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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can school districts truly affect which charter schools are approved?

Posted by on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 5:40 PM

Most public school officials won't be shy if you ask them how a charter school impacts their local budgets. For every student who is eligible to enroll in a traditional public school but chooses to attend a charter, the student's home school system must send the charter a chunk of money. In short, the money follows the student through the public system.

At a meeting of the State Board of Education (SBE) this morning in Raleigh, one state official likened the payments to alimony—painful in many cases, but necessary by law. In a district such as Durham County, with eight charter schools, the pass-through money totals more than $10 million a year, according to a recent statement from Durham Superintendent Eric Becoats. Durham has the highest market share of charter schools in the state, Becoats wrote. (PDF)

But will that stop the SBE from approving any more charters in Durham? It's hard to say.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the SBE is scheduled to consider nine applications for new charter schools to open this fall. Board members will merely discuss this week, and take a final vote in the beginning of March.

The board reviewed impact statements that school districts provided on the nine pending applications, said Joel Medley, director of the state's Office of Charter Schools. But moving forward, board members agreed, they need more specific policies on what data the impact statements should include, and how the impact statements would figure into their decisions.

Reports from local school districts are varied and inconsistent—if the districts even send one—that there's really no standard for the weight they should carry as SBE members consider a charter application. The board discussed identifying specific questions that school districts should answer. Chairman Bill Harrison said the board needs to discuss how the board should weigh the impact on traditional public schools without creating inroads or barriers for either side.

Say, for instance, a school district gets to a point where half its students are enrolled in a charter school, Harrison said. "Is that [school district] going to provide an efficient education for the children who are remaining? It could be debatable, but probably not," he said. But, the state also can't definitively say that once a school district loses half its students, the charter can't expand any more, he said.

"I think we need to frame this conversation," Harrison said. "It's an important time in the history of public education in North Carolina ... and it’s my preference and my desire that we strengthen the opportunities for all kids."

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction is expecting to receive 50 to 70 more applications for new or expanded charter schools in April, Medley said. Expecting the slew, the SBE needs to work quickly on setting some more specific parameters, board members agreed.

"We don't know where this is going, but we do know this is time sensitive," said board member Wayne McDevitt, of Marshall.

Look for this topic to come up again when the state board begins its monthly meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. and stretches to Thursday. Look for coverage on Staff Writer Bob Geary's blog, Citizen.

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    State board wants better picture of how charters impact traditional public schools.

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Chapel Hill opts against independent review in Yates incident

Posted by on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 at 2:58 PM

Chapel Hill’s now infamous Yates raid won’t be subject to an independent investigation, the Town Council decided Monday in a 7-1 vote with Councilwoman Laurin Easthom dissenting in frustration.

Instead town officials will gather first-hand accounts via its website, seek specialized training for officers confronting political protesters and answer the questions posed by the council-appointed Community Policing Advisory Committee, which will take up the issue again at its Feb. 8 meeting.

Last week CPAC petitioned the Town Council to ask for funding for an independent investigator. Chairman Ron Bogle, a retired judge, said that the Yates incident was a special case that required outside eyes for a full and fair analysis that his volunteer committee lacked both the expertise and time to achieve.

The Town Council referred the petition to staff and to themselves and directed Town Manager Roger Stancil to provide a cost estimate and an outline of what an independent review would entail.

Stancil conferred with Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos, and both men deemed that because an investigator could not compel witnesses to speak that route likely would not provide the answers that the community is seeking.

Instead, Stancil offered this alternative.

That drew the ire of Alex Kotch, who along with former U.S. Senate candidate and Chapel Hill resident Jim Neal has been rallying support for an independent investigation.

Continue reading…

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Orange County talks trash, next steps when landfill closes in 2013

Posted by on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 12:43 PM

The Orange County Board of Commissioners are committed to closing the local landfill, a burden that the Rogers Road-Eubanks community has been saddled with for 40 years now, in June 2013.

But, at last night’s Assembly of Governments meeting, leaders from the three Orange municipalities who dump garbage there as part of an interlocal agreement said they want to work together but differ on how to move forward. They have just 17 months to decide.

Chapel Hill is hiring a consultant, hopefully next month, to study its options and wants to consider keeping trash local and converting it to energy.

Carrboro is balking at the cost, both in dollars and in pollution, of the county’s plan to transport waste to Durham’s transfer station and then onto a landfill in Virginia. The Board of Alderman unanimously supports studying the feasibility of building a waste transfer station in Chapel Hill near the northwest intersection of N.C. Hwy 86 and I-40.

