Accessory dwelling units. They sound so benign, and in many cases they are — you put up a little cottage out back for grandma, or a college student, or as a place for your guests to stay if they're staying and, uh, staying.
But now picture this. Your neighbor builds an ADU, a honkin' two-story pad behind his house; but wait, it gets better (worse): your neighbor doesn't actually live in the house. No, he rents it out to four college students, and in the new "accessory dwelling unit," four more college students are suddenly resident, and they're living just a few feet from your house. Where you DO live.
Maybe they'll all be bookworms.
Yet this is what the new Raleigh zoning code, the so-called UDO (Unified Development Ordinance), seems to propose. Or so says Linda Watson, chair of the Glenwood Citizens Advisory Council, who's studied the issue for a year without assuaging her fears. She'd like to think the code would distinguish between places where an ADU is desirable and places where it isn't. Instead, she's pretty sure it will allow a rather large party pad to be built right up against the back lot line of a house even if the ADU looms over the backyard/house on the lot behind it. (And notice, in the graphic at right — which is taken from the proposed code — that the cottages are built on an alley. But unless I'm missing something, the alley isn't required. A two-story cottage can be erected within 10 feet of the back lot line, not counting roof overhangs and balconies, even if puts your backyard in the shade.
One other (huge) factor to consider. According to former Planning Commission member Betsy Kane, a lawyer-planner by trade, a North Carolina appeals court has ruled that cities cannot distinguish between owner-occupied homes and absentee-landlord houses when deciding whether ADU's should be legal or not. In other words, if ADU's are permitted at all, they must be available to slumlords and owner-occupants alike.
So Watson has called a special meeting of the Glenwood CAC this evening to air the issue. It's set for 6:30-9 p.m. at the Glen Eden Park Community Center, 1500 Glen Eden Drive.
You can read more about it in the Glenwood CAC newsletter:
By the way, where the heck is the Unified Development Ordinance? (Updated here and above to add the link — per John Burns' comment on FB that the answer to my question is, the UDO is online and has been for a long time. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.)
The answer is, the consultants are finished writing it, the Planning Commission is finished reviewing it, and a mere three years after Raleigh adopted its new 2030 Comprehensive Plan, the zoning code that is supposed to put the plan in action is ready for consideration by the City Council.
Starting in September.
The code, as you may supposed, is replete with question marks. The ones surrounding accessory dwelling units have generated the first public skirmish, but no doubt not the last.
It's a rule of old-school journalism that you are never the story. I'm going to violate it today to say that when the Indy is sold, my role will be changing. I'll be writing a column for the paper rather than, as now, doing the job of staff writer. What's the difference? I don't have a simple answer. If I did, I'd be — well, a columnist!
Seriously, I've had the luxury at the Indy of writing in whatever style suited me or, better, best suited the material. I've done some straight news reporting, a lot of opinionated reporting, some columns and essays, and thousands of blog posts. The subjects have ranged from war and peace to Tony Tata to my nephew Branch, who used to think I was Santa Claus because I have a beard and presented myself as able to assist with his Christmas list. (Time marches on, though, and little Branch is now a star on his high school football team.)
The difference in my style(s) results from sometimes thinking I know what's going on, but other times knowing that I don't — that I don't know enough (yet) about a subject to state a firm conclusion.
In that vein, my desire to write in a column voice is about wanting to say what I know, and what I think is important, after almost 40 years in the media, politics, public relations and just generally paying attention. I'm still a learner, I hope. And I won't stop looking for the people with dreams and the organizations trying to bring more justice and equity to the world. That's the fun of writing for the Indy. On the other hand, there are some things about which I'm not open-minded. For example, Mitt Romney.
Now there's a column.
p.s. about this Citizen blog. It's always been a work in progress. I'm not sure what its future is. As with everything about the sale of the Indy and indyweek.com, it's TBD with my editor, Lisa Sorg, and the new owners when they hit town.
In some form or fashion, though, I will remain an interested citizen of Raleigh.
The three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's ruling. You can read the decision here.
Manning found, as part of his years-long ("Leandro") analysis of what the state constitution requires in the way of elementary and secondary education, that pre-K preparation is critical if at-risk kids, i.e., poor kids, are going to have a decent chance of success in the K-12 system. So he ordered the state legislature to step up and provide enough funding so that every such child can be served. Gov. Perdue agreed. But she didn't convince the Republican-led General Assembly.
As the appeals court found, in a decision issued this morning, Manning did not say that pre-K is a requirement for all time in North Carolina. Instead, Manning found — and the state Supreme Court has tasked Manning with doing the analysis and making his rulings operational — that the way our school system works now, in the early 21st century, pre-K is a must for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Attorney General Roy Cooper appealed Manning's ruling. The State Board of Education, which was a co-defendant in the case, did not join in Cooper's arguments.
