Another Stupid Decision – An Open Letter to Rep. Rob Bryan Concerning ASD

In a vote of 18 to 11, you and the House Committee on Education, pushed through a bill that would establish an ASD (Achievement School District) in North Carolina allowing the control of some of our low-performing schools to be outsourced to out-of-state entities.

Why?

It is egregious that a leading legislator who claims to have an educational background as an alumnus of Teach for America had to craft the original version of this bill last year behind closed doors. Oftentimes when one secretly meets with others of his choosing, then those “others” tend to have like-minded views. Even Rep. Tim Moore appointed one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. John Bradford III, another republican from your home county to the committee to help it pass.

Interestingly enough you endorsed some enlightening statements concerning your views on public education on the website, http://www.friendsofrob.com/about. It states,

“Raised by a teacher and an engineer, Rob spent his first two years after college participating in the Teach for America program. In a low-income school in inner-city Los Angeles, he saw firsthand the problems created by non-innovative, bureaucratic districts unwilling or unable to change. Red tape and politics prevented teachers, principals, and parents from choosing the creative solutions that would work for their students.”

There is a lot of information there. Your tenure in the classroom, while admirable, was not long at all. Most teachers in NC went through more time training to become a teacher than you were in the actual classroom. You worked in a poverty-stricken inner-city school, the same kind of schools you labeled as failing with a Jeb Bush style grading system that you helped create. Furthermore, you have actually helped foster an environment that keeps those poverty-stricken schools under the foot of government by lowering per pupil expenditures and vilifying veteran educators. And now you meet with a loaded committee who is willing to siphon money to charter schools run by out-of-state private entities?

You also said in your statement, “Red tape and politics prevented teachers, principals, and parents from choosing the creative solutions that would work for their students.” You are exactly right. But if one sees the actions that you as a legislator have participated in while crafting the current educational landscape here in NC, I think one could label you as part of that “red tape and politics.”

Consider your actions on the following:

  • Allowed teacher pay to continue to drop when adjusted for inflation.
  • Removed due process rights for new teachers to keep them from advocating loudly for students and schools.
  • Removed graduate degree pay bumps for teachers entering the profession.
  • Lowered the amount of money spent per pupil in the state.
  • Removed class size caps.
  • Instituted a Jeb Bush style school grading system that is unfair and does nothing more than show how poverty affects public schools.
  • Created an uncontrolled and unregulated system of vouchers called Opportunity Grants.
  • Fostered charter school growth that has not improved the educational landscape and siphons money from the public school system.
  • Eliminated the Teaching Fellows Program.
  • Created an atmosphere of disrespect for teachers that teaching candidate numbers in colleges and universities have dropped 30%.

That sounds like creating obstacles, not removing them.

It seems that if you wanted to really remove “red tape and politics” then you would attack the root of the problems like the lack of medical care and lack of economic stability for those people who send students to the very schools you want to outsource.

Furthermore, you seem to be placing a lot of “faith” in an unproven solution. I wrote to you last summer about how unproven the ASD districts were in Tennessee. I stated,

“You claim to have talked with the Tennessee governor and those responsible for the Achievement School District. Simply do a “Google” search on ASD in Memphis and you see the polarizing results of Tennessee’s experiment with the charter school takeover. Whether the criticisms are all valid or not, the fact that so much animosity exists begs for there to be more open discussion about the use of charter schools to “takeover” failing schools. And Rep. Bryan, the words “open discussion” never really apply to you when it concerns your phantom bill.

In reading the Oct. 29, 2013 article from The Atlantic entitled “When Outsiders Take Over Schools: Lessons From Memphis”, I noticed that those who praise the ASD’s efforts talked about the smaller classes, more one-on-one teaching, and tighter structure. If those are ingredients for success in turning around schools, then why are you advocating policies that remove class size caps, lower per pupil expenditures, and abolish teaching assistants in the very schools you hope will be taken over?”

When confronted with the questionable nature of ASD’s results in TN, you seemed to acknowledge its limitations. An NC Policy Watch report (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2016/05/25/breaking-house-committee-approves-controversial-achievement-school-district-bill/) reported,

“On Wednesday, Bryan acknowledged “mixed results” for the program in Tennessee, but argued that the district did report some gains in the third year of operations.

“We can compare it to other states, but we’re looking to create something unique for North Carolina with its own guard-rails and parameters where we’re learning from other states,” said Bryan.

You never engaged in a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources. There are state-driven teams that are doing good work using taxpayer money to reinvest in our schools. But it seems that you want someone to profit from this monetarily. Dr. June Atkinson, whose opinion about public schools I trust because she has extensive educational experience, even has cautioned you about ASD’s.

Atkinson told Policy Watch in January that she believes the state “would get a better return on their investments by going with a model that has proven positive results.”

Atkinson said the state’s efforts would be better spent offering additional support and funding to low-performing schools, in addition to greater flexibility in their calendar and curriculum.

But that would not profit anyone monetarily, would it now?

In fact, when looking at the whole picture, it seems that you are trying to solve a problem that you have helped to create with even a worse solution.

 

Can I Get a Confirmation from the Congregation? – How Governor McCrory Has Brought Me Closer To God

Governor McCrory, you have brought me closer to God.

Simply put, I have never conversed so much and so passionately with my creator than these past three years. And I must testify this fact – because so many things have happened to North Carolinians that only divine intervention and an election could ever relieve.

