NC Rep. Tricia Cotham’s defection to GOP clears way for massive expansion of school vouchers

A Charlotte-area state legislator’s recent decision to switch parties just months after being elected as a Democrat all but assures a massive expansion of North Carolina taxpayer dollars flowing into school vouchers. 

In addition to increasing funding for vouchers by hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the recently filed bill eliminates income eligibility requirements so that any student in the state–regardless of financial need–may use public money to attend private schools.

Governor Roy Cooper has vetoed previous attempts to expand school vouchers.  However, Mecklenburg County Representative Tricia Cotham’s recent defection to the Republican Party gave the GOP a supermajority in the state legislature and makes it much more likely the bill will become law.

A history rooted in racism

The roots of school vouchers in our country can be traced back to the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court court case in which justices ruled that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Constitution.  

Following this ruling, white leaders in many communities tried all kinds of devious ways to subvert it.  In Prince Edward County, Virginia, those efforts included eliminating taxes in order to defund schools and closing them rather than simply allowing racial integration.  

After pressure by the courts to comply with Brown increased, the Virginia state legislature created a “tuition grant program” which provided funding for students to attend private schools or public schools in other areas.  In Prince Edward County, black students were denied access to those tuition grants.

Most voucher funds in NC used by white students

White flight is not as socially acceptable as it once was, and modern-day proponents of school vouchers often sell them as an equalizer that allows students of color to opt out of struggling traditional public schools.  However, in North Carolina, the majority of voucher funds go to white students–despite the fact that students of color form a majority of the k-12 student racial demographics.

Vouchers fund religious schools that discriminate

Another problem with expansion of vouchers in North Carolina is that this practice directs public dollars to private schools which focus on religious teaching and are legally able to discriminate against children.

This year’s top recipient of North Carolina voucher funds ($2,261,497) is Grace Christian School in Sanford. Check out Grace’s Educational Objectives page:

Fayetteville Christian School is pocketing a cool $1,336,793 in taxpayer funding this school year. Here’s their policy on religious discrimination and what they’ll do if they find out that Heather has two mommies:

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.

The real problems traditional public schools face

A common refrain for school privatizers is to say we just need to provide more choice and let the free market figure it out. And we have to acknowledge that many of our traditional public schools are struggling. But rather than opportunistically siphoning away their funding, let’s take an honest look at why those schools may be struggling.

The party that Representative Cotham just joined and handed a veto-proof majority to has maintained a gerrymandered stranglehold on power in North Carolina since 2010. During that time our state legislature has passed law after law that has made it harder to attract and retain excellent teachers:

‣ Cut master’s pay supplement and longevity pay
‣ Revoked retiree health benefits
‣ Eliminated due process rights
‣ Gutted Teaching Fellows program
‣ Removed state funding for professional development

Besides running off good teachers, lawmakers have enacted other policy changes that harm student learning:

‣ Uncapped class sizes grades 4-12
‣ Cut 7,000 teaching assistants
‣ Slashed funding for school technology and classroom supplies
‣ Increased volume of standardized testing

Since they took power, Republicans have repeatedly cut taxes on both corporations and wealthy individuals, depriving public schools of billions of dollars in sorely needed revenue. In just a few years North Carolina’s corporate income tax will be eliminated entirely.

Republican lawmakers have also regularly thumbed their noses at court decisions demanding increased investment in public education, with Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger saying, “If judges want to get into the field of appropriating, they need to run for the legislature.”

Reversing the above changes that have devastated public education in North Carolina would be a good start toward improving the education students can get in traditional public schools.

Of course, doing so would require state legislators who actually *want* strong public schools.

If you object to your public tax dollars funding religious education and discriminatory admissions practices, please contact your state legislator and urge them to oppose expansion of school vouchers.

Senate contact info
House contact info

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts with Representative Cotham over her betrayal of campaign donors and volunteers as well as the Mecklenburg County voters who elected her to a Democratic seat by a nearly 20% margin over her Republican opponent, her email address is:

Former Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education member facing misdemeanor charge in campaign sign incident

photo courtesy of CMS, arrow courtesy of me

The former Charlotte Mecklenburg District 6 Board of Education member who lost his reelection bid last November is due in Mecklenburg County Superior Court next month to face a misdemeanor larceny charge.

