEMBER 10TH AT THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT CANDIDATE FORUM

On September 10th in a socially distanced manner, both Catherine Truitt and Jen Mangrum participated in an open forum answering questions about their candidacies for the office of state’s highest public school office.

That quote above by Truitt is one that referenced her history as a senior advisor for Pat McCrory. And making that claim was supposed to be a positive.

But just examine the record that Truitt had as that senior advisor to the former former governor – particularly claims that she made in the past.

Here are some of the statements she made in 2016 in an op-ed for the News & Observer.

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About “fully funding schools:”

“K-12 education funding has increased by 18 percent under McCrory. In fact, 57 cents of every taxpayer dollar spent goes to fund education. That means that 57 percent of our $22.3 billion General Fund budget is spent on education, compared with a national average of 46 percent. Funding for textbooks and digital resources has tripled under this administration, and we are leading the nation in school connectivity.”

About teacher pay and “recruiting” people to teach:

“Teacher pay in North Carolina is growing faster than in any other state in the country under McCrory’s leadership. Since 2013, North Carolina has invested more than $1 billion in teacher raises, and the budget signed by McCrory increases average teacher pay to more than $50,000 for the first time in state history.”

In an op-ed for EdNC.org that same year, she made these statements:

About what Read to Achieve’s goal:

“He (McCory) also signed legislation that will dramatically increase access to summer reading camps to ensure every student achieves the needed literacy by third grade.”

About the Opportunity Grants:

“In 2014, the governor increased choice for low income parents by enacting the Opportunity Scholarship that provides financial assistance for alternative schooling for students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.”

Funding, teacher pay, Read to Achieve, and vouchers are all hot-button topics, but they are not the trophies that Truitt made them out to be.

And she should be called out for it.

Truitt has mentioned in the past that there are three sources of financing for NC public education – federal, state, and local. And she has said that 57% of that coming from the state is far higher percentage than the national average.

But that’s because it is supposed to be. The state constitution declares it.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education.

However, I do want to point out that before we had a Republican governor (McCrory) and a Republican-controlled legislature, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED.

Her assertions about teacher pay are interesting as well. The operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. It was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay.

Oh, and under McCrory, graduate degree pay bumps were eliminated for new teachers.

Truitt talked about Read to Achieve as a success back in 2016. But is this a success?

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Truitt argued that the Opportunity Grants could help alleviate high tuition costs, but if the grants were targeted for lower income students, then how can those families even think about allotting their already limited funds for a private education, especially when NC has refused to expand Medicaid services for many who would qualify to obtain an Opportunity Grant? That’s not really giving families choices.

If you scroll down on the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority website for the Opportunity Scholarship and click on the link called “Current List of Nonpublic Schools”, you will find a list of schools participating in the grant program. Notice a vast majority of those schools have religious affiliations. Ironically, many of those schools are already supported by churches that do not have to pay taxes. And now those entities are getting more taxpayer money to support curricula and processes that are not even regulated like those of public schools?

If Truitt became the state super for PUBLIC schools, is she going to keep supporting private schools?

If Truitt thinks that it is necessary for funds to be given to people to get them a good education, then why not invest that very money in the very public schools the state super would be constitutionally supposed to support to help those very students succeed in their public schools?

Yep, that “direct experience working with the governor’s office” doesn’t sound so great. So why brag about it?

A Video Every Teacher & School Board Member Should View And…

… then really consider the absolute truth this man is communicating and the hypocrisy he is exposing.

From Henrico County in Virginia.

Here is the link.

The Letter Betsy DeVos Sent To State Superintendents About Not Waiving Federally Mandated Tests

Honestly, what else do you need to know about her?

Link to a copy of the letter here.