With your defiant refusal to extend Medicare coverage for many in the state, I have been asking God to keep those who now do not have health insurance healthy enough until something good happens. As we continue to pay federal taxes that actually finance Medicaid in other states, I ask God for to enable you to place principles before political ideologies.

Environmentally, we have suffered at the hands of Duke Power’s coal ash spill. The public slap on the wrist and the showboating of concern on your part seem sanctimoniously empty to me. Granted, having a private relationship with the country’s largest power company all those years would seem hard to navigate publically, but we need a governor to take a strong stand for the welfare of the state. We are very much like stakeholders in a very large company much larger than Duke Power, except our company is the state North Carolina and you are the appointed CEO. Our welfare and health is our dividend, and if those are not positive, well, we appoint someone else. I pray that God gives you the courage to act accordingly.

Speaking of the environment, the news that the fracking industry would not have to disclose the chemicals needed to “help” boost our energy reserves with natural shale gas is a bit disturbing. If election contributions must be transparently recorded, if ingredients for all food stuffs must be listed on the package, and if all facets of curriculum combed through to the tiniest fraction for our schools, then should we not at least be able to know what is being pumped into our lands for someone else’s profit? If we are in the Bible Belt, then should we not know what is being put into the gut of God’s country?

Fiscally speaking, as a teacher, I am constantly in conversation with the Almighty as to how I can make ends meet and still plan for the future of my family considering my monetary situation. I pray that God helps my wife keep the job that pays much more than mine as I still feel called to help educate the next generations.

Also, I am unsure how you can say that we have a budget surplus when budgets in homes and schools seem unbalanced. The money allocated to social services has been slashed in the name fiscal balance, but it seems more like a drive to privatize everything and claim that the market will take care of the economy. We still need the government to intervene on behalf of those who pay their fair share of taxes. I also pray that you realize that “decreasing” taxes were more than offset by eliminating tax deductions for working families and putting more sales taxes on items like auto repairs. Many families are actually paying more to the state now than before you were elected.

I have also prayed to God that the voice of every citizen can be heard, even in the government buildings where the current short session has “revisited” sanctions about people congregating and airing concerns to elected officials. Even though you and your cabinet wish to silence others through “voter ID” legislation and the reinterpretation of the freedom of speech, I know God hears every person’s voice. Do you hear the ones who come to Raleigh on Moral Mondays to exclusively tell you what they need?

And finally, I pray that the public schools get the resources and funding they so deserve. North Carolina’s constitution does state that every citizen will have access to a good education. The very foundation of that “good” education system is the student/teacher relationship. If there are no good, experienced teachers left, then how “good” will that education promised in the state’s constitution be? It is a cruel irony that one of the best public university systems in the country is quickly losing the strong public K-12 system that has been feeding it.

Oh, I forgot. That very same university system is actually under attack. The fact that Margaret Spellings, the architect of No Child Left Behind, is now the president of the UNC system shows a strong disconnect in what our public universities really needed. Instead of removing obstacles, one was placed in its way.

But spiritually, I feel great. I have never felt closer God.

Open Letter to John Hood – UnLOCKEing the John Locke Foundation, Part 3

Dear Mr. Hood,

Your op-ed in The Carolina Journal (later reposted on EdNC.org.) entitled “How to Pay Teachers More” is another example of the deliberate disconnect from the reality of the teaching profession that many in Raleigh seem to not only revel in, but share as gospel.

And this column is just another attempt to broadly describe the condition of state education reform in North Carolina with glossy rhetoric as a way to present the current administration as champions of public education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You are printed widely and read by many in the Old North State. As the former president (and current chariman)of the John Locke Foundation and the current president of the John William Pope Foundation, you have enjoyed the financial backing of one of the most powerful people in the state, Art Pope. No doubt that financial backing comes with its share of ideological mentoring, meaning that whatever is printed by the John Locke Foundation or the Carolina Journal (part of the Pope Foundation) by you has a certain slant to it pleasing to the people who fund its creation.

This op-ed makes many claims, provides little details to lend evidence and never really explains how your claims are verifiable.

Consider the following:

  1. You state, “Well, North Carolina is projected to run a substantial budget surplus this year. That, in turn, reflects the benefits of a growing economy, overall spending restraint during the past five years, and lower-than-expected growth in enrollments in other programs and institutions.”

Interestingly enough, that budget surplus was created by a tax revenue overhaul crafted by none other than Art Pope, who not only serves your mentor and boss, but also served as Gov. McCrory’s first budget director. You may claim that we have had lower tax rates than we did before McCrory took office, but there’s more to it.

While tax cuts did come for many, standard deductions were greatly affected. Many of the standard deductions and exemptions that were once available to citizens like teachers no longer exist. In fact, most people who make the salaries commensurate of teachers ended up paying out more of their money to the state, even when “taxes” went down. Why? Because we could not declare tax breaks any longer. Who designed that? The budget director.

Furthermore, there is now a rise in sales tax revenue because many services like auto repairs are now taxed. So to say that the surplus just appeared because of spending limitations is a little bit of a spun claim. In fact, most of those spending limitations in public schools came when we saw increased enrollment and costs of resources rise.

  1. You make another faulty claim when you say, “They’ve (Raleigh) junked forms of compensation that didn’t produce better instruction, such as the foolish practice of paying teachers to get largely irrelevant graduate degrees, while focusing legislative attention on starting salaries and pay raises for teachers in their early careers, which is when most improvement in teacher effectiveness occurs.”