The Covenant With North Carolina's Children, an advocacy group, brought our attention to the Court of Appeals' action. Here's what the Covenant said:
RALEIGH — The State Court of Appeals issued its ruling this morning on the most recent iteration of the ongoing Leandro case. In its decision, the Court upheld Judge Howard Manning’s ruling that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide pre-kindergarten to all “at-risk” four-year-olds.
“This is great news for North Carolina’s children and families,” stated Rob Thompson, Executive Director of the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children. “Study after study shows that when children receive a high-quality early education, they do better in school and in life.”
Despite the clarity of the ruling, much uncertainty remains regarding access to NC Pre-K.
“The ball is now in the Legislature’s court,” continued Thompson. “Will it comply with the ruling and fully fund access to NC Pre-K? Will it appeal the ruling to the State Supreme Court? The reaction of legislative leaders will be the most important thing to monitor in the coming days and weeks.”
Specifically, the Court rejected the legislature’s claim that Judge Manning overstepped his authority by mandating open access to NC Pre-K as the sole remedy to educating at-risk four year olds:
“Under Leandro II, the State has a duty to prepare all “at-risk” students to avail themselves of an opportunity to obtain a sound basic education. Pre-kindergarten is the method in which the State has decided to effectuate its duty, and the State has not produced or developed any alternative plan or method.”
During the 2011-12 school year, NC Pre-k served just over 26,000 children. Another 40,000 children were eligible for the program, but not enrolled due to a lack of funding.
The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children is a non-profit, membership-based advocacy organization composed of service providers, professional associations and advocacy groups dedicated to promoting public policy that benefits children in North Carolina.
Hey, the kids are back in town, and it's N.C. State's 125th birthday, so there's going to a blow-out on Hillsborough Street tomorrow. Number 1 fact: Hillsborough Street will closed to traffic from early morning to after midnight between the Pullen Road roundabout and Brooks Avenue. Number 2 fact: Free parking on campus.
What does this mean? Come into the campus off Western Boulevard for best access to the parking lots and decks.
The festival is from 2-10 p.m., with a big red finish promised at the Bell Tower. The main stage will be there with four bands: Liquid Pleasure, Mamas Love, Leela James and Carolina Liar.
This is from the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corporation, which is helping (and h/t to executive director Jeff Murison for reminding me that tomorrow's the day):
On Aug. 18, historic Hillsborough Street in Raleigh will be the site
of Packapalooza, an all-day block party and street festival
celebrating North Carolina State University’s 125th birthday. Music,
activities and food will be part of the festival, which will feature
more than 160 booths from local and university sponsors.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will kick off at 2
p.m. and run until 10 p.m. Two stages will feature live musical and
dance performances as well as autograph sessions with Wolfpack
baseball, football and women’s basketball teams. Numerous “zones”
along Hillsborough Street will give visitors a taste of NC State’s
traditions, as well as the opportunity to create works of art, learn
dance, try their hand at sports, explore our students’ cultural
backgrounds and purchase delicious food from local vendors. Free water
will be provided at various locations. At 10 p.m., the festival will
end with the lighting of the Belltower.
"It's a great opportunity to engage the entire community in the university's celebration," Murison said.
They also sent along a video:
Harry Dolan's been in the news lately, at odds with a lot of his troops. is there a connection between that and his announcement today that he's out of here as police chief in a few weeks?
City Manager Russell Allen heaps praise on Dolan, so much so that you wonder why he's leaving:
Raleigh’s Chief of Police to Retire
City Manager J. Russell Allen today announced the retirement of Chief of Police Harry P. Dolan, effective Oct. 1. Chief Dolan’s retirement after five years as police chief caps a law enforcement career spanning 32 years and a tenure that brought progress to the department.
“Harry Dolan has been an excellent police chief for Raleigh, but more importantly, he has been an exceptional leader,” Mr. Allen said. “His high level of technical and strategic law enforcement skills are matched by his unwavering ethical standards, commitment to the community, pride in the department’s employees, and enthusiasm for police work.
“Every day, he was as excited about his opportunities as police chief as he was about his work as an officer the day he graduated from the Raleigh Police Academy 30 years ago. Our community is safer today because of his work, and he has personally touched many of us with his humor and compassion,” the City Manager added.
Chief Dolan’s tenure as Raleigh’s police chief began Sept. 4, 2007, when he assumed his duties here after serving as chief of the Grand Rapids, Mich., Police Department for nine years. Prior to his service in Michigan, he was the chief of the Lumberton Police Department from 1992 to 1998 and the chief of the North Carolina Department of Human Resources’ Police Department at Black Mountain from 1987 to 1992. Before his work as a chief began, he served as a Raleigh Police Department officer from 1982 to 1987 after being named the most outstanding graduate of his police academy class. Chief Dolan’s law enforcement career began in 1980 as a Buncombe County deputy sheriff.