The criminal charge stems from two incidents involving campaign signs linking former BOE member Sean Strain with the ultra-conservative fringe group Moms 4 Liberty.

According to media reports published last November, Strain allegedly ripped up one sign campaign volunteer Debbie Baynard had left at South County Library. In the other incident, Baynard alleges Strain sneaked up behind her, grabbed the sign away from her and took off.

The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s website indicates that the room Strain is scheduled to appear in is used for “Citizen’s Court” cases in which one individual files misdemeanor charges against another. The website explains that, in such cases, the victim and the defendant “attempt to achieve a resolution with the help of mediators.” If no such resolution is reached, a judge will issue a verdict. If that verdict is guilty, the defendant may then appeal the decision for a jury trial.

You may view the publicly available court document below. I’ve redacted Strain’s address.


North Carolina Board of Education Chair Eric Davis has a history of bad faith on teacher merit pay

If there is anyone involved in the controversial North Carolina teacher merit pay work who should understand the importance of giving teachers a seat at the table when redesigning how they are paid, it’s the chair of the State Board of Education. 

After all, the last time Eric Davis tried–and failed–to pass merit pay against teacher objections ended with the then-chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education apologizing for not adequately involving teachers in the work.

Meeting minutes from that period recorded Chair Davis’s pledge that in the future he would seek to “allow for meaningful dialogue with teachers; to create ways for our teachers to participate given their high workloads and demands beyond what is currently available; and to incorporate their constructive input into the process.”

Eric Davis served on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education from 2009 to 2017 and chaired the body from 2009 to 2011. 

In 2011, Davis worked with CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman and Mecklenburg County Representative Ruth Samuelson to draft HB 546, a bill that would authorize Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools to go off the state’s mandatory experience-based teacher pay scale and move to a “performance-based compensation system.”  

Superintendent Gorman’s team included analyst Tom Tomberlin and Director of Human Capital Strategies Andy Baxter, who worked on developing the new compensation model and (unsuccessfully) pitching it to wary teachers.

Both men now work for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and have been heavily involved in the current statewide merit pay push.

But back to 2011:  When news of the proposed legislation emerged, Charlotte educators were not pleased–in large part because the bill would have allowed the district to make drastic changes to compensation without consulting teachers.

HB 546 represented a major departure from a previous state law passed in 2007 which allowed districts to pilot merit pay only if a majority of the teachers who would be impacted by the plan had approved it via a secret ballot vote:

Large groups of educators and concerned community members began turning up to CMS board meetings to speak against the proposed merit pay switch.  Some board members began to feel HB 546 was the wrong way to go, most notably Reverend Tom Tate.

At a May 2011 board meeting, Tate expressed concern that the bill “was crafted without input from the teachers” and said this kind of work should be done “with teachers and not to teachers.”  He recommended taking Representative Samuelson up on her offer to “park” the bill for a year and allow for more discussion of the matter before proceeding.

In response, Chair Davis indicated he did not agree that teachers should have the right to make decisions about compensation plans approved by elected officials, but he added that he regretted “the manner in which this was implemented because it has alienated our teachers and strained the relationship between our teachers and district leadership.”

Just two weeks later Superintendent Gorman abruptly announced his resignation from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.  Although local work on pay for performance initiatives did pop up again from time to time (including in 2013 when Davis reminded board meeting attendees that he “deeply regrets the frustration, anger, and mistrust” caused by attempting to move teachers to merit pay without their consent), Charlotte teachers were never really threatened with removal of the experience-based salary structure again.

Until now. 

And this time it’s not just Charlotte-area educators who are facing the threat of merit pay, but every teacher in the state.

Under Eric Davis’s leadership, the North Carolina State Board of Education recently approved a blueprint which clears the way for switching the state’s teachers from an experience-based pay scale to the country’s first statewide system of merit pay.

Teachers’ compensation and ability to advance their careers in the proposed system will be determined by standardized test results, principal and peer evaluations, student surveys, and possibly other measures that have not yet been determined.  The proposal has proven deeply unpopular with classroom teachers who are concerned about the emphasis on standardized testing and subjectivity of proposed evaluation instruments, among other things.

In a December editorial, State Board Chair Eric Davis vowed to “continue to listen to our educators” while changing teacher pay and licensure, as if teacher voice had been a priority for the state board since work on the current reform effort began four years ago.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as the following sequence demonstrates with crystal clarity. 