You have made this claim before in an op-ed called “Not a matter of degrees” that was posted on EdNC.org last fall. I also made a rebuttal to this op-ed entitled “Why teachers believe advanced degrees matter”. Anyone can read the two and make his/her own decision.

But the assertion that teacher effectiveness mostly occurs in the early part of the career is misleading. With as many curriculum changes, standardized test changes, and teacher evaluation models that have evolved, and the growth of duties, class sizes and more classes to teach, it would be foolish to say that rising teacher effectiveness is only relegated to the first few years.

One, it is a way of foolishly validating why raises were given only to new teachers during this administration. Two, most new teachers look to veteran teachers for mentoring and growth. Three, most people cannot decide how to really measure teacher effectiveness because of so many changing parameters.

Furthermore, if veteran teachers have stopped improving, then how would you explain graduation rates increasing? (Actually, that is a whole other subject worth discussing).

  1. You further claim, “Still, policymakers seem inclined to continue reforming the way teachers are compensated, including differentiation by demonstrable need and pilot programs for performance pay. Given the petty politics and irresponsible rhetoric employed by their left-wing critics, this qualifies as courageous leadership deserving of conservative support.”

This is called “merit pay”. There is not one example of a merit pay model that has been successful in my memory. If you could offer any examples, your op-ed would have been a great place to list them.

Rep. Skip Stam has championed this idea. I wrote him an open letter this year explaining that his idea of merit pay and differentiated pay was faulty (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/02/03/a-public-school-teachers-open-letter-to-state-rep-paul-stam/). Some of the points I made included:

  • “The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. Effective public schools are collaborative communities, not buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money.”
  • “The GOP-led NCGA still does not seem to acknowledge that student growth is different than student test scores.”
  • “Anyone who has taught in North Carolina for an extended period of time remembers that we had the ABC’s in effect for years which gave teachers/schools bonuses based on scores. It was never financed.”

If there is no explanation of what this merit plan would look like, then it is nothing but a baseless claim.

  1. You then bring in the latest NEA report and claim, “As the latest NEA report makes clear, North Carolina has raised teacher pay more than any other state in the nation since McCrory took office in 2013. The state still ranks relatively low in average salaries expressed in nominal dollars, but the NEA itself cautions readers of its teacher-salary report not to treat such a ranking as meaningful… For example, variations in the cost of living may go a long way toward explaining (and, in practice, offsetting) differences in salary levels from one area of the country to another.”

You are correct. Cost of living does vary greatly among the states. In fact, it varies greatly among counties in North Carolina. The Triangle versus the Triad versus Asheville, or Wilmington, or even the Outer Banks could show dramatic differences in terms of cost of living just within our boundaries.

However, when quoting Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation and his “preliminary analysis” is asking a biased individual to affirm a claim. You and Dr. Stoops practically work for the same organization. It’s like a pharmaceutical company funding its own study to show that the latest drug it is marketing works better than the competition’s. It’s simply loaded. A “preliminary analysis” from a non-biased third party would be more believable.

Also the NEA report that you refer to is a 130 page .pdf. It also includes many nuggets of info that do not show such “growth” in NC’s educational condition. One really sticks out when talking about teacher salaries. We are 48th in Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 2004-2005 to 2014-2015 (-10.2) – Table C-14.

Furthermore, those “raises in teacher pay” included the elimination of longevity pay which all public sector employees receive, EXCEPT TEACHERS. What really happened was that the NCGA took money from the pockets of educators and then presented back to them in the form of a raise all the while promoting it as a commitment to teachers. It’s like robbing someone and then buying them a gift with the stolen money and keeping the change.

  1. You claim, “In fast-growing states such as North Carolina where schools must hire new teachers every year just to keep up with enrollment, the teacher population tends to be disproportionately young. Ranking salaries by years of experience would bring North Carolina even closer to the national median.”

If that is not a rousing endorsement of keeping veteran teachers who have been through population shifts and constant flux to help new teachers, then I do not know what is.

Furthermore, if we have a rising population, then we as a state better be doing more to cater to the very teacher preparation programs that have served our schools in the past. Mr. Hood’s assertion that veteran teachers are somewhat stagnant in effectiveness and that graduate degrees do not matter is possibly alluding to a tendency to contract alternate teacher training programs like Teach For America. Just ask other metropolitan areas how that has worked for them. San Francisco just terminated their contract with TFA this past week.

  1. Finally you state, “Instead of chasing headlines or poorly measured statistical goals, McCrory and legislative leaders are boosting and reforming teacher compensation in order to attract and retain high-performing educators to some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.”

Concentrate on the phrase “some of the most essential and challenging jobs in the public sector.” That describes teaching in public schools fairly well. But has it always been that essential and challenging? Yes, it has.

Mr. Hood, why are you so clearly endorsing policies that will not adequately pay for teachers to do this essential and challenging service? Maybe because when you see the word investment, you look for a monetary return that profits you. When you see the word investment, it is always a cash transaction?

McCrory’s claim to want to raise teacher pay looks more like pure electioneering. It is synonymous to a deadbeat dad who shows up at Christmas with extravagant gifts so that he can buy the love (or votes) of his children.

Public education is an investment in people in all years, not just every four years.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Barefoot When You Need Wading Boots or Legivangelism 101 – An Open Letter to Sen. Chad Barefoot

Dear Sen. Barefoot,

No doubt many in your party have congratulated you on your recent appointment to the Chairmanship of the very important Senate Education Committee which oversees the state’s K-12, Community College, and UNC systems. Additionally, you were reaffirmed as the Chairman of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee.