“I am grateful to City Manager J. Russell Allen for selecting me to serve as Raleigh’s chief of police and a member of his leadership team,” Chief Dolan said. “That afforded me the distinct privilege and honor of serving this dynamic city and permitted me to have the truly remarkable experience of once again serving with the men and women of the Raleigh Police Department. Throughout their ranks, the members of this department demonstrate every day that they have a tremendous dedication to serving and protecting this community, and I’m absolutely confident they are prepared to continue to accomplish a great deal on behalf of its residents.”
Each of the Raleigh Police Department’s six districts now have officers assigned to full-time community policing work, an initiative Chief Dolan began in the Southeast Police District in January 2009, and community policing is a hallmark of his tenure as chief. Internally, he emphasized training and preparedness, exemplified by accomplishments such as the development of the department’s Leadership Institute program and its implementation of national standards for handling critical incidents. In addition, he focused on improving departmental staffing, both in terms of filling officer vacancies and in regard to bolstering supervisory and managerial capabilities.
“As chief, he has done an exemplary job leading the Raleigh Police Department,” Mr. Allen said. “He is a champion of community policing and has used his considerable knowledge and expertise in that area to strengthen ties between residents and police officers. In addition, he deserves credit for significant enhancements that have been made to the training received by Raleigh police officers and for improvements to the department’s organization, accountability, and professionalism.
“Raleigh justifiably prides itself on having one of the nation’s best police departments,” Mr. Allen continued, “and Chief Dolan has enhanced that reputation during his tenure. His retirement is well-earned, and I know the entire community joins me in wishing him the best as he moves forward.”
The City Manager said Deputy Chief of Police Cassandra Deck-Brown will serve as interim chief of police upon Chief Dolan’s departure. The search process for a new chief will be advertised and open to highly qualified internal and external candidates.
Chief Dolan said that he began making plans to depart as his retirement eligibility approached and that he made a decision several months ago to retire from the department this fall. He has not yet announced his personal plans for the future.
The town hall meeting in Raleigh Monday evening was informative and polite. All of the more than 100 people who packed into Quail Ridge Books & Music were able to express themselves on a topic of high public significance.
Now imagine that each of us at the meeting, while retaining our power to vote at election time, would not be allowed to speak in this town-hall setting without paying for the privilege.
With limited time, only a few slots would be offered, and they’d be reserved for the highest bidders—not necessarily the richest among us, but obviously nobody struggling to make ends meet would be rising to their feet.
And this would be like no-limit poker. There’d be no ceiling on the bids. Indeed, if someone wanted to buy all the slots—and could outbid everyone else—he (or she) would be the only speaker.
(h/t Press Millen for explaining this so clearly.)
SpeechNow.org is why we have SuperPACs. Citizens United is why there's no law limiting SuperPACs or any other form of political spending ("expression") by the rich.
Whether this is, as Raleigh attorney Press Millen said, an "appalling" outcome as a matter of public policy is, I suppose, a matter of opinion. (My opinion? Appalling.)
But I would assert it as a fact, not opinion, that political spending can be regulated as a matter of law, and that the Supreme Court's doctrine that it can't is —
— let me think of a polite word apropos of our town hall —
John Samples, a staff member at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, is not bothered by Citizens United or its progeny. On the contrary, Samples told us Monday, C.U. "was a good decision." Why? Because it protected freedom of speech. If you let Congress regulate speech, Samples argued, nothing good can come of it. (Samples was in Raleigh for a gig earlier in the day with the John Locke Foundation.)
Samples talked for quite a while. But what he said can be boiled down to this:
* Money is speech.
* Speech must be unlimited under the First Amendment.
* Therefore, the rich must be allowed to spend unlimited sums of money on politics.
Oh, and he said one more thing:
* Corporations are people, and they must be allowed unlimited political spending too.
Corporations, moreover, are not merely "artificial people" — the corporation bring a legal artifice to protect actual people from liability for their company's actions. No, Samples said. They are "natural people."
And these natural people, Samples said, should be allowed to spend their own money and any money over which they have agency for purposes of political expression. In short, corporate CEOs should be allowed to treat their companies' money as if it were their own.
Now, as you may imagine, the 100-plus folks at Quail Ridge Books included many of the progressive persuasion, and as they listened to this — politely — a few did murmur some polite objections.
I'd have thought Samples, since he does this sort of a thing for a living — he's listed as "director of Cato's Center for Representative Government, which come to think of it is a pretty ironic position — would've welcomed a bit of back-and-forth. Instead, he literally brushed aside such comments with a dismissive wave, restating whatever he'd just asserted as if it had been handed down to Moses.
Or the Koch Brothers.
