Mecklenburg County Commissioners consider withholding $41 million in CMS education funding

In a Tuesday Budget Straw Vote session, the Mecklenburg County Commissioners considered placing $41 million in the FY 2021 budget in ‘restricted contingency,’ releasing it only if the school district could meet certain conditions.

Commissioners voted to approve restricting $11 million until CMS could figure out how to raise hourly staff to $15/hr and tabled a motion to withhold another $30 million in instructional services funding pending more discussion at today’s second day of the Straw Vote.

Chairman George Dunlap proposed moving $11 million into restricted contingency until CMS can come up with a plan to pay hourly staff a “livable wage,” saying it was not a sufficient priority for the school district. Commissioner Trevor Fuller said there would be “gnashing of teeth,” but “they’ll figure it out.”

The motion passed by a vote of 8-1, with Commissioner Elaine Powell voting no.

The $30 million proposal began with Commissioner Vilma Leake saying CMS was failing to educate children and asking how she could “take some money from the Charlotte Mecklenburg school board.”

Leake proposed withholding 30% of CMS’s instructional services budget, which County Manager Dena Diorio informed her would come to $84 million. Leake then reduced her proposal to $30 million which she said would be placed in restricted contingency with CMS given 90 days to come up with a plan for “how to educate children.”

As discussion proceeded, it became increasingly clear that commissioners had no plan for a metric which would serve to satisfy such a contingency. After voicing his support for the approach and noting “If you want to get someone’s attention, mess with their money,” Commissioner Fuller proposed tabling the motion to allow time for more thought and input on what conditions would allow for the release of the $30 million.

The motion to table the matter until today passed by a vote of 8-0.

It’s worth noting that eliminating $30 million from CMS’s budget would likely require the district to cut hundreds of county-funded jobs. Those positions could include teachers and support services such as school counselors and psychologists.

While few would argue that our results with students of poverty are where they need to be, it’s very difficult to see how withholding that funding wouldn’t make things a great deal worse.

It’s also hard to see how the timing of shifting to a more aggressive, strings-attached approach to funding public schools during the worst health crisis in any of our lifetimes makes any sense whatsoever.

May 27 is the second and final day of the Straw Vote session. Commissioners will hold their final vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 2.

You can find contact information for Commissioners here:

My seventh grade students weigh in on the pros and cons of remote learning

*note: This piece first appeared in Cardinal & Pine

As school year 2019-20 winds toward its surreal and heartbreaking conclusion, there is much uncertainty on the horizon as far as what next year has in store for students and teachers.

This week the Center for Disease Control released guidelines entitled Considerations for Schools which outline how schools can operate safely in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Some of those guidelines–including seating one child per row on buses and spacing desks six feet apart–make it abundantly clear that there is probably no way we’re going to have all of our students coming to school at the same time until the virus is well under control.  

School year 2020-21 will almost certainly include some measure of remote learning, and it’s important that our efforts to improve that learning experience are informed by the people that we are serving.  

With that in mind, I surveyed my 7th grade English students this week to get their thoughts on what they’ve enjoyed about remote learning, what they haven’t enjoyed about it, and what suggestions they have for how we could improve remote learning going forward.  

As background information, my school provides each student with a Chromebook, and they were given the option of taking those devices home with them when school buildings closed.  Instructional approaches vary somewhat, but in general teachers are holding some live class sessions on Zoom, posting assignments on Canvas or other online platforms and holding regular office hours to answer questions as well as encouraging students to reach out by email whenever they need assistance in understanding and completing their work.  

I have nearly 150 students in all and was able to get a surprisingly high survey participation rate, so I am pleased with how representative the survey responses are.

In terms of what my students like about attending school from home, answers focused primarily on sleeping in, various freedoms that aren’t typically part of the physical school setting, and the ability to work at one’s own pace:

The one thing that I have enjoyed the most is sleeping more and more free time.

I like that I could wake up a little later than 5 am

The fact that I get to eat whenever I want and I get to go to the bathroom whenever I want.

You can take short little breaks every once in a while, and you can sit on your couch and eat snacks.

I can sit in my bed and do my work.

Something that I have enjoyed over the last couple of months is the flexibility on assignment due dates.