In your brief tenure as a legislator (3 years), you now not only have a direct hand in the funding of public schools and universities in North Carolina, you now have a direct say in how those monies are used.

As a veteran public school teacher and parent of two children in traditional NC public schools, I cannot congratulate you on this “achievement”.  To me, your new role on West Jones Street is nothing more than a political ploy to have someone in the mold of a Sen. “Skip” Stam and Sen. Phil Berger to continue the General Assembly’s assault on our public schools.

Your voting record that aligns strictly along party lines, your sponsorship of key acts of legislature that alienate many of the very children you represent, and your very own words firmly support my assertion that you not the person needed to decide the fate of public schools.

Sen. Barefoot, your voting record on “Key” votes as revealed in on votesmart.com shows that out of 48 votes shown, you voted “yea” for all but 6. However of those other six, you were the sponsor of co-sponsor which means that your vote already was a “yea”. You voted only “Nay” on two of them. Ironically those two had to deal with sales tax, which many counties use to fund their schools (https://votesmart.org/candidate/key-votes/136399/chad-barefoot#.Vzh75ZErJ1s).

This voting record of yours is just indicative of the rubber stamp that you would be in the Senate Education Appropriations Committee. That does not bode well for public school children when opaque charter schools and virtual schools are given more funds and less oversight, when vouchers are set to get more tax-payer money, and when federal government had slapped a law-suit on our state.

On the NCLEG.net website you are listed as the actual primary sponsor on a variety of bills that have been detrimental to public schools and their employees. The most apparently egregious are:

  • Senate Bill 444 – Teacher Compensation Modifications. This bill raised pay for new teachers, while deliberately ignoring veteran teacher pay in an attempt to raise “average” pay.
  • Senate Bill 536 – Students Know Before You Go. This bill was “AN ACT TO PROVIDE ACCURATE AND COMPLETE DATA TO STUDENTS ON 3 POSTSECONDARY STUDENT COMPLETION, GRADUATION, AND EARNINGS FOR OUTCOMES AT NORTH CAROLINA POSTSECONDARY INSTITUTIONS.” In reality, it was a way to discourage students from pursuing certain majors because of how they were monetarily presented. Some of those were education preparation programs in UNC system schools which might help explain why you co-sponsored Senate Bill 836.
  • Senate Bill 836 – Alternate Teacher Preparation. This is an act that would authorize local school systems to have more lateral entry. What this really means is that you spend less to obtain in many cases less qualified teachers to teach in hard to staff areas. Rather than elevate the teaching profession, you are making the teaching profession less desirable to those in NC.
  • Senate Bill 862 – Opportunity Scholarships Forward Funding. This will give more money to vouchers thereby diverting tax-payer money to more religious-based and private schools that do not have to maintain standards that public school must. More importantly, nothing has shown that these vouchers have actually increased student achievement for those who use them.

You were also a co-sponsor of SB2 (2014) that prohibited the expansion of Medicaid for many in North Carolina. That alone hurts MANY children who attend public schools. Your vote for the controversial HB2 bill threatens federal funding for the very schools for which you now are dictating policy.

Sen. Barefoot, your strong faith is emphasized on your Facebook page, website, and also highlighted by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where you obtained a Master’s Degree in Christian Ethics. SEBTS even did a special profile of you on their website entitled “Southeastern Graduate Chad Barefoot: The Youngest Senator in North Carolina” (https://www.sebts.edu/headlines/articles/SoutheasternGraduateChadBarefootNCSenator.aspx).

In this profile you state,

“How amazing is it that Baptists in this state, collectively, have taken care of the needs of young children for over 125 years. What started out as an orphanage now looks to rebuild broken families. Baptists provide physical and emotional shelters for children but also tell them about Jesus. The focus is to find them an eternal home… After prayerful consideration I realized that what the state [of North Carolina] needed was leaders who were well-grounded in understanding the difference between right and wrong.”

As a man of faith, I will not argue with the assertion that children are our most precious gifts. Taking care of their needs is paramount. But does your concept of the difference between right and wrong derive from your interpretation of the Bible or from the Constitution, the same constitution that allows for same-sex marriage to be legal and protects basic civil rights regardless whether people believe in the same religion or spiritual path?

Christ was the greatest of teachers, one who stared down people in power and admonished them on behalf of those in need. And when we in North Carolina have almost one in four children living in poverty, then there are a LOT of children in need.

So with a political record that denied Medicaid expansion to many families of these children, kept monies from going to their public schools, and discriminated against those who are transgendered, how can you honestly say that you are willing to ensure “that every child in North Carolina has access to a high-quality education”?

When people take office they are usually asked to put a hand on the Bible to uphold the Constitution, not the other way around. And our state constitution requires that all our students have the right to a quality public education, whether those students are poor or rich, Christian or non-Christian, straight or gay or even transgender.

Your actions, allegiances, and words do not suggest you are willing.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Aren’t Dead! They Live in Eden – An Open Letter to People Who Will Vote in Sen. Berger’s District

Dear Rockinghamcrantz and Guilfordstern (A Shakespearean way of saying “Citizens of Rockingham and Guilford Counties),

If Shakespeare has taught us anything about human nature and our lives (actually he has taught us much), then we would certainly know that the state of the king’s palace usually dictates the state of the kingdom. Just review perhaps his most famous play, Hamlet, where the greed of one man for power (Claudius) causes a chain of events that literally bring down a kingdom, takes innocent lives, and even makes the dead come back.