I don't think I'm being unfair to Mr. Samples when I say that he sees nothing wrong and everything right with the rich controlling American politics; all else — what little there is to his so-called analysis — flows back from the conclusion he's been paid to reach.
Back in the real world, Press Millen suggested that in time Citizens United., like the Plessy case of old, will be known by its fruits. Plessy, decided in 1896, was the Supreme Court ruling that there was nothing objectionable about "separate but equal" treatment of the races, a decision oblivious (at best) to the facts of white supremacy.
The fruits of C.U. are only starting to be seen, Millen said, but the 2012 elections are marked already by far more spending in the presidential election on negative ads by supposedly independent groups and SuperPACs.
The Supreme Court struck down McCain-Feingold with no empirical analysis whatsoever about its central premise, which is that unlimited spending by the rich, corporations and interest groups can and does lead to political corruption, Millen argued.
Unleashed by the Court, Millen went on, the rich — with the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers at the front — are smashing President Obama with a fury. But Obama, as the White House incumbent, does have the fundraising juice to fight back. (Samples said it was a good thing that SuperPACs and the rich were keeping Mitt Romney competitive, because otherwise Romney would be overwhelmed by the fact that Obama's contributors far out-number Romney's — insert your own response about democracy here.)
Millen's worries about C.U., he said, are more about down-ballot races in which a six- or seven-figure expenditure on one side can bury a candidate who has no such benefactor(s) on the other side. Millen pointed to the efforts of Massey Coal's Don Blankenship to buy a West Virginia Supreme Court race in 2008.
Yes, that Massey Coal.
This, too, became a Supreme Court case in 2009. When you read about it, consider that Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision in Citizens United, also wrote for the majority in Caperton v. Massey Coal — with Kennedy apparently deciding that the problem of corruption in politics attaches to the office-holder (the Supreme Court justice in the W.Va case) but not to the corporation which did the corrupting. Any other conclusion would make what Kennedy wrote in C.U. absurd.
But aren't bribes two-way?
Well, the corruption in politics is everywhere you look — Wall Street, Enron, Blackwater, do I need to go on? — and it's all traceable to people taking money from people they shouldn't to do things they oughtn't. Things that, if they're not illegal, should be except that the folks taking the money — and the ones giving it to them — don't want them to be illegal.
So let's circle back and consider whether there's a way to respect the First Amendment while limiting campaign contributions and corruption.
Of course there is:
1) Limit individual contributions to candidates and party committees; require disclosure of contributors' names over a set amount (say, $100).
2) Permit unlimited spending by people expressing their own political views, but distinguish this real form of "independent expenditure" from the fake form that reliably ends with a call to — "Tell Congressman Smith" what a swell egg she is ... or what a miserable excuse he is for a human being.
3) Limit spending by individuals in support of a particular party or candidate — the fake kind of "independent expenditure" discussed in No. 2 — in the same way as direct contributions to them are limited. Require disclosure.
4) Contributions to organizations using the money for real issues advocacy need not be disclosed by name. The reason for allowing donors to remain anonymous was made clear in the civil rights era, when those willing to help the NAACP and other rights groups were doing so at some peril given the unpopularity of ideas like equality.
5) Bar corporations from spending money in support of particular parties or candidates. Continue to allow management to organize a PAC and collect money via voluntary contributions —in limited amounts, as the law now provides — from employees and others. But keep the CEOs' hands out of the till when it comes to their substituting their own political judgments for those of their employees, shareholders and customers.
On this last point, by what possible right does Jim Rogers, CEO (once again) of Duke Energy, spend the money I pay Duke for electricity on contributions to candidates or political committees I don't support — but he does?
Ditto the CEOs of any of the hundreds of companies I either buy from or own a tiny piece of via the mutual funds in my portfolio. I have not given my political proxy to them. Bad enough I'm forced to give them a management proxy in the form of my vote for a slate of corporate directors running unopposed.
Unions aren't permitted to spend their members' money on political campaign without a member's assent. (If you doubt this statement, you haven't read the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Knox v. Service Employees, decided in June, 2012.*) Why are corporations given more power over their customers' money than a union is over a member's dues?
Notice that no one's freedom of speech or political expression has been limited in any way by this 5-step approach. If I want to buy a full-page ad in every newspaper in the country, and 30-minute infomercials on every TV channel, to tell you why taxes on the rich are too low — I can go ahead and do so. (When I get the bills, I may be a little short :)
The only thing I'm limited in doing is spending money in support of a political party or candidacy. I can still do it. I just can't spend at levels far, far above what my fellow citizens are able to afford.
To allow the rich to make unlimited political contributions is of a piece (I started to say no different, but it's a little different) than giving a weighted ballot to voters when they enter the polls based on their net worth.
Mr. Sample and I both stands for representative government. But representative of what? He seems comfortable with a government that is, without question, more and more representative of the wealthy and corporate interests. I'd rather have a government representative of citizens — of people.