I am able to talk to all of my friends while doing my work. Even if it is virtual, it is better than nothing.

We have a lot more free time, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I can get out earlier and not have to spend a hour getting home from school

The freedom of being able to wake up later, and also being able to finish something without having to change classes and lose passage into “the zone”.

constant food

I have gotten closer to my family because we are usually busy with school and extracurricular activities which didn’t give us as much time to go for a walk and talk with each other like we do now.

As for what they do NOT enjoy about remote learning, many of my students talked about missing their friends, the limitations of technology and how much harder it is to learn when you’re working on your own:

Being trapped at home all day.

I have not enjoyed how the work mostly doesn’t work and I am getting tired of zoom.

One that I definitely not enjoyed is that even though it can be fun at times to work from home it is very hard because I lose my focus very easily and get distracted doing other things and it’s been super stressful to keep up with all of the work from all these classes.

My sleep schedule is off, I am stressing a lot more, and I wish I could see my friends in person.

You do not get to see your friends and teachers face to face. It makes it hard to do anything because you can not just have a conversation with the teacher.

I can’t see my friends and it’s much easier to learn with a teacher in front of you.

Being at home has many distractions from school work

I haven’t enjoyed the fact that there is little to no human contact and it’s, in my opinion, harder to concentrate.

Something I didn’t enjoy was the fact that I eat, sleep, and learn all in the same place.

It’s harder to learn new concepts without someone teaching it in person.

At home I don’t have a teacher to remind me what to do so I worry that I’ll miss something.

I keep getting distracted and every time I have a question. I need to send an email.

It’s harder to manage yourself and stay on task.

I don’t like how it’s harder to interact with the teacher because asking a question can take upwards of 30 minutes and you might have to ask another or maybe they didn’t understand the question.

You can’t get help easily and you can’t be with your friends. Also, almost all our work has been in projects. And when projects stack up, well, you’re in deep shiitake mushroom sauce.

In terms of suggestions for making remote learning more effective, students wanted their teachers to work on organizing information so it’s easier to keep track and be understanding of how responsibilities in the home can impact student work:

every class should only have 2 assignments MAX every week. just because we’re home doesn’t mean we have all the time in the world.

Maybe not give us as much work or if u do give us a later date so we can have time because we do have lots of other classes that we need to focus on especially if some of us are taking a new language and still trying to get use to that and things.

Explain Better on how to do the assignment.

Making it feel like I’m not stuck at home

By making everything cohesive. I am getting zooms at the same time on the same day, some teachers go back and forward the way things are organized. It makes it a lot harder for the student because they have to figure it out on their own.

not expect us to be on every zoom call

I know there is required work that we have to do because we’re still in school learning but too much of it is very overwhelming because i’m pretty sure most of us are new to this unexpected change and i’m trying my best.

Two student suggestions really brought home for me the limitations of online school and reminded me that the most important goal is a return to normalcy:

There really is nothing we can do to improve online school because having less human contact is the whole point of quarantine.

Find ways to keep us safe so we can reopen the school.

Teachers are doing the best we can to keep students engaged and learning during this pandemic, and we’ll continue to work at making remote learning more effective, listening to and incorporating feedback from all stakeholders, including our students.  

We will master new digital tools, streamline organization and delivery, and improve access by bridging the digital divide that exists in many places across the state as we wait for health experts to solve COVID-19.

But as we carry out this work, we need to keep in mind that remote learning isn’t and never will be an acceptable substitute for in-person learning. 

Here’s how much of your NC tax dollars are supporting virulently anti-LGBTQ discrimination via school vouchers

A new bill filed by NC Senator Ralph Hise yesterday would increase funding for the controversial Opportunity Scholarship voucher program by $2,000,000 per year beginning next school year.

This seems like a good time for a reminder about exactly what your tax dollars are supporting when they’re used in this manner.

Here are five perennial top ten voucher fund recipients, how much $ they’ve pulled in since the program began in 2014-15*, and discriminatory language from their student handbooks and/or admissions documents.

Northwood Temple Academy, Fayetteville: $1,379,402

School handbook

Northwood Temple Academy expects teachers to believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, transgenderism, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God (Matthew 15:18-20; I Corinthians 6:9-10).