Hillsborough is OK with whatever everyone else decides so long as it doesn’t cost significantly more than what is being done now.

All want to offer remediation for Rogers-Eubanks and agreed to form a task force to work on creating a lasting community center for the neighborhood and on providing the water and sewer connections for neighbors that were promised when the site was built in 1972.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chapel Hill still wrangling with Yates review decision

Posted by on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 8:52 PM

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted Monday night to continue discussing the next steps to take in the investigation of the recent police raid on squatters in the vacant Yates Motor Company building, but there was little enthusiasm for an advisory group’s proposal to hire an independent investigator.

The Community Policing Advisory Council (CPAC) had recommended that an independent investigator could provide more factual evidence about the Nov. 13 incident. The CPAC and some residents had expressed concern about possible biases in a report about the incident filed by Town Manager Roger Stancil.

Ronald Bogle, chairman of CPAC, said he left the meeting “confused about the exact intentions of this council.” He also expressed concern about the role and expectations of the recently created CPAC, a volunteer board. Bogle told the Town Council he would “respect any decision you make” about pursuing an independent investigation.

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    Chapel Hill Town Council was not enthusiastic about the Community Policing Advisory Council's proposal to hire an independent investigator.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

751 South opponents begin appeals process

Posted by on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 5:40 PM

An attorney for plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit over the controversial 751 South development filed a notice in court Friday that they'll appeal a judge's ruling in favor of Durham County and the developers.

Property owners near the land to be developed, including the Chancellor's Ridge Homeowners Association, sued the county in 2010 over the county's decision to rezone the proposed site of the development. The 167 acres along N.C. 751 in the southwestern part of Durham County is in the watershed of Jordan Lake, a source of drinking water for several communities in the region. Neighbors and other opponents say they don't want to see such a dense development near the lake, arguing it will cause further environmental harm and traffic jams on N.C. 751.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Henry Hight dismissed the lawsuit at the request of the defendant, Durham County, and Southern Durham Development, which had intervened in the case as an interested party.

It's unclear whether the appeal could cause additional hearings before the case heads to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

In related news, Southern Durham Development has not responded to a request from the Indy for information on $142,000 in overdue property taxes the company owes to Durham County. According to the county's online billing system, the taxes had not been paid as of Friday afternoon.

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    The attorney for Chancellor's Ridge HOA filed a notice of appeal Friday.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

$142K in property taxes past due for 751 South

Posted by on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 7:55 PM

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Durham County property taxes were due Jan. 5, but more than a few property owners haven't gotten around to paying them, including Southern Durham Development.

SDD owns at least 170 acres of land in South Durham where the company is looking to build its controversial 751 South development. According to tax records on the Durham County government website, the company owes $142,000 for five parcels.

The company just won a major victory in civil court last week, when a visiting judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by opponents to the project who filed a protest petition against the rezoning of the land to build a large new community, which could encompass 1,300 residences, plus retail and offices.

But it's unclear why the tax bill is unpaid. A call to the county's tax office last week confirmed that information online is up-to-date, and according to a customer service representative, interest is included in the online tax calculations, although it's not shown separately.

We contacted a couple representatives of SDD after hours Wednesday night, but weren't able to reach anyone just yet. Updates to be posted once we hear back.

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    Southern Durham Development reps couldn't immediately be reached for a response.

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Carrboro declares corporations are not people

Posted by on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 5:15 PM

Tuesday night the Carrboro Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would deny corporations personhood, affirming that corporations are not people and money is not speech.

This vote was a symbolic gesture, proposed by Alderman Dan Coleman and seconded by Alderman Sammy Slade, in order to protest the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. That controversial ruling recognized corporations as persons and effectively removed prior restrictions on how much corporations are able to donate in electoral campaigns, including that of the presidency.

On Jan. 9, the Chapel Hill Town Council passed a similar resolution to the one Carrboro brought forward.

Before board of aldermen discussed the issue, Bryan Gaston, co-chair of UNC's Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), spoke in favor of the adoption of this proposed resolution. In his address, Gaston, specific to the concerns of SEAC, declared that the 2010 Supreme Court decision allows corporations to use unlimited funds to campaign against organizations that seek to improve air quality, and, therefore, the resolution to amend should be adopted.

"I urge you to adopt this resolution," Gaston said, "as an effort to preserve American democracy."

SEAC, in conjunction with Move to Amend, supports building momentum for adopting similar resolutions across the country. "I'm elated to see that all the Aldermen support this," Gaston said of Carrboro's vote, adding he hopes that other cities will continue to support this movement.