All the people.
* From Justice Alito's decision for the majority in that, you guessed it, 5-4 ruling against the Service Employees:
But a “[u]nion should not be permitted to exact a service fee from nonmembers without first establishing a procedure which will avoid the risk that their funds will be used, even temporarily, to finance ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.”
And in response, the AFL-CIO said, in part —
we are disturbed but not surprised that the conservative majority places special burdens on public sector unions in their efforts to represent working people’s economic interests through the legislative process that the Court does not apply to corporations when they spend shareholder money on politics.
One follow-up to the Raleigh City Council retreat story from earlier in the week:
In addition to their wanting some staff help and to push a bolder agenda of economic development tied to strategic transit and other infrastructure investments (click on the story if you missed all that), Council members were considering a change from two-year terms to four-year terms.
Introduced by Councilor John Odom in February, the proposal is — was? — to have all eight council members, including the mayor, elected at the same time every four years instead of every two years as has been done since 1947. (There would be no stagger in the terms. All eight would be on the same ballot.)
The subject of terms wasn't discussed at the retreat. But it was discussed, and a public hearing was conducted on Odom's proposal, at the Council's Tuesday evening public session. (You can watch it on RTN right here — scroll down to City Council, click, click on video for the Aug. 7 evening session, then jump to the last item on the agenda. Soup to nuts, it's a most interesting 10 minutes.)
I say public hearing, because that's what it was officially. Unofficially, the fact that only three people came forward to speak in favor of the change (with a fourth speaking against it) amounted to a great big yawn — i.e., the public is not in favor. And the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, which is in favor, either didn't lift a finger turning out a crowd, or else it couldn't muster one.
The hearing itself lasted about three minutes. When it ended, Mayor Nancy McFarlane was ready to get the question off the table by assigning it to a standing council committee, but that's when things got interesting. McFarlane was challenged (and not for the first time) by Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who made a motion, seconded by Odom, to instead create a special, 12-member citizens committee to study four-year terms.
That would, of course, keep the issue alive and give its proponents another chance to build a fire under it.
"I think we deserve, and our citizens deserve, a right to explore this and not just set it aside," Baldwin said. The last three words were said with negative emphasis.
"I don't think anybody's setting it aside," McFarlane shot back. She said the council had taken the issue seriously, adding: "That's why we had a public hearing."
Now, the merits of two-year terms vs. four-year are easily summarized, I think. Two-year terms keep the council members close to their constituents, as Councilor Thomas Crowder argued. (And the system's worked pretty well, so don't "fix" it, Crowder added.) On the other hand, if you want bold action, Baldwin said, a lot of the cities Raleigh's looked at as models — cities visited on the annual Chamber of Commerce trips — not only have four-year terms, but attribute their success to the added insulation from voter disapproval that their four-year terms provide.
What made the 10 minutes interesting, though, wasn't the merits of the argument. It was the politics.
Do you remember how Baldwin went after McFarlane, back in December, over the new mayor's very first official action, which was to name Councilor Russ Stephenson to the largely ceremonial post of mayor pro tem? Baldwin out of nowhere said Councilor Eugene Weeks should get the nod, which led to Stephenson offering to share the job with Weeks — one year each.
Jump forward to Tuesday night. Baldwin wants a special 12-member citizens committee created to keep the idea of four-year terms alive. McFarlane, who supports two-year terms, wants the issue referred to the Comprehensive Plan Committee, meaning that the council itself would control the discussion and be in a position to end it.
Now, sentiment on the Council seems to be in favor of two-year terms. I count McFarlane, Crowder, Stephenson and Bonner Gaylord as in that corner, with Randy Stagner on the fence. Not sure about Weeks. Baldwin and Odom are the only two pushing the idea.
Still, when it came time to vote on Baldwin's motion for a special committee, it looked like it might prevail.
Baldwin had Odom. Gaylord, who said he sees no need to change from two-year terms, nonetheless was fine with a citizens committee. Then Stagner, normally a McFarlane ally, also said there was no harm in a special committee, and he'd be interested in what it might find out about four-year terms and term limits too.
Add Weeks, and that would be five in favor — a majority.
Except that, to Baldwin's obvious surprise — she twice asked for the vote to be confirmed — Weeks voted with McFarlane, and against Baldwin.
Which meant that Baldwin's motion failed on a 4-3 vote, one short of the required five. (Stephenson, a McFarlane ally and a likely no vote if he'd been there, was excused due to illness.)
For the record, Weeks and Baldwin are Democrats, as are Crowder and Stephenson. McFarlane, Stagner and Gaylord are independents — registered unaffiliated. Odom's a Republican. But in city politics, party affiliation doesn't explain a whole lot.