Work on the Pathways to Excellence pay for performance plan began with the North Carolina Human Capital Roundtable, whose first meeting in December 2018 Davis attended before handing the role off to his fellow state board member and designee Jill Camnitz.  The Roundtable was completely devoid of K-12 teachers and drafted the merit pay proposal in private, likely in violation of state open meetings law.

Public records reveal that Camnitz later schemed with State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and then-PEPSC Chair Patrick Miller to prevent media organization Education NC from independently surveying teachers to gather input on the merit pay plan over fears of losing control of the public narrative.  They didn’t want to hear what teachers had to say unless they had absolute control over how that information would be used.

In order to help achieve the goal of public narrative control, the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction enlisted the help of Raleigh-based marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan (paid for via a Belk Foundation grant). 

The firm suggested “It’s in our best interest to always speak about the plan in a positive manner.”  It’s unclear whose best interest they meant but probably safe to assume that wasn’t a reference to North Carolina teachers and students.

Eckel and Vaughan also advised using former NC Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover to help with “gaining the trust of teachers around the state” and recommended identifying teachers from varied parts of North Carolina to “submit an opinion piece in support to the [sic] changes to the system to a targeted outlet in their region.” 


When teacher outcry over the controversial plan began in spring of 2022, DPI hastily assembled its own “teacher listening sessions” which were open only to teachers who had received invitations.  Feedback provided by teachers on the proposed changes was overwhelmingly negative.  It was summarily ignored

The PEPSC Commission, which is advising Davis’s board on the switch to merit pay, only includes one currently practicing traditional classroom teacher.  That teacher rarely participates in PEPSC’s meetings, presumably because they are scheduled during the school day.

PEPSC is now putting together new committees to continue the design process.  If PEPSC’s recent history is any indication, it seems likely the new committees will also meet when teachers are busy teaching, rendering invitations to classroom teachers to participate nothing more than a PR move which will allow Eric Davis and other leaders of the merit pay work to disingenuously claim they sought input from teachers.

Speaking of history, they say those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it. 

That saying applies to State Board Chair Eric Davis, who appears to have forgotten his 2011 promise to involve teachers with designing policies that impact their pay.

It also applies to North Carolina’s teachers, who need to speak up about their concerns with this misguided approach to compensation and efforts to silence teacher voices the way Charlotte Mecklenburg educators did back in 2011. 

You can email State Board Chair Eric Davis at to request directly that PEPSC committees include practicing classroom teachers and that meetings are held outside school hours.

Since any future legislation involving merit pay would require his signature, you can contact North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to share concerns about the proposal or the State Board of Education’s actions here: 

Human Capital Roundtable member privately blasted NC teacher merit pay plan as “undercooked goulash”

A member of the shadowy group which drafted the controversial North Carolina teacher merit pay proposal blasted the plan in a private email to a colleague last year, calling out numerous flaws with the approach and deeming it “undercooked goulash.”

The document is noteworthy because the Human Capital Roundtable (HCR) has closely followed its marketing firm’s advice to “always speak about the plan in a positive manner” when members have commented on the controversial Pathways to Excellence scheme.

The refreshingly candid email was written in July 2021, a few months after PEPSC subcommittees took over work on the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay proposal.

At that point the HCR had shifted into marketing mode and begun assembling a “dream team” called the UpliftEd Coalition which was intended to drum up public support for making North Carolina the first state in the country to move all teachers to merit pay instead of compensating them based on years of experience.

In the email, the HCR member, who shall remain nameless, blasted the project as “undercooked goulash” and identified a variety of problems with the project, including:

➢ Unlikely that larger salaries and professional development will be funded

➢ Reduces rigor in teacher preparation

➢ Failed to adequately involve traditional classroom teachers and district personnel in design

This individual’s concerns mirror those which have since been voiced by many, including lots of classroom teachers and district personnel.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative feedback, the PEPSC Commission (kind of) voted 9-7 last month to advance a broad framework to the State Board of Education which would clear the way for the still-undercooked goulash to be officially considered.

The email was recently obtained via public records request, and you can read it below:


Initial North Carolina teacher merit pay vote reveals sharp differences over path forward

This week North Carolina took the first step toward moving all teachers from a pay scale that rewards long term commitment to a career in public education to one which compensates teachers based on measures like standardized test results and student surveys.