Consequently, the state of the General Assembly and the actions of its players has direct effects on the state of North Carolina as a whole. But one of these players has had the leading role for a while in Raleigh, Sen. Phil Berger.

In this drama of an election year, it is worth beseeching our fellow North Carolinians who live in Rockingham and Guilford counties who also have Sen. Phil Berger as their state senator to seriously contemplate his actions as a legislator and the effects they have had on the rest of the state. Why? Because…

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Marcellus, I,iv).

 

Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina. The list of offending actions causing this state of decay is long and well-documented. And Sen. Berger has been the chief architect in most all of them.

There was the religious freedom bill. There was the Voter ID law. There was HB2. There were the countless attacks on public education. There was the tax “reform” that has placed more burden on the middle class of the state. There was the marriage amendment. There was a reduction of benefits for the unemployed. There was the refusal of Medicaid expansion.

All of it has been poison poured into the ears of North Carolinians. It adds to the madness of North Carolina.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (Polonius, II,ii). 

 

While many of our constituents may debate the merits of who should go into what bathroom or who should be able to marry whom, there have been deliberate, calculated attempts at consolidating power on a state level by this man at the expense of others. Sen. Berger has thrown out so many red herrings to take attention away from what has really happened in legislative sessions that many are convinced it is madness to go against his policies.

But there is a method to it. The thought that some would want grown men to go into girls’ locker rooms at a public school is madness. But that is the deception – a method to extend power over local municipalities about how people can sue in state courts or how local municipalities can contract work.

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet, I, v). 

 

Shakespeare was often very wary of how villains presented themselves. Iago was “two-faced” showing a public side to hide private motives. Edmund people-pleased in order to destroy them. Richard III smiled constantly in the very faces of people he eliminated.

The public facade can often be a mask for other motives. Rather than focus on the smiling visage of a politician, listen to his words, read his explanations, and then compare them to his actions. And why? Because…

“The Devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape” (Hamlet, II,ii).

 

No, Sen. Berger is not the Devil. But I do think he will have a lot to answer for when he greets his maker as he is asked what he did for those who needed the most help. So, I beseech you to…

“Listen to many, speak to a few” (Polonius, I,iii). 

 

Yes, he is an incumbent for your district. He supposedly represents your ideals. But consider that his actions have had deleterious effects on all North Carolinians. In his efforts at gerrymandering districts, he has shown us all his conscious efforts at squashing voices who disagree with him.

Ask any public school teacher outside of your district and nine times out of ten, that teacher will be able to directly name Sen. Berger as an adversarial presence in public education.

Ask any person in the LBGT community who has faced discrimination.

Ask any parent who needs Medicaid to help with healthcare coverage for his/her child.

Ask any of the almost one in four kids in our state who live in poverty.

Ask any small municipality (even Hamlet, NC) about having Raleigh overrule their own local ordinances.

 “This above all: to thine own self be true” (Polonius, I,iii).  

 

The operative words here are “true” and “truth”. Don’t allow political double-speak and platitudes to cover up what is the truth. And the truth is what affects lives. Sen. Berger has affected a lot of lives – negatively.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet, III,i).

 

Maybe the question should be, “To vote, or not to vote.” The answer is yes, you should. But please consider who you vote for, because if life is a stage, then the rest of the state and even the country is watching the play.

Don’t let this end tragically. Don’t let us be haunted by ghosts of actions past. We can have a new script.

 

Sincerely,

The Groundlings of North Carolina.

House Bill 539 – A Surreptitious Trojan Horse Disguised as a Romance Novel With Actual Plot

This is in reference to HB539. It is a horrible piece of legislation for those who advocate for public schools. Please share. I have sent it to all legislators.

Dear Legislators of the North Carolina General Assembly,

I read with great disappointment that House Bill 539 would be brought up for a one-day concurrence vote before heading to Gov. McCrory for enactment. This is a bill that is simply meant to siphon even more money away from local traditional public schools to state-enabled charter schools.

What is beyond disappointing is that it is a recycled piece of legislation that at one time was meant to allow access to school facilities by non-school entities, such as public use of the playgrounds at elementary schools. However, in the midst of hostile revisions and secretly crafted drafts it has turned into yet another destructive attempt at hurting our public schools.

One only has to read the very first draft of the bill (http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/PDF/H539v0.pdf) and compare it to the last draft of the bill (http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/PDF/H539v3.pdf) to see this deliberate misuse of power. It seems like what started as a science report on photosynthesis turned into a Harlequin romance novel full of terrible metaphors limited character development – not that I have read any of those.

Some could liken this to identity theft, using the name and the appearance of a bill that seems to benefit all involved, but secretly using that façade to further selfish causes. Some could call it a Trojan Horse, making the exterior seem harmless, but hiding a destructive force within its belly. Others could call it simple hijacking.

What is ironic is that you called a special session to regulate bathrooms because of nonexistent transgender predation. You were “worried” about those who identify with a gender that may not be their birth gender. Yet you take the “body” of an originally good bill and take out the heart, soul, and guts of it and replace them with organs of greed and special interest.

On a day when the US Justice Department declared that HB2 violates the Federal Civil Rights Act, you are considering ramming a bill through the General Assembly that also discriminates. Why? Because the very local municipalities that must help support local public schools must now “share” program specific funding with charter school in their districts, even IF THOSE CHARTERS DO NOT OFFER THOSE SERVICES! However, do charter schools have to share their program-specific monies? No.