So earlier, we reported that Sparkcon 2012 would be held, for the first time, in the tres-artsy Warehouse District. Great idea, but it turns out that getting all the necessary streets closed in order to have room for all the various "Sparks" wasn't possible ... or at least not this year. Maybe in some future year.
Thus, this 7th edition (wow!) of Sparkcon will again be conducted on Fayetteville Street, which is where it all started and where, notwithstanding its amazing growth, all the sparks can still fly.
This news comes from our 2012 Indies Arts Award winner Sarah Powers, who manages Sparkcon along with her staff at the Visual Art Exchange.
Sparkcon 2012 is September 13-16.
That's the weekend after our 3rd annual Hopscotch Music Festival.
[Update, August 3:
Returning to the subject of the good results announced yesterday (i.e., the "what"), let me see if I can add a bit about what they tell us about our school system (i.e., the "so what?"). And especially the so-what when it comes to student assignment and the ongoing "choice" vs. "base assignments" vs. "hybrid base-and-choice" debate.
1) I'm not a statistician, so I won't question the statistical significance of the relatively small gains overall. They are gains, no question about it as far as I know. And the gains were not small with regard to economically disadvantaged (ED) kids. The composite proficiency scores for ED elementary, middle and high school students were all much-improved, with ED elementary jumping from 61.9% proficient to 65.7%, and ED high school proficiency rising from 66.0% to 70.8%. (Composite proficiency combines the reading, math and science scores.)
Superintendent Tony Tata was properly modest in claiming credit. When you're blessed with good news, it's best to share the credit, and that's what he did, repeatedly. "Dedicated principals, teachers, teacher assistants and staff" are the reason the scores went up, Tata said. Put this in your memory bank. Tata said the Wake public school system is a "highly effective organization" and it was his privilege to lead it. (Remember that the next time you hear someone railing about our failing schools.)
2) So that was fun, but why did the scores — and especially the ED scores — improve? What special sauce was added? Answer: Resources.
Resources, meaning: additional money. Meaning: additional staff. Also: Staff reshuffling to put new (presumably better) principals and teachers into the schools that needed them most.
Thus, the four worst performing elementary school of two years ago were overhauled as "Renaissance Schools," complete with new principals (for three of the four) and two-thirds of the faculty also new. Plus new equipment. Plus added teachers, math and literacy tutors and after-school tutoring programs. How was all this paid for? With $9.5 million from the $10.2 million Wake received as part of the state's "Race to the Top" federal grant.
The four, Barwell Road ES, Brentwood Magnet ES, Creech Road ES and Wilburn ES, each have high ED student populations. Sharp improvements in their scores, especially at Barwell and Wilburn, led the way to the elementary ED gains for the system.
Add in Walnut Creek ES, a new school which enrolled a very high ED student population in year one. The Walnut Creek students had poor scores at their old schools. Their overall proficiency rate at Walnut Creek was 60.0%, up 4.7%. Their combined math and reading scores (leaving the science out) was 62.9%, an even more impressive 7.3% gain.
And how did we achieve this at Walnut Creek? Most who follow the school system know by now that the answer is, a hand-picked staff; a longer school day; extra staff as tutors, and a lot of additional money — $450,000 more in local (county) funds alone, Tata said.
3) I don't want to get too far into the weeds of the Wake schools budget here (or I'll get lost). Suffice it to say that the operating budget for the school system has been shrinking in recent years.
I'll attach a PDF that David Neter, the system's top budget guy, sent me a few weeks ago, and you can parse it for yourself. FY08_to_FY12_Operating_History_Budgets_by_Source_w_Per_Pupil_FINAL_in__WCPSS_Budget_format_-_Neter_copy.pdf
As I read it, the operating budget is down $800 per student from the 2008-09 school year to 2012-13 ($8,596 in the former year; $7,796 in the current year). Actual spending is down less, because school leaders were careful to carve out some savings from those past budgets, so that, e.g., actual spending in 2008-09 was just $8,153 — but even with that smaller number as the starting point, per-student funding for 2012-13 will be down a minimum of $357 per student compared to four years ago, and doubtless more than that when the 2011-13 "actual" number comes in.
Moreover, it was increased federal funding (stimulus funding; Race to the Top) that was propping up Wake's school budgets over the past three years. But that money is going away in future years. Meanwhile, state and county funding has been dropping.
In that vein, Tata made a point of underlining the importance of the $21 million a year that Wake's been getting in federal Title I funds — Title I being money for low-income kids. Wake spends all of its Title I funding in the elementary schools. (It's a long-standing policy, he said.) It's hugely helpful to the job of teaching kids to read and do basic arithmetic if they're struggling with same — and especially if they don't have effective parental assistance. But the $21 million is threatened as part of the budget/tax fight in Washington.
Tata's message to Congress and, for that matter, the General Assembly and the Wake Board of Commissioners: "This is working [and the test scores show it]. We need the money. Let's have a hard conversation about the funding of public education."