All students are expected to exhibit the qualities of a Christ-like life espoused and taught by NTA and to refrain from certain activities and behavior. Thus, NTA retains the right to refuse enrollment to or to require automatic withdrawal of any student who engages in sexual immorality, including any student who professes to be homosexual/bisexual/transgendered or is a practicing homosexual/bisexual/transgendered, as well as any student who condones, supports, or otherwise promotes such practices or is unable the support the moral principles of the school (Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:27). NTA retains the right to refuse enrollment or require automatic withdrawal of students if a parent engages in sexual immorality, including any who practice, promote and/or condone homosexual/bisexual/transgendered behavior (Romans 1:24-27, 1 Cor. 6:9. 1 Cor. 6:18-20. 1 Thess. 4:3-5, Heb. 13:4).

Living Water Christian School, Jacksonville: $1,460,080

School handbook

Living Water Christian School’s Biblical role is to work in conjunction with the home to provide an education grounded upon spiritual truth and to mold students to be Christ-like. On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle LWCS teaches. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to sexual immorality, homosexual or transgender orientation, or inability to support the moral principles of LWCS. LWCS expects parents/guardians to refrain from conduct or a lifestyle which would undermine the religion, Christian beliefs and values taught by the School and to cooperate and support the religious educational philosophy of the School. In such circumstances LWCS, predicated upon religious reasons, cannot effectively partner with the parent/guardian because of the divergence between the religious teachings of the School, which permeate the entire educational experience and philosophy of LWCS, and the beliefs, attitude, lifestyle or conduct of the parent/guardian. LWCS reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student.

Fayetteville Christian School, Fayetteville: $2,083,120

School handbook

The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in full agreement with the FCS Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly fellowship in a local faith based, Bible believing church. Accordingly, FCS will not admit families that belong to or express faith in non-Christian religions such as, but not limited to: Mormons (LDS Church), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims (Islam), non-Messianic Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Furthermore, students and families are expected to manifest by example Christian virtue in their lives both in and out of school by living life according to Biblical truth. Accordingly, FCS will not admit families that engage in illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT) or other behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and perverted. Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in any of the above activities it will be grounds for dismissal of the student/family from the school.

Liberty Christian Academy, Richlands: $2,487,617

School morality statement

LCA is a religious institution providing an education in a distinct Christian environment, believing its biblical role is to work in conjunction with the home to mold students to be Christ-like. On occasions in which the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home or the activities of the student are counter to or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches, the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or discontinue enrollment of a current student. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, living in, practicing, condoning, or supporting sexual immorality, including but not limited to, sex outside of marriage, homosexual acts, bisexual acts; gender identity different than the birth sex at the chromosomal level; promoting such practices; or otherwise the inability to support the moral principles of the school (Leviticus 20:13a, Romans 1:27, Matthew 19:4-6). 

Berean Baptist Academy, Fayetteville: $2,542,444

Articles of faith

We believe that any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex (Gen. 19:5,13; Lev. 18:1-30; Rom. 1:26-29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9; 1 Thess. 4:1-8). We believe that the only Scriptural marriage is the joining of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24; Mk. 10:6-12; Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:10). We believe that God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society (Deut. 6:4-9). The husband is to love the wife as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:21-33). The wife is to submit herself to the Scriptural leadership of her husband as the church submits to the headship of Christ (Eph. 5:22-23; Phil 2:10, 11).

Student handbook

Any BBA student who is engaged in a sexually immoral relationship or who has engaged in a sexually immoral relationship during the school year will be subject to corrective action ranging from a ten-day suspension with probation to dismissal from the Academy.

If you object to your hard-earned tax dollars going to institutions that are able to legally discriminate against children, contact your state legislator before the General Assembly reconvenes on May 18 and urge them to vote no on this bill.

Senate contact info

House contact info

Deputy Superintendent at center of Istation saga had DPI surveillance victim’s former laptop at time of spying

After months of stalling, stonewalling, and misinforming, the Department of Public Instruction has finally released computer inventory logs which may solve the mystery at the center of the Istation controversy: Which department employee improperly monitored a retired director’s personal text messages?