In a 9-7* vote, the PEPSC Commission approved a motion to send the below “Blueprint for Action” to the State Board of Education, a procedural step which must precede consideration of the deeply unpopular Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal.

(*asterisk because the legitimacy of the vote is questionable. Read on to find out why.)


Here’s how the vote broke down:

Like pretty much everything else in this torturous saga, the vote was a complete 💩 show.

The initial vote ended in a 7-7 tie. Then two members (Sam Houston and Michael Maher) who had left the virtual meeting were called back in to vote, but no mention was made of attempting to reach a third member (Anthony Graham) who had also left the meeting.

Both individuals who returned to the meeting voted yes.

Elon University College of Education Dean Dr. Ann Bullock asked State Board attorney Allison Schaefer if it was proper to call people to return to the meeting to vote. Schaefer said that since Houston was having technical difficulties it was acceptable.

She did not explain why Maher’s vote counted or comment on Dr. Graham’s absence.

You can listen to the voting portion of the meeting here:

Any way you slice it, the vote shows serious differences of opinion among constituent groups. On one hand we have some deans of Colleges of Education (including PEPSC Chair Dr. Van Dempsey) voting to move forward with a proposal which would make the kind of thorough teacher preparation they specialize in completely optional. On the other we have Dean Bullock from Elon University saying no, this isn’t the way (and again, it’s not clear how Winston Salem State’s Dr. Graham feels since he did not vote).

As for the teacher view, two teachers voted yes on the proposal to advance the merit pay framework, but neither is currently working with students in a classroom. Guilford County’s Leah Carper is on sabbatical as NC Teacher of the Year, and Madison Edwards works at NC Cyber Academy, a virtual charter school. The only current classroom teacher on the PEPSC Commission is Chatham Central High School’s Eric Patin. Patin did not attend the 9 AM meeting (presumably because as a practicing classroom teacher he was teaching his students).

Fortunately PEPSC did have plenty of feedback from current classroom teachers to consider, although it did not come up in the approximately 180 minutes of discussion that preceded the vote.

Attached to the PEPSC agenda on the State Board of Education website is a document containing 59 pages of feedback for PEPSC just from the month of October. Most of it is from teachers. Some crafty individual at DPI chose to position one of the only pro-merit pay messages at the top of this document, but nearly all of the feedback calls on the PEPSC Commission to reject the switch to merit pay:

The PEPSC Commission now has to await the green light from the State Board of Education and the General Assembly before moving the Pathways to Excellence proposal itself.

In the meantime, if you’d like to thank those who voted NO on merit pay you can find their contact information here:

Former PEPSC chair, Human Capital Roundtable member: Principal evaluations too subjective for use with performance pay

If you don’t live in a North Carolina cave, you’re likely aware of the controversial Pathways to Excellence merit pay scheme.

This proposal would make North Carolina the first state in the country to end the experience-based teacher salary schedule and move all teachers to a system of merit pay–and it’s getting closer to becoming a reality.

For some teachers, the opportunity for raises and career advancement would depend on students’ performance on standardized tests. But for the 60% of teachers who don’t have end of year tests tied to their subject, their “merit” would be measured in part by how their principal rates them on the North Carolina Educator Effectiveness System (NCEES).

Dr. Patrick Miller–recently retired Superintendent of Greene County Schools–is very familiar with the Pathways to Excellence proposal.

Miller was the first chair of the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) which is preparing to vote on the scheme and also a member of the shadowy Human Capital Roundtable that originally created it.

Dr. Miller earned his PhD from East Carolina University. His 2011 dissertation examined a 2007-2010 performance pay pilot program called The Collaborative Project which offered educators in five rural NC counties (including Greene) financial incentives based on their performances.

The dissertation arrives at a number of findings, but it was Dr. Miller’s conclusions on using principal evaluations for determining pay that stood out most to me.

Miller noted that the principal evaluation ratings were highly subjective and could be inflated for a variety of reasons, including impact on teacher morale and the desire to put more money in teachers’ pockets. He suggested evaluations should either be changed or eliminated entirely from performance incentive criteria.

🗣️ Miller’s argument is the same argument teachers have been making against the Pathways to Excellence performance measures since last spring. 🗣️

The hypocrisy is mind boggling.