That’s treating one “person” better than the other. That’s showing favoritism when in the eyes of the state constitution no such thing should exist. Simply put, it’s discriminating.

Even more caustic is that the state is even further telling local municipalities what they can and cannot do. Just like the provision in the HB2 law that forbids local municipalities to set their own minimum wage for contracted work, this bill is government overreach. And just like HB2, this third draft of HB539 is being floated in a hurried, surreptitious fashion to avoid the light of debate and inquiry.

This is partisan politics, not true representation. This is bowing down to the wants of the few and neglecting the needs of the many.

This is one of the reasons why so many people will show up to vote on November 8th.

Stuart Egan, NBCT
Public School Teacher, Father of Public School Children, Voter

Governor McCrory, You are No “Eisenhower Republican”

Dear Governor,

I have heard many national GOP candidates make mention of their affinity for President Reagan when addressing audiences. Simply channeling “The Gipper” has become almost a necessity to make a good impression especially on those who remember the two-term president from California. His calm voice, his presence, his speech on the Berlin Wall, and his being the last POTUS to survive an assassination attempt are forever etched in my memory.

And I am not even a registered republican.

Governor, you have invoked the spirit of another beloved republican U.S. President when you began to define yourself as an “Eisenhower Republican” early in your term. And just like people such as Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz when they summon the ghost of Reagan, you are donning yourself in borrowed robes.

Why? Because you are nothing like Eisenhower.

Eisenhower built roads. Literally built roads. He oversaw the creation of the interstate highway system that linked communities and cities together. While you claim to want to create a similar infrastructure, it is odd that there are many metaphorical roads that you have allowed to erode. With supporting a Voter ID law, HB2, and tax breaks for the wealthy, you are actually enabling the burning of social bridges that is further dividing people in our state.

President Eisenhower expanded the New Deal programs started by FDR. He created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to implement programs to help needy individuals. “HEW” eventually gave rise to two mainstays in federal government: the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, two federal agencies that you seem to shun.

Oddly enough, your administration has enabled privatization efforts in public education with Opportunity Grants and rampant growth of for-profit charter schools. Furthermore, your decision to reject Medicaid expansion for people in your own state shows a glaring disconnect to the spirit of Eisenhower especially when almost one in four children here in NC live in poverty. Your policies have even led to reduction in unemployment benefits for many who needed them.

The former president also was known for his many press conferences. He held more of them than any president up until his tenure. He had no fear of talking to the media or reaching out to the people of the country through the press. You will not even answer questions from the media concerning HB2 and other matters that directly affect our citizens.

The late president was once quoted as saying, “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.” He made that statement in response to a growing faction in his party of ultra-conservative, Tea-Party like politicians who wanted to drive the Republican Party further to the right.

President Eisenhower stood up to people in his own political party for the sake of principle rather than bowing to personality. But I do not see that same type of character in you, Governor. You rarely issue a veto, and you regularly kowtow to GOP cogs such as Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Tim Moore. You seem more of the enabler than the leader when compared to the ultra-right-wing faction in North Carolina.

President Eisenhower helped to defeat the scourge of Nazism. He faced a growing threat of communism and the Cold War with stern principles, yet still maintained peace. He helped in desegregation, believing that there were “no second class citizens of this country.”

He was a man of action, not of empty words.

So, how can you truly call yourself an “Eisenhower Republican?”

Open Letter to Sen. Buck Newton – Damn Straight!

Dear Sen. Newton,

I read with great disappointment reports of your anti-gay sentiments at a pro-HB2 rally in Raleigh on April 26th.

According to an Associated Press release in the Winston-Salem Journal you were quoted as inciting a crowd with the following words: “Tell your friends and family who had to work today what this is all about and how hard we must fight to keep our state straight.”

As the Republican nominee for Attorney General of North Carolina, it seems odd that you would say statements that contradict the very national and state constitutions that you would vow to protect if elected and claim to abide by now as a lawyer and public servant.

In case you forgot in your passionate defense of an unlawful piece of legislature, citizens are considered equal in the eyes of the law whether they are straight, gay, or transgender.

You should best know that your words were discriminatory. In fact, they could be considered homophobic.

As an elected official from District 11, your duty is to all of the citizens who either voted for you, against you, or refrained from voting in the past three elections for your seat. For that matter, you are accountable to all North Carolinians no matter their orientation, creed, race, or religion. That’s because you hold a state office and are seeking another.

Would you say that you only served the “straight” people in your district? Would you say that you would only serve the “straight” people of North Carolina? Do you as a potential Attorney General of North Carolina really view HB2 as a constitutionally sound law? Do you not see the recent ruling in Virginia concerning a transgender teen as a sign of the demise of HB2? These are not rhetorical questions. They deserve an answer, one that is not clouded with campaign talk and vitriolic rhetoric.

A viable candidate for Attorney General does not run on a platform that is discriminatory. That is antithetical to the very principles of equality in the eyes of the law.

I myself am a government employee, a traditional public high school teacher to be exact. No matter who walks into my classroom, no matter who is on my roll or asks me for support with their academics, I am bound to help them. It’s my job. If a student is gay, straight, transgender, black, white, Christian, Muslim, or atheist, my job does not change.

Nor should yours. And you took a vow.

My commitment to do my job is not limited by someone else’s constitutionally protected sense of self.

Nor should yours. Because you took a vow.