So, now —
4) In the face of declining budgets, Tata & Co. allocated additional funds to low-performing schools, and the schools got better. Somewhat better. They're still pretty far down the list when you compare them with the many other schools with fewer — and in some cases, few — ED kids.
While the four Renaissance Schools and Walnut Creek were gaining, though, a couple of other schools slipped below the 60% level for proficiency, and many more are stuck in the 60-70% range, which is below the 70% minimum that choice-plan guru Michael Alves said was required to avoid having schools fail under a choice plan for student attendance.
In a choice scheme, parents do indeed choose where they want their kids to go. They won't choose a low-performing school. Not if they're paying attention. Not if they're really given a choice, and not getting stuck with a school that was their fourth or fifth "choice" but they get it because the other, better schools were already full.
The one big advantage of a base-assignment plan is that school officials can fill every school to capacity and balance student populations so that no school is overwhelmed with ...
... and here, the problem isn't ED kids per se, it's kids who aren't scoring well on the tests, but the two things are correlated.
At the end of year one of the choice-plan experiment, some Wake schools were over-chosen and some were under-chosen — meaning that for whatever reason parents didn't want the latter, and consequently, those schools will open in 2012-13 with fewer students than they can hold. Which means the over-chosen schools are more crowded than they need to be.
Which is expensive. (Why? Because you need more schools if you don't fill the ones you have.)
And, as we've seen, fixing under-chosen, under-performing schools is expensive.
If Wake County had a better track record of providing funds for our school system, maybe those two facts wouldn't matter as much as they do. But Wake County's performance when it comes to putting money into our schools is — you know.
What does this mean for student assignment? I leave that to you.
What follows is the original post from 8/2 on the test results themselves —
Wake school officials will be talking with reporters this afternoon about what they think it all means — and why the test results are improved. No doubt, people will be pawing through these scores for weeks trying to discern their meaning for the big decisions the school board has ahead, including a new student assignment scheme for 2013-14 and another school construction bond referendum, probably next year and probably large ($1 billion-plus?).
So I'l come back to this subject later. For now, here's what the school system released this morning about the 2011-12 school year and how our kids did on the various reading, math and science tests:
Academic gains continue in the Wake County Public School System
Wake County students at every grade span made steady academic gains in 2011-12, according to newly released results from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. In addition to district-wide increases in proficiency, Economically Disadvantaged students in Wake County demonstrated the highest levels of proficiency in math and reading that they have achieved under the state's current testing model. Non-Economically Disadvantaged students showed impressive gains, as well.
Thursday's results are part of a comprehensive report that uses End-of-Course (EOC) and End-of-Grade (EOG) tests and other information to measure school performance under the N.C. ABCs of Public Education and the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The results show that in 2011-12:
WCPSS elementary students demonstrated an overall proficiency rate of 82.1 percent, a gain of 1.9 points from the previous year.
WCPSS middle-school students demonstrated an overall proficiency rate of 82.1 percent, a gain of .9 points from the previous year.
WCPSS high-school students demonstrated an overall proficiency rate of 85.8 percent, an increase of 2.5 points from the previous year.
“We thank all of our dedicated principals, teachers, school-based and central office staff for their superb accomplishments and hard work,” Superintendent Tony Tata said.
EOC and EOG results
District wide gains:
The percentage of students showing proficiency in reading, math and science increased in every grade level and subject tested, except for one—7th-grade math.
Third graders showed the most improvement, gaining 2.4 points in math and 2.2 points in reading.
Proficiency rates for Algebra I, Biology and English I End-of-Course tests also increased.
Gains for Economically Disadvantaged (ED) students:
Economically Disadvantaged students are defined as those who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
The percentage of ED students demonstrating proficiency in reading, math and science increased in every grade level and subject tested, except for 7th-grade math.
At the elementary level, the proficiency rate of ED students increased four points to 66 percent
At the middle-school level, the proficiency rate of ED students increased two points to 64 percent
At the high-school level, the proficiency rate of ED students increased five points to 71 percent
Additionally, economically disadvantaged students in grades 3 through 8 demonstrated the highest levels of proficiency in math and reading tests since test standards were raised in those subject areas (Math was reset in 2006, reading was reset in 2008)
Economically Disadvantaged high-school students also demonstrated the highest level of proficiency since the school system began reporting on this subgroup 10 years ago.
Some of the most significant gains occurred in some of the school system’s most challenged schools. The school system’s Renaissance elementary schools saw remarkable gains in overall proficiency. Barwell Road students achieved a 9.7-point gain and Wilburn students achieved a 7.7-point gain. These schools benefited in 2011-12 from staffing changes, technology upgrades and schedule flexibility.
Recognition under the ABCs of Public Education
The ABCs of Public Education are state measures of the performance of individual schools across North Carolina.