The PEPSC Commission will meet on November 10 to consider approving the Pathways to Excellence merit pay proposal and sending it on to the State Board of Education for consideration.

Dr. Miller’s term as PEPSC Chair ended September 1, and the commission is now led by UNCW’s Dr. Van Dempsey.

You can find contact information for PEPSC Commission and State Board of Education decision makers here:

Hijacking teacher licensure: Documents reveal early plan to insert merit pay reform into PEPSC’s work despite lobbying concerns

A newly obtained Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) document provides an early glimpse of the Human Capital Roundtable’s secret effort to move all North Carolina teachers from an experience-based pay scale to merit pay.

According to the May 31, 2019 draft Roundtable Action Plan document, which is marked “Internal Only” and “Please Do Not Distribute,” the number one goal of the Roundtable was to “Create a Performance-Based Educator Licensure System.”

The Department of Public Instruction’s Dr. Tom Tomberlin would be “manager” of the project and would “coordinate and execute the Roundtable’s plan to redesign North Carolina’s teacher licensure requirements and processes.” 

Tomberlin’s responsibilities included drafting a preliminary proposal, gathering feedback from “state leaders and affected stakeholders” and then “finalizing the plan for PEPSC review.”

Dr. Tomberlin is DPI’s Director of Educator Recruitment and Support.  He is a member of the Human Capital Roundtable, but he most definitely does NOT serve on the PEPSC Commission. 

Dr. Patrick Miller, who was likely added to the Human Capital Roundtable because he chaired PEPSC and could provide the Roundtable with access to the commission, was designated a “helper” for Tomberlin. 

According to the Roundtable Action Plan, Dr. Miller’s role was to “serve as the key shepherd of the redesign plan through the Commission and State Board of Education.”

The newly unearthed document flies in the face of the Human Capital Roundtable’s public narrative that its members are “simply following PEPSC’s work and support its foundational ideals.”

That was the disingenuous external messaging suggested by marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan when teacher backlash against the deeply unpopular merit pay scheme began this past spring.

It’s important to understand that the Human Capital Roundtable, whose origins are murky at best, did not have any legal authority to recommend changes to licensure or teacher preparation in North Carolina.

PEPSC, on the other hand, was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017 to study and make recommendations on licensure. 

The Roundtable Action Plan makes it clear that, from the very beginning, the Human Capital Roundtable intended to hijack PEPSC’s legislative mandate and get the commission to take up its proposal to scrap the experience-based pay scale which North Carolina and all the other 49 states use and replace it with a highly experimental merit pay model.

The Roundtable Action Plan was prepared and circulated by SREB among Human Capital Roundtable members for feedback.

At least one of them was a little queasy about it.

Tom West is a member of the Human Capital Roundtable who, in his day job, serves as VP for Government Relations and General Counsel for North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU). 

In response to the draft action plan, West cautioned that much of what was proposed in the document might qualify as lobbying–which would legally require the Roundtable to register as a “lobbyist principal” under General Statute 120C:


The PEPSC Commission is scheduled to meet on November 10 and is expected to hold a vote on whether to approve the Human Capital Roundtable’s merit pay proposal and send it on to the State Board of Education for consideration.

Contact information for PEPSC Commission members and State Board of Education members is here:

You can view the Roundtable Action Plan in its entirety below:


3 reasons Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Charlotte Meck Board of Education

With the 2022 general election just weeks away, campaign season is in full swing.  Just like clockwork we are seeing some politicians trying to rebrand themselves in order to win.

One of the individuals working hardest to whitewash his public image is Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools District 6 school board member Sean Strain.

Since his election to the school board in 2017, Strain has regularly found himself in the middle of controversy thanks in large part to his frequently unpopular views on public education in our community coupled with his disrespectful treatment of others.

Strain is now attempting to portray himself as a thoughtful, nonpartisan leader who just wants to unite people:

For casual followers of CMS and local politics, this chameleon act might be convincing.  But for those who have paid close attention to Strain’s 5 years on the board it’s completely absurd.

What follows is a stack of primary source documents laying out in detail why Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education.

1: Hostile relationships with colleagues:

From the very beginning of his time on the board, Strain’s inability to cultivate courteous, respectful relationships with colleagues has been clear.