Obtained through a public records request, the logs show the MacBook Air in question was assigned to Deputy Superintendent Pamela Shue at the time the text message was intercepted.


K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie retired from DPI in September 2017.  According to sworn testimony she gave in the Istation case, upon her departure she neglected to log her DPI-issued MacBook Air laptop out of her personal iCloud account.  

Unbeknownst to Guthrie, her personal text messages continued to sync to the laptop long after her retirement.

One of those text messages, sent in January 2019, included information about North Carolina’s K-3 reading assessment procurement process.  The message was somehow obtained by Superintendent Mark Johnson and used to cancel the procurement on the grounds of a confidentiality breach at a moment when it was very much going mClass’s way. 

He later awarded an $8.3 million contract to Istation.

Guthrie was made aware in February 2019 that DPI was in possession of her personal text messages. She pulled up her FindMy app to see what devices were active on it.

The screenshot Carolyn Guthrie took in February 2019 shows her DPI-issued MacBook Air still syncing to her personal iCloud account more than 17 months after she retired from the department. The map clearly indicates the active device with inventory number k2268 is housed inside the Department of Public Instruction building.

DPI’s failed misinformation campaign:

North Carolina’s statute on interception of electronic communication, § 15A-287, is a “one party consent” law.  It states that, without the consent of at least one person involved in the communication, it is a Class H felony if a person “Willfully intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication.”

When allegations first surfaced that someone under DPI’s roof had engaged in potentially criminal conduct at the center of the procurement process, Superintendent Mark Johnson and his staff initially attempted to mock them into oblivion.

Johnson joked in a radio interview about his “elite squad of ninjas” and “DPI spy team,” and Communications Director Graham Wilson derisively referred to the charges as “blogger conspiracies.”

In his sworn December 2019 deposition in the Istation case, the superintendent claimed he had no knowledge of anyone at the Department of Public Instruction monitoring computers for text messages. He testified that a paper copy of the screenshot was slid under the office door of Deputy Superintendent Pam Shue by an anonymous whistleblower, and that DPI was investigating the matter.

Two months later, DPI denied multiple public records requests which sought computer inventory logs showing who was assigned Guthrie’s laptop after her retirement. In the denial, Graham Wilson claimed those records were confidential personnel files and could not be released.

In April, the results of the Department of Public Instruction investigation were released to the public in the form of a borderline unintelligible word salad. The findings attempted to cast blame on Guthrie herself, focused on an irrelevant desktop computer, and didn’t mention the MacBook Air at all. They also explained a supervisor had “informed DPI leadership that the screenshot had been slipped under her door by an unknown individual.” That supervisor would presumably be Pam Shue.

DPI complies with records request:

The computer inventory spreadsheet was finally turned over by DPI last week. (You can access that document here.)

Department of Public Instruction records show that Carolyn Guthrie’s MacBook Air was turned in when Guthrie retired. Then in January 2018 the laptop was reassigned to Pam Shue, and it stayed assigned to her until June 2019.

The laptop’s inventory number k2268 matches the number of the device Guthrie saw actively syncing to her account in February 2019.

So, to make a long story short, the evidence indicates that Pam Shue was in possession of a laptop which was logged into Carolyn Guthrie’s personal iCloud account when Guthrie’s text message was intercepted.

More about Pam Shue:

Pam Shue began working at the Department of Public Instruction in November 2017, about two months after Carolyn Guthrie retired. Her title was Deputy Superintendent for Early Education. The K-3 Literacy team reported to her, and she reported directly to Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Shue was business manager of the K-3 reading assessment procurement which began in 2018. Records show she supported awarding Istation the contract both before and after the procurement was cancelled. She left DPI in June 2019, just weeks after Mark Johnson announced the Istation contract award.

Pam Shue was never deposed in the Istation case, so has never testified under oath as to how she obtained Carolyn Guthrie’s text message or anything else about the procurement controversy.

She did not respond to a request for comment about this story.

Questions that remain:

If I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Shue, here’s what I would ask her:

Was the story about an anonymous whistleblower concocted in order to cover up surveillance of Carolyn Guthrie’s personal communication?

If so, what was Superintendent Mark Johnson’s involvement?