Ironically, when confronted about your words concerning the “straightness” of North Carolina, you backtracked saying:

“It means keep men out of the ladies’ room…. I think the silly season is upon us and I think this whole effort by the Democratic Party is to be expected. I never mentioned gays or anyone. So I’m not quite sure how they made that leap. Maybe they’re being a little sensitive.”

Well, it’s not a leap. One of the definitions of the word “straight” on sites like vocabulary.com or thefreedictionary.com refers to sexual orientation. To say with a “straight face” that the word “straight” is not connoted with sexual orientation is just “straight up” wrong. So while you thought you “set the record straight” by looking “straight into” the eyes of reporters, you simply did not “get your facts straight”.

What North Carolinians need is “straight talk” and not someone who can’t “shoot straight”.

Besides, our state borders are not straight. Our highways are not straight. Out mountains do not point straight up into the air. Our coastlines are not straight. Our rivers do not flow straight.

In fact, they are curvy and have their own shapes and paths. They are diverse, like the very people you claim to want to represent.

And that’s the “straight truth.”

Open Letter from my son Malcolm to Sen. Berger – Teacher Assistants are vital

This letter was constructed this past November, but I never shared with any blog, news organization, or other media. But I did send it to Sen. Berger on behalf of my red-headed little man. The talk of teacher assistants being slashed from budgets is still being bantered about and with the long session of the NC General Assembly approaching, I thought I would allow Malcolm to talk about his amazing teacher assistant.

For those who know Malcolm, you can attest for his infectious personality, unfiltered passion for sports, and a love of life. The fact that he has an extra 21st chromosome doesn’t define him. He could care less, especially if it involves basketball. We literally play it at least two hours a day during this spring break on his specially adjusted goal that Grandpa Ed made him.

If you know Malcolm, then you know McK, his big sister and probably the best teacher of life he has ever had. When it comes to helping Malcolm be the best he can be, she is the MVP.She certainly has taught me much.

Yeah, she has red hair too. So does my wife.

Even the dog is kind of red-headed.

I don’t really have any hair.

Enjoy.

 

 

Dear Senator Berger,

My name is Malcolm. I am 8-years-old. I have my mom’s red hair and her blue eyes. I like sports like my dad. I am in second grade at Sherwood Forest Elementary School in Winston-Salem.

Oh, and I happen to also have Down Syndrome, but I don’t think about that much. It does not define me. What defines me is that I am like every other kid here at school. I want to learn and be part of this world. And I need helpers along the way.

I asked my daddy to help write this for me. I do know my numbers and letters and my vocabulary grows all the time. But I am still getting trying to get enough muscle control to write. So I asked my daddy to help me. He is a teacher for big kids. He loves his job.

I have a teacher at school and there is someone who helps her. She is the teacher assistant. I do not learn as much if that teacher assistant is not there. She helps me to become more independent. She keeps an eye on me and helps me learn. In fact, I hug her every day. And I do not hug many people.

I was hurt that you said you do not want to have any teacher assistants in North Carolina anymore. That means that you don’t want me to learn as much as I do now. That means that you don’t care if I don’t get the attention and help that I need to be better.

My daddy showed me the video of your speech at Best NC’s legislative meeting (https://www.ednc.org/2015/11/03/speech-by-sen-phil-berger-raises-questions-about-the-future-of-teacher-assistants-schools-of-education-in-nc/). I really was hurt by your comparing teacher assistants to manual typewriters. It seemed like you were calling them names. I asked my daddy what it meant and he said the following,

“Well buddy, Sen. Berger thinks teacher assistants are a waste of money, especially when it comes to his misguided and narrow-minded interpretation of education reform. When Senator Berger speaks about what ails education he forgets that it all starts in Raleigh on West Jones Street. Many like him have taken actions to weaken public education so that they can brand their own form of reform like charter schools and vouchers to help a few make profits from public school money.

“But I think he doesn’t realize that his comparison of teacher assistants to manual typewriters might not be far from the truth, if you look at it from a different angle.

“Manual typewriters make a lasting impression. Every key stroke makes an indelible mark on each piece of paper that passes through it. No need for electricity. No need for software programs. No need for internet. No need for printers. It does it all by itself, totally capable of working in any room or environment. It doesn’t even need to be updated. In a day when all electronics are built to become disposable and dependent on some other source of energy, those manual typewriters stand tests of time and use.

“Manual typewriters are authentic and remind us of days when there were no shortcuts to producing something genuine. Do you know that when I teach my high school students all of those novels and poems, that many of them were composed on a manual typewriter? And the very same words those famous writers wrote and typed are still read today.

“Sure, we have computers today, but the keyboard is the same. The letters and numbers are in the same arrangement. But if you walk in many offices today, there are still some manual typewriters, because there are jobs that only a manual typewriter can do best that cannot be replicated. That sounds a lot like teacher assistants if you think about it. They are still needed because they perform duties that no one else can fulfill.”

I think my daddy is right. Only my teacher assistant can do the things that she does. And I am successful because of her. I don’t need unnamed and uncited research to know it either. I experience it each day.

I asked my daddy if he thought there was any chance that you would actually read my letter.

“Probably not, son. He will most likely have one of his assistants read it for him. According to a Feb. 13th, 2015 Asheville Citizen Times report by Gary Robertson (“NC legislative leaders’ staffs keep growing”), Sen. Berger has over a dozen assistants working for him alone. Over half of them command at least 100K in salary. In fact, he’s got more assistants than your whole school does.”