The ABCs use year-end test results and other information to measure student performance and determine whether a school is improving each year.
71 percent of WCPSS schools showed proficiency gains overall in 2011-12, compared to 63 percent the previous year.
93 percent of WCPSS schools achieved Expected Growth or High Growth.
110 schools made High Growth
An additional 42 schools made Expected Growth
The state named 23 schools as Honor Schools of Excellence or Schools of Excellence, the highest recognitions possible under the ABCs; This is an increase from 17 schools the previous year.
Honor Schools of Excellence include Alston Ridge, Briarcliff, Cedar Fork, Davis Drive, Highcroft Drive, Jones Dairy, Mills Park, Morrisville, Olive Chapel, Sycamore Creek and Willow Springs elementary schools; Apex, Davis Drive, Heritage, Lufkin Road, Mills Park and Salem middle schools; and Panther Creek High and Wake Early College of Health and Science. The state recognizes Honor Schools of Excellence for having at least 90 percent of students performed at or above grade level, meeting Expected Growth, and meeting all of their federal Annual Measurable Objectives requirements for subgroups.
Schools of Excellence include Green Hope Elementary, as well as Green Hope and Holly Springs high schools and the Wake NC State STEM Early College High School. The state recognizes Schools of Excellence for having at least 90 percent of students performed at or above grade level and meeting at least Expected Growth. The state rates other schools as Schools of Distinction, Schools of Progress, Priority Schools, or No Recognition Schools based on student testing results.
Performance under No Child Left Behind
Federal standards under No Child Left Behind measure end-of-year proficiency for selected subgroups of students at schools. For the first time this year, the performance of those subgroups is measured with Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO), replacing what was known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Instead of meeting or failing to meet AYP, schools will now be evaluated based on the number of Annual Measurable Objectives students meet in each measurable subgroup.
According to the newly released 2011-12 results, 84 of 164 schools met all of their Annual Measurable Objectives. An additional 41 schools missed reaching 100 percent of their Annual Measurable Objectives by one or two targets.
According to data released Thursday, 80.8 percent of WCPSS students who entered high school as part of the Class of 2012 graduated within four years. This figure is likely to fluctuate after a standard correction period, and could change when the state issues a final report later this year.
The WCPSS graduation rate for the Class of 2011 was 80.4, and was adjusted to 80.9 after the standard correction period.
Statewide, 80.2 percent of students who entered high school as part of the Class of 2012 graduated within four years, according to the data released Thursday.
So here's the deal. You have to dial the area code now. So you dial 9-1-9. Oops, you dialed 9-1-1 by mistake.
In Wake County, that happened 5,655 times.
So you did that, and now what? Well, you just hang up, right?
5,655 times NO!
You stay on the line.
Otherwise, the cops think you called 9-1-1 because somebody was breaking into your house and you hung up because that somebody just put a gun to your head.
That's what they're paid to think. You want them to think that way. They send a patrol car. They have to.
It's a big waste of their time and your tax money.
So if you misdial, they ask that you stay on the line. Tell the operator, "Oops. No problem here."
(How do they know that the guy with the gun didn't tell you to say that? I dunno. Probably the tone of your voice.)
Anyway, this has gotta be the sixth or maybe 16th plea we've gotten from the Raleigh-Wake emergency responders on this subject. We pass it along in hopes it will help a little.
Ten-Digit Misdials Continue to Plague 9-1-1 Center
Four months after its introduction, ten-digit dialing continues to cause significant problems for the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center. Instead of dialing the area code 919, callers are mistakenly dialing 9-1-1 and hanging up.
Misdials and hang-up calls divert resources away from actual emergencies since dispatchers must dial back on hang-ups to assure that an emergency is not taking place. If no response is received from the call-back, dispatchers send a police officer to the source of the call to make certain that no assistance is needed. During the second quarter of this year, emergency operators answered nearly 25 percent more 9-1-1 calls, and made almost 60 percent more outgoing calls than they did during April, May, and June of last year.
The bulk of these numbers are a direct result of the requirement to dial 10 digits within our area code. As a result, real emergencies can’t be answered as quickly as they used to be because 9-1-1 staff is engaged in dealing with these erroneous calls.
During July, 5,655 dispatches were made to check on the welfare of hang-up callers, a rate of 7.6 per hour which is the highest number recorded since the problems began with the introduction of 10-digit dialing. Nearly 3,2000 of these dispatches were within the City of Raleigh. While some calls were verified and cleared prior to an officer’s arrival, Raleigh Police still spent more than 300 hours last month responding to 9-1-1 hang-ups.
“If you dial 9-1-1 incorrectly, it is imperative that you stay on the line,” said Emergency Communications Director Barry Furey. “The only apparent cure is careful dialing. We can’t fix this issue without the public’s help.”