Groups represented in support of last night's resolution were UNC's Student Environmental Action Coalition, Triangle Move to Amend (the local chapter of Move to Amend), as well as Occupy Chapel Hill.

Chris Cayer, member of Triangle Move to Amend, said the organization's goal is to push the "Move to Amend agenda in every city we can get to."

In fact, there have been national Web meetings in Chapel Hill, Cary, Durham and Raleigh.

Holly Kuestner, also a member of UNC's SEAC, said this resolution is "timely." On Friday, Jan. 20, almost two years to the day the of the Citizens United decision, members of Move to Amend, Occupy Chapel Hill and other organizations plan to Occupy the Courts. The local event will take place at the United States Courthouse, 310 Bern Ave., Raleigh. Protesters can meet at Moore Square at the intersection of East Hargett and South Person streets at 10:30 a.m.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Black farmers stake claims against USDA

Posted by on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 8:48 AM

On the day set aside to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, hundreds of North Carolina black farmers met individually with attorneys from the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, seeking recompense for decades of discrimination.

Appointments and walk-ins were welcomed on Monday at the Durham Marriott City Center. Farmers were called to file their claims to receive part of a $1.25 billion settlement the Obama administration signed into law aiming to rectify decades of discriminatory practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, addressed the crowded Marriott ballroom, saying, "Thank you for all the work and contributions you've made to North Carolina." He stated that it was unfortunate this situation ever occurred, and that "at least today, Congress set aside funds to accommodate you."

McKissick said he was pleased with the current progress of gaining justice but noted that he was "most concerned for the people who couldn't make it here." After thanking the attorneys, McKissick assured farmers that he and the attorneys were "there to serve, regardless of the county you come from."

Farmers came from all across the state, including Sampson, Hertford, Franklin, Robeson and Stokes counties. One woman traveled from out-of-state: Brenda Waller of Halifax County, Va., explained that "a lot of us who got our documentation in Virginia got it after the designated time. By the time it filtered to us, the date had passed."

Continue reading…

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Monday, January 16, 2012

On MLK Day, the most tolerant U.S. city? It's our very own ...

Posted by on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 at 2:23 PM

... Durham, N.C.

San Francisco is 3rd, my old home town of Trenton, NJ, is 7th, and Raleigh checks in at a not-too-shabby 18th, just behind Orlando, Fla., and San Diego and ahead of Riverside, Calif., and Tampa.

It's all right here in the Daily Beast. (And who could argue with the DB?)

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Durham trying to reduce gun violence

Posted by on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 4:27 PM

It’s not even halfway through January and Durham has experienced three homicides committed with guns, and one person was injured in an armed robbery, according to a press conference Friday held by Mayor Bill Bell. Bell called the press conference with other Durham leaders to discuss new developments and strategies to reduce crimes involving firearms.

The aftershock of these crimes has caused a stir among the community, leaving citizens to wonder what is being done to protect themselves and their families from gun-related crime.

“This is a disturbing trend that we, as a community, should not and cannot accept,” Bell said, “We must renew our efforts and our commitments to reduce gun violence that kills our children, that destroys our families reduces our quality of life.”

Mayor Bell has met with Durham officials along with the Durham County district attorney and staff from The East Durham Children’s Initiative over the past few weeks to discuss strategies to reduce gun violence.

“With these enhanced initiatives, if you are caught illegally carrying a firearm or gun in Durham, you are going to be scrutinized intensely and it is not going to be business as usual.”

The strategy is to focus on the individuals who are using firearms in a criminal and violent way and focuses on the following steps:

  • Revisit bonding guidelines: Find ways to increase bonds for crimes involving firearms and recommend new, harsher penalties for firearm offences.

  • Better communication: There will be regular meetings between law enforcements and the DA’s office, criminal tracking and quicker warrants for violent crime arrests.

  • The police department will focus on top violent crime offenders in each district to let them be aware of their actions leading to a potential arrest as well as focusing on areas where most gun violence occurs: East, Central and the Bull’s Eye area.

  • Stronger community involvement. Especially in North-East Central Durham and the East Durham to involve parents.

According to Mayor Bell, this is one of many conferences to discuss preventive strategies and that this is in no way a “cure-all” for reducing crime, but to start making strides, it’s going to take more than just one individual.

“This is not a one person show” he said. “I am convinced that we have the community will and resources to make an appreciable reduction in crime and I am convinced that we will make it happen.”

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    Durham tries to get a grip on crime after homicides, armed robbery start new year.

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