Wow. That doesn’t seem right.

Senator, you also said that we should take away our schools of education. I think it is rather odd that you want to take away schools in order to make schools better. That doesn’t make any sense. Even a second grader can tell you that.

 

Sincerely,

Malcolm
Exceptional Child in Public Schools
Son of Stuart Egan, a public school teacher

 

Open Letter to Sen. Tom Apodaca concerning HB2 – You Brought it all Upon Yourself

Dear Sen. Apodaca,

Last week I wrote an open letter to both Rep. Tim Moore and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on their active roles in convening a special session of the General Assembly to craft, push, and pass the most prejudiced piece of legislation in recent memory. I noted that it was sadistically ironic that their claim to “protect women and children” actually went out of its way to discriminate citizens.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention your role in creating the venomous HB2, its fallout, and the continuing national backlash that threatens to hurt North Carolina not only economically but in how the rest of our nation views us through a different lens.

If Friday’s (3/25) report by Derek Lacey on BlueRidgeNow.com is read correctly, you actually wanted to charge the city of Charlotte the cost of having the special session to overturn its ordinance (http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20160324/NEWS/160329873/1151?Title=Apodaca-calls-for-Charlotte-to-cover-cost-of-special-session&tc=ar.) Even you seem to be taking a turn at sardonic irony with what may be the most egregious notion of the last three years to come from West Jones Street.

Mr. Lacey reported that you asked your staff to “look and see how the General Assembly can charge Charlotte to cover the costs of Wednesday’s special session, including the possibility of withholding the city’s sales tax revenues.” And why? You claimed because “Charlotte brought this all upon themselves.”

For someone rated “the second most effective legislator the past two sessions” according to the Henderson Lightning (“Apodaca bowing out”), you allowed your puritan ideology to cloud sound judgement over what is best for the state. You allowed your personality to override principles. You became the antithesis of what an elected official should be. You became a walking contradiction of the very representative you claim to be.

Sen. Apodaca, you (and many other senior GOP state legislators) have indicated that you will not seek reelection for another term. You therefore have one more “long session” left in your career as a state senator, and with the winds blowing so erratically this election season, there may be some method to your madness and the madness of other GOP lawmakers in having this special short session to pass HB2.

If I view this in a certain lens, your actions last week just might have been a brilliant maneuver to create more business opportunities for your post-legislative days.

Taking a look at your biography on your personal website, www.senatorapodaca.com, you talk of your success as a businessman. Now that you will not be seeking reelection you will be able to concentrate on your “current interests” including “bond insurance, real estate investment, and a travel agency.”

Think about it. First, with the overturning of the Charlotte ordinance you have brought to light the amazing amount of illegal activity concerning people intentionally going to the wrong bathroom to prey on women and children (emphasis on the tongue-in-cheek tone). While I do not have empirical evidence of this, it obviously was going to occur so much that you had to have a special session of the NCGA to do something about it (kind like all of that voter fraud that has been stopped witht eh voter ID law). Now those people can be brought to justice and many of them will need to have bail posted.

As a bails bondman, you may profit from that.

Secondly, with the passing of HB2, we may see real estate (especially commercial real estate) start to become a buyer’s market. Since untold numbers of industries and companies are voicing disapproval of the bill and refusing to continue commerce here, there will be less business taking place in North Carolina because of boycotting. But the buildings will still be there. Maybe buy cheap and sell later when the courts overturn HB2 because of its unconstitutionality and we start to regain some of that lost business?

Again, more profit for you.

Lastly, your travel agency venture will probably do fantastically as many from NC seek to vacation in other parts of the country like South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and possibly Georgia (to name the closest destinations) where LBGTQ people are not discriminated against by law like they are now in North Carolina. In fact some of those vacations may be permanent.

Once more, more profit for you.

While that might be farfetched to even imagine as a possible motive for you in helping pass HB2, what is more mindboggling is that you actually suggested that Charlotte pay for your actions by withholding some of the city’s tax revenues.  You even had the nerve to admonish them for making you convene a special session. You stated in Lacey’s article that  they knew exactly what “this” would cause.

But for someone who has been garnered numerous awards for “pro-business” politics (http://www.senatorapodaca.com/awards3.html), you may have done more with those words and with that legislative vote to drive away business from the Old North State than can be remedied in many years to come. And that’s not just ironic; that’s corrosive.

If Charlotte’s mayor and city council could have consulted a crystal ball and seen what their actions would have “caused,” then I know they would still have voted to pass a protective ordinance for the LGBT community anyway because they were acting in the best interests of the very people they represent.  They would have also seen that you and other GOP members would have outlawed the use of crystal balls because that is not specifically covered under religious freedom legislation.

Yet, while the GOP-led NCGA (with you as its second most effective legislator) has moved to strike down Charlotte’s ordinance, HB2 will be overturned. No crystal ball is needed to see that. A Federal lawsuit is already been filed and the governor is already showing that he has no viable way of defending the bill.

In the court of public opinion in this state and in the entire country, a verdict has already been reached in this matter. It is only a matter of time that the courts follow.

And if it costs the taxpayers money to defend this bill because the NCGA stubbornly tries to defend it, maybe the citizens should look to see if you and other legislators who voted in favor of HB2 could be charge to cover the costs.

And when elections for governor and others to replace legislators (like yourself) go in favor of democrats, I may just look back on this past week and say of the very GOP members who championed HB2, “they brought it all upon themselves.”