In 2018 Strain was upset about CMS issuing a press release without his consent.  Referring to then-board chair Mary McCray, one of Strain’s Facebook friends wrote “Me thinks that you should buy a muzzle for Mary McCray” on his Facebook page. 

Not only did Strain fail to condemn his friend’s use of animal imagery to describe the African American female chair of the Board of Education, he participated in the banter, adding “Me thinks that Ms Mary has some splainin’ to do.”

In January 2021 the CMS Board of Education met to consider Superintendent Earnest Winston’s recommendation that remote learning be extended for CMS students.  The recommendation came two days after Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris advised schools to remain virtual due to the community’s “exponential growth” in COVID hospitalizations and deaths. 

During the meeting, Strain launched into a demeaning, badgering line of questioning of Superintendent Winston (begins at 16:47 here) which reached its lowest point with Strain talking about Winston kissing Harris’s ring and saying “Yes ma’am, Gibbie.”  It was appalling to hear a white man to portray the African American leader of our school district in this subservient manner before a white woman.

Finally, in contrast with his gentle “non-partisan leadership” makeover, the below November, 2021 email (obtained via public records request) shows Strain bashing his colleagues on the board as “partisan hacks” with “little to no interest in the plight they have served upon our county’s youth” and repeatedly referring to the importance of voting for “conservative values.”


2.  Problematic views on racial equity:

There have been numerous examples of BOE member Sean Strain’s problematic views on race and racial equity throughout his first term on the board. 

According to this 2018 op-ed by Justin Perry, in a 2018 policy committee meeting Strain proposed delaying discussion of an equity committee for more than a year and used the “All Lives Matter”-like phrase “equity for all” in his proposal:

“Strain’s proposal discussed ‘equity for all students’ and initially called for delaying any discussion of an equity committee until December 2019, when a new school board will be elected.”

“Equity for all” been a common Sean Strain slogan during his time on the board:

The problem with championing “equity for all” is that it takes the focus away from those who have been denied equity (CMS’s students and families of color in this context).  And recognizing that absence of equity is the first step in addressing it.

In a September, 2022 Student Outcomes Focused Governance document, Strain mentioned his concern that by focusing too much on Black and Hispanic students we might abandon other subgroups:

Strain’s social media activity also demonstrates his opinion that structural racism isn’t real, and that our schools are hotbeds of activism. 

This post from the fringe right wing Moms for Liberty Mecklenburg Facebook group shows Strain feels the deaths of Trayvon Martin and George Floyd had nothing to do with systemic racism:

It also appears to show Strain’s view that Social Emotional Learning (SEL), the part of the school day where students learn how to interact with each other in positive, healthy ways and develop the skills they need to be successful in school and beyond, is just a way of sneaking Critical Race Theory past the public.

3.  Opposition to free expression/educator voice

In the year or so before Sean Strain was elected I had been working with board members and CMS staff to advocate for a statement in support of district employees’ rights to speak out about matters of workplace concern. 

The statement that was eventually developed read, in part “The Board welcomes employee input and celebrates every CMS employee’s right to respectfully share their views and ideas. The Board will act to ensure that employees feel free to express their views without fear of retribution.”

Shortly after Strain was elected I reached out to him to congratulate him and give him a heads up about the statement which would eventually be read from the dais in February 2018.  This was our exchange:

Strain’s response was cordial enough, but what stood out most to me was his remark that CMS needed “guidelines for how to most effectively, and appropriately, speak out.”  To me that indicated he felt there needed to be external controls over how educators express their personal views.

In the years since he took his seat on the board I have experienced Strain’s disdain for educators’ free expression on multiple occasions, much of it after the COVID-19 pandemic started.

From the very beginning of the pandemic I have been an outspoken advocate for prioritizing student and staff health and safety.  In the summer of 2020 I published a blog post which quoted the CDC Director’s guidelines for determining whether schools should move to virtual learning.  The post was written outside work hours (during summer break) and posted on my personal website.

Shortly afterwards, Strain sent this email to Superintendent Earnest Winston and Deputy Superintendent Matthew Hayes:

Board Chair Elyse Dashew’s excellent reply to Strain’s effort to get the superintendent to silence me noted “several occasions” where Strain had previously “attempted to apply pressure to censor [my] writing.”

Around that same time, Strain was using his CMS email to convince parents that I was personally responsible for school buildings remaining closed.

This vibe continued throughout the fall and winter of school year 2020-21, culminating with social media calls for me to be followed in public and a man showing up with a bullhorn and sign outside my house and frightening my wife and young child while I wasn’t home.

Our community deserves to have a school board that has healthy, respectful working relationships among elected members and with executive school district staff.  Racial equity has to be valued by each board member as they are representing families in a very diverse district.  And we also need board members who respect the first-hand insight professional educators bring to conversations about public education in Mecklenburg County.  

For those reasons and more, Sean Strain needs to be replaced on the Board of Education.

Summer Nunn is running to replace Mr. Strain in District 6 and has earned the endorsement of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators.  You can read Summer’s Charlotte Observer candidate profile here and find more information about her campaign on her website here.

Early voting begins Thursday, October 20, and runs through November 5. You can find a list of early voting locations in Mecklenburg County below:

Here’s a new advance screening of the disingenuous advertising campaign being planned for NC teacher merit pay

Here’s your advanced screening of the sequel of Maureen Stover’s Pathways to Excellence testimonial video (I shared version 1.0 earlier this month). 

The video is part of an advertising series that now-infamous marketing firm Eckel and Vaughan is putting together to try to sell merit pay for North Carolina teachers. 

Stover serves as co-chair for the PEPSC Advancement and Development subcommittee and has also agreed to sit on the Board of Directors of Eckel and Vaughan’s UpliftEd Coalition, a group which is being formed to drum up support for the controversial plan.

In the first part of her video, Mrs. Stover talks about the importance of shifting from valuing “inputs” (certificates/credentials) to “outputs” in order to gauge teacher effectiveness.  This represents a shift from her first video when Stover complained about not getting paid for her two master’s degrees when she moved to North Carolina. However, it is in line with comments she has made in PEPSC subcommittee meetings:

Screenshot of Southern Regional Education Board notes on PEPSC subcommittee meeting.
More info here.

The latter portion of Stover’s testimonial is essentially the same song from version 1.0. 

Stover mentions how important it is to her to stay in the classroom because she is in it for the kids, saying the only current way to grow as a teacher is to become an administrator.  She says it would be “incredible” if teachers had opportunities to grow by mentoring other teachers and says she is “extremely excited” that North Carolina is now looking for ways to make that happen.

If you work in schools you probably know that mentoring is already a thing.  What we don’t have is time or money to do it well.  That’s not a problem requiring merit pay to fix.

Of course, Eckel and Vaughan’s advertising campaign isn’t going to be about the truth.  It’s going to be about finding messaging that will aid in getting a system of merit pay passed into state law.

This is not it.


You can view the video and a transcript below:

My name is Maureen Stover, and I am the 2020 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

One of the things that is a challenge for teachers coming into North Carolina is that we don’t always do a good job of effectively identifying skills that teachers have that they are bringing to their classrooms from outside of the education world.  

So instead of looking just at inputs, something like a certificate or a credential that’s been earned, it’s important we’re also looking at the outputs to see how teachers are using that information that they have learned through those different courses to effectively teach their kids.  

There are many different opportunities for us to fully support our teachers and to have programs that will make teachers more impactful for their students in their classrooms.

Under the current North Carolina licensure system, the only real opportunity for me to grow and develop as part of my teaching practice would be to go into administration.  But as a classroom teacher, I am in the room for the kids.  And so I really want to remain a classroom teacher so that I can help them develop in their social-emotional learning and their academic learning needs.

When we have teachers who are excited to be in their classrooms, excited to be with their students, and excited to deliver instruction, it means that we have teachers who are going to impact their students in a positive way.  

One thing that would be incredible would be to give teachers the opportunity to lead not only in their classrooms but also among their peers by providing mentorship to other teachers that are also working in their schools.  And I am extremely excited that we are looking for ways to begin developing teachers and providing advancement opportunities for teachers who want to stay in the classroom and continue teaching their students and doing the best things that we need to do for all 1.5 million kids that are enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools.

 Long time Cabarrus County educator sues Board of Education over failure to turn over members’ text messages

An educator who spent more than 20 years teaching in Cabarrus County Schools before retiring due to her dissatisfaction with what she deems “North Carolina’s continued degradation of public schools” has filed a lawsuit in Cabarrus County Superior Court seeking “disclosure of public documents…along with the attorney’s fees recoverable under the Public Records Act.”

The complaint alleges the school district failed to turn over records related to school board business upon request, including board member text messages.

Kim Biondi began her teaching career in Cabarrus County in 1999.  She served as department chair and head of various school committees and was a finalist for Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year.  Biondi was also an active advocate for change in public education, including speaking up about pandemic safety measures. 

Biondi and others were vocal about the need for virtual learning and masking during the most dangerous points of the COVID pandemic.  They expressed their views in a variety of ways, including standing on public sidewalks holding signs outside Cabarrus Board of Education meetings.

Beginning in early 2021, Biondi and other outspoken educators were targeted by members of a social media group called Make A Difference headed by a Cabarrus resident named Kenneth Wortman.  Wortman started a petition calling for the removal of dozens of teachers as well as that of Superintendent Chris Lowder.

The petition reads, in part, “The teachers continuously break county policy by demonstrating, protesting, and trying to force their views to make a change. This happens in front of the board, and the superintendent allows it to continue.” 

Superintendent Lowder, an extremely popular and successful leader who had devoted thirty years to the district, abruptly announced his retirement in February 2021.

In addition to launching the petition, Wortman filed hundreds of grievances against Cabarrus County Schools teachers and staff alleging bullying and indoctrination. The grievances resulted in judicial hearings conducted by the Cabarrus Board of Education. Wortman was represented in the hearings by attorney Jonathan Vogel. In all cases, teachers who were targets of grievances kept their jobs.

Weeks after the grievance hearings were held, Cabarrus Board of Education terminated its attorney (Brian Shaw of Raleigh-based Schwartz and Shaw) and hired Jonathan Vogel as its new legal counsel. Wortman is on the November ballot for Cabarrus County Commission.

In the wake of the superintendent’s resignation and the dismissal of the board’s general counsel, the Cabarrus Board of Education eliminated the role of Board Clerk, a position which for years had been responsible for documentation and record keeping.

In January 2022, controversy erupted among Cabarrus educators after the district’s executive staff and principals received 6% raises while teachers were given just a 2% salary supplement increase. Shortly afterward, Cabarrus County Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kluttz suddenly resigned after more than twenty years with the district.

Kim Biondi was interested in learning more about how these controversial and highly impactful staffing changes had taken place. She had observed board members frequently on their cell phones during Cabarrus Board of Education meetings and suspected they were using text messages to communicate about official school business.

On February 4, 2022, the Cabarrus County Board of Education held an emergency meeting. Although the meeting was closed to the public, details about a confidential matter the board had dealt with during the meeting were soon being discussed by members of the “Make a Difference” social media group.

The next day Biondi filed a request for text exchanges between board members and text message communications between board members, their attorneys, and members of the public for the 10 days surrounding that closed board meeting.

In response to the request, then-Cabarrus County Schools Director of Communications and Public Information Ronnye Boone informed Biondi that “the district does not have access to board members’ personal cell phones.”

North Carolina public records law covers documents “regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if Cabarrus County Board of Education members were using personal cell phones, smoke signals or freaking carrier pigeons.  If they were communicating about school board business, the law is clear that those records must be furnished upon request.

Biondi also requested text messages involving the board clerk whose position had been eliminated.  She was informed that the clerk’s district cell phone had been “recycled,” so none of the data on it phone was available.

In June 2022 Biondi contacted Cabarrus County Schools leaders to urge compliance with her lawful information requests, giving them until August 1 to provide the documents “to avoid further legal action.”

On July 18, 2022, Biondi received a letter from Cabarrus’s Board attorney informing her that the district had decided to report her to the Department of Public instruction for the grievance that had been filed against her more than a year prior, despite the fact that she was no longer employed by CCS and no longer even had an active teaching license with the state.  Biondi perceived this move as retaliation for her dogged pursuit of public records. 

Biondi’s attorney filed a writ of mandamus in Cabarrus County Superior Court on September 16, 2022.  The complaint asks the court to compel Cabarrus Board of Education to produce the records Biondi requested, refrain from further destruction of public records, and pay for the legal fees she incurred in pursuing the records.

You can read Kim Biondi’s complaint and all supporting evidence below: