Thursday, September 29, 2011

More about money and motivation

Some readers of today's story about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools "talent effectiveness project" are skeptical of the notion that money doesn't motivate teachers to do better work.

I admit my eyebrows raised during Tuesday night's board meeting,  when Chief Human Resource Officer Daniel Habrat told the board it's not only ineffective but insulting to tell teachers,  "Here's a dollar;  do a better job."   Habrat came to CMS in March from Wells Fargo/Wachovia,  an industry known for offering quite a few dollars in performance bonuses.  I've never heard that bankers are insulted by that.

The next day,  I asked Habrat to elaborate.  Top performers,  in banking or any other business,  want to excel,  he said.  It's not that the best bankers would slack off without the bonus,  but that the competition could lure them away if pay and bonuses weren't competitive.

The market for teachers,  of course,  is different. Public schools employ the vast majority,  and the pay scale is set mostly by the state  (which has failed to provide experience-based raises or test-score-based bonuses for the last three years).  Mecklenburg County taxpayers provide a supplement to help CMS compete with other N.C.  districts.  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh said CMS used to offer the  state's top wages;  now,  he said,  it has fallen to fourth or fifth.

But Habrat said the long-term concern is the good teachers who work four or five years,  hit their stride,  then switch careers to better support a family.  CMS needs to figure out where those teachers are going and what kind of pay it would take to get top performers to enter and stick with teaching.

Of course,  finding the money remains a challenge.  The CMS timeline calls for the superintendent and top central-office staff to start getting part of their pay based on performance this school year,  with school administrators joining them next year.  Habrat said Tuesday that won't happen because the money isn't there.  Instead,  he said,  administrators will have performance-based goals that will be used to help them improve.  By 2013-14,  when teachers are slated to go online with performance pay,  officials would love to have consensus around standards and money to back it up.  But nothing's certain about that.

On Wednesday,  Hattabaugh told reporters he envisions teacher performance pay working much like principal pay:  If there's a 3 percent raise pool,  that doesn't mean everyone gets 3 percent.  A low performer might get nothing that year,  while a principal who meets all goals could get more  (lately, of course, that raise pool has dried up, too).

But,  as Hattabaugh quickly noted,  his gig as superintendent ends this summer.  It'll be up to the new leader to chart the path.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Choosing teams in CMS board race

The three departing at-large members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board have thrown their support to would-be replacements  --  and it's getting lively.

Kaye McGarry,  who has been the top votegetter for the last two elections,  held a news conference today to voice her support for candidates Keith Hurley and Ken Nelson.  She called the Nov.  8 election,  where 14 candidates are jousting for three seats,  an "opportunity and responsibility to reshape this board" and "move beyond the status quo mentality of the board leadership."

Hurley and Nelson talked about their opposition to standardized testing, taxing authority for the school board and the extra 45 minutes CMS added to the elementary school day this year.  Hurley also explained afterward why he switched from unaffiliated to Republican a couple of weeks ago:  He realized he was going to need more volunteers and support to win,  and he considers the GOP the stronger party in Mecklenburg.

Notably missing from McGarry's endorsements was the third Republican candidate:  District 6 representative Tim Morgan,  who's seeking an at-large seat.  Yes,  school board elections are nonpartisan,  but McGarry has never been shy about her party affiliation.  However,  she's generally on the opposite side of Morgan on votes,  and she said she couldn't in good conscience endorse him.

"He's already on the board.  He shouldn't be running,"  she said.

Morgan's campaign manager,  Lawrence Shaheen,  waited on the edges of McGarry's news conference to offer his take:  Morgan didn't want McGarry's endorsement,  because she has voted against most of the moves that have helped CMS make progress.

Morgan and Elyse Dashew have the support of the other two departing incumbents,  Trent Merchant and Joe White.  White also supports Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

White and Merchant both noted that they weren't holding press conferences to tout their preferrences.  Added White,  when told about McGarry's event:  "Whoever Kay endorsed I wouldn't vote for for all the tea in China."

Also today,  the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators announced its endorsements:  Mary McCray,  Hans Plotseneder and Darrin Rankin.  McCray recently retired as a CMS teacher and president of CMAE.  Plotseneder teaches at West Meck High.  Rankin, is an insurance agent and CMS parent.

Providence tops magazine's "best" list

Providence High again took the No. 1 spot on Charlotte Magazine's "Top Public High Schools" list.

Providence is a neighborhood school in southeast Charlotte with a long history of strong academics.  Second on the list is Cato Middle College High,  also part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  It's made up of juniors and seniors who apply to get in and take classes at a campus of Central Piedmont Community College.

The magazine ranked 47 schools in Mecklenburg,  Union and Cabarrus counties,  giving each a rating in environment --  class sizes, students in AP classes and teacher qualifications,  for example  --  and performance (SAT scores and graduation rate).

Third on the list was Union County's Marvin Ridge High,  which edged out Providence  on performance but landed much lower on environment.  East Meck was No.  1 on environment,  but 28th on performance.

North Meck jumped from No. 8 overall last year to No. 4 this year  --  interesting in view of the questions raised about how that last year's opening of northern Hough High would affect academics at North.  The list doesn't answer those questions,  because it's based mostly on 2010 data.  Neither Hough nor Rocky River High,  which also opened in August 2010,  is listed.


On another issue,  I'm curious to know what CMS staff thought of last night's presentation on the "talent effectiveness project"  (if you missed it, it's on video here).

There was vigorous discussion among board members and top administrators about how different this is from last year's "pay for performance" push,  which most are now describing as a bad start to a worthy goal.  Some members said it sounded mostly like repackaging;  others say this is a far more constructive approach to using "assessment" (the t-word is taboo in the latest presentation) to benefit kids and teachers.

I'll be heading back to the Government Center soon to hear more about this from the top folks.  Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Party tickets in CMS board race

It looks like the Democrats and Republicans will both be pushing three-person tickets for the Nov.  8 Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board race  --  and the process has gotten messy for both parties.

The board race is nonpartisan,  which means no primaries and no parties on the ballot.  But with 14 people jostling for three slots at a time when crucial decisions are being made,  both groups want to get their people elected.

The Mecklenburg Democratic Party hasn't made endorsements in recent school board elections.  But party Chair Aisha Dew said with so many candidates in what's traditionally a low-turnout race,  it's important that Democrats not spread their votes too thin.

The Mecklenburg Democrats apppointed a five-member endorsement committee that reviewed questionnaires and interviews done by other groups,  attended candidate forums,  did background checks,  interviewed the candidates,  talked with party members and analyzed who was most electable. The panel's unanimous recommendation:  Mary McCray,  Aaron Pomis and Ericka Ellis-Stewart.  The party's executive committee will vote Saturday on that recommendation.

The committee  "recommends that the slate be endorsed without reservation. Please remember, our real opposition is the other party and we as Democrats must be UNIFIED,"  says a letter sent to all the Democratic candidates Friday night,  signed by committee members Pamela Gordon,  Herman DeCastro,  Sam Spencer,  Gail Summerskill and Cozzie Watkins.

That didn't sit well with some of the Democrats left out:  Darrin Rankin,  Lloyd Scher,  Lisa Hundley,  DeShauna McLamb and Hans Plotseneder.

Rankin,  a member of the party's executive board,  notified the party Friday afternoon that he was resigning from that post to focus on the school board race.  He said Monday he was puzzled by the panel's decision but will remain an active Democrat.

Scher,  who served four terms as a Mecklenburg County commissioner,  says he and Rankin have been more active in the party than the people chosen:  "How do you think I feel?  I've been a Democrat since I was 10 years old,  working on John F. Kennedy's campaign."

Republicans have generally had an easy road to endorsements:  They tend to field one candidate per open seat and promote them heavily among party members.  But this year filing closed with four GOP contenders.  After a good bit of debate,  Scott Babbidge withdrew on Sept. 1,  leaving the party to endorse Tim MorganKen Nelson and Tom Davis.  Last week Davis also pulled out,  saying he wants to pursue a state House seat next year.

Meanwhile Keith Hurley,  who had filed as an unaffiliated voter and who got Babbidge's support,  switched his registration to Republican.  Local GOP officials didn't return calls Monday asking whether he'll be added to the endorsement slate.

For those who are keeping score,  the remaining candidates  --  Larry Bumgarner,  Elyse Dashew and Jeff Wise  --  are unaffiliated.  And the departing incumbents include one of each:  Republican Kaye McGarry,  Democrat Joe White and unaffiliated Trent Merchant.

Friday, September 23, 2011

CMS vs. Observer: Battle of brains

Forget about the Broad Prize. The real contest for academic bragging rights took place last night at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

That's where POST (Partners in Out-of-School Time) held its third annual "Are You Smarter Than a Middle Schooler?" competition to raise money for after-school and summer educational programs. Businesses and community groups form teams to test their skills on questions drawn from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' math, science, technology, language arts and social studies curriculum. The answers are revealed by real CMS middle schoolers on video, making the adults feel even dumber when they realize they've muffed an answer.

The Observer sends two teams, headed by editor Rick Thames and publisher Ann Caulkins. Last year, when I was out of town, Thames' team claimed victory. This year I was enlisted for the publisher's team.

The first familiar face I saw among the race cars was Cindy Moss, who's in charge of math and science for CMS. In addition to knowing the curriculum inside out, she's one of the smartest people I know. She was joined by Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark and performance pay guru Andy Baxter, who were with Moss on a team called BTCO. They gleefully explained this new acronym: Beat The Charlotte Observer.

Seems there had been a bit of trash-talking back and forth between Caulkins and Clark, who serve together on the POST board.

I wish I could relate a tale of victory for the Fourth Estate, but dang, those middle school questions are hard! By the second round, it was pretty clear that the best we could hope for was for BTCO not to win.

As it turns out, CMS did claim the victory, but in a much more satisfying way. The trophy went to Team McPIE, or McClintock Middle School Partners In Education. I've written about this school and its groundbreaking partnership with Christ Lutheran Church and other groups, and we couldn't have been defeated by a better crew.

So, hats off to McClintock teachers George Beyer, Zachary Chapman and Chris Hill and partners Jessica Beyer, Eric Pickersgill, Bruce Buckley and Kevin and Amy Daniels. Say what you will about the rest of us, but apparently middle school teachers actually are smarter than their students ... and their bosses.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Salary wars: Superintendents vs. CEOs

Former CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman is on the cover of the most recent District Administration magazine as an example of the pay gap between head honchos in public school systems and private enterprise.

An article on the magazine's 11th annual salary survey leads with the fact that News Corp. "snatched two leading school district administrators to head its new education division"  --  Gorman from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Kristen Kane,  former chief operating officer of the New York City Department of Education.

The article notes that battles over superintendent pay are raging nationwide.  Expect to hear a lot of debate locally about what CMS should pay its next superintendent,  which the board plans to hire in spring 2012.  The salary survey won't provide a clear answer on the going rate for a district this size,  simply because there are so few  (CMS is the nation's 18th largest district,  according the data sheet with the Broad Prize).

The national average for 2010-11 was $161,992,  according to the survey,  but most of those are for much smaller districts.  "Salaries of more than $225,000 were seen in districts with enrollment levels of more than 25,000 students,"  the article reports.  CMS has about 138,000.  Gorman was making $267,150 when he left,  with an additional $30,000 in supplemental retirement pay and the option for a performance bonus up to 10 percent.

The District Administration article quotes Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Superintendents, on salaries in that range:  "An outlier for a salary may be $300,000 for large city school systems,  and there aren’t too many of those.  If we’re looking at $300,000 as the high end, that same person in the private sector leading a company of that magnitude would be making well over $1 million  --  that’s just a fact.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CMS plans really big party

Where and how do you host a party for more than 17,000 people?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials are about to figure that out.  When The Broad Foundation awarded CMS the Broad Prize for urban education on Tuesday,  at a Washington,  D.C.,  ceremony attended by about 16 people from CMS,  they learned there's a benefit not listed in all the news releases.

In addition to the $550,000 in scholarships for the Class of 2012, it turns out the foundation will pay for a celebration to honor teachers, principals and others who did the work that led to the prize.  The foundation bases its decision on gains and achievement among minority and low-income students (read more about the selection process).

The foundation didn't mention a specific sum for the event,  and CMS has no details planned yet.  But chief spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry,  who will be in charge of organizing the festivities,  noted that the foundation knows how big CMS is  (about 17,750 employees),  and Broad isn't known for being tight-fisted.  "The goal is to make it big and make it all-inclusive,"  she said.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Performance pay rollercoaster

Charlotte-Mecklenburg isn't the only place struggling with whether and how to link teacher pay to student achievement,  and how to pay for any changes in the pay plan.  Education Week reports that some states and districts are scaling back or giving up on performance pay because of the money crunch and/or the lack of proven benefits.

At the same time,  the article says,  federal Race to the Top grants are providing millions to develop performance pay plans,  which is leading others to join the hunt for a new way to pay teachers.  (CMS,  you may recall,  is tapping Race to the Top money to develop a performance-pay plan and to hire two new PR people to explain it and monitor coverage.)

Meanwhile,  the fall issue of EducationNext reports that the American public favors basing teacher pay at least partly on student test scores by a margin of 47 percent in favor to 27 percent opposed  (some chose neither).  Teachers were 72 percent opposed and 18 percent in favor.

It's part of a report on the annual EducationNext-PEPG survey of about 2,600 respondents across the country,  looking at an array of education issues.  The biggest change from last year: Increased support for vouchers.  But the poll also found increased public support for basing teacher tenure on student test performance,  up from 49 percent to 55 percent.  Only 30 percent of teachers favored that idea.

It makes me think those new PR folks may want to take notes from blogger and commenter Bolyn McClung,  who has been talking about "the existing system of pay-for-seniority and tenure."  Last year,  the debate revolved around the pros and cons of the emerging CMS plan,  which raised a lot of opposition and questions,  especially among teachers.  But most of the people I talked to,  including teachers wary of the CMS changes,  acknowledged that the current pay system is flawed.  I suspect you get a very different discussion,  especially among non-teachers,  if the question is "Do you want to change the current plan?" rather than "Do you trust CMS' test-driven changes?"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Meck ACTS "watching," not yet endorsing

Mecklenburg ACTS, a n advocacy group that often speaks up for the needs of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's high-poverty schools and students,  has emailed the people who signed a testing petition urging them to  "take an especially close look"  at school board candidates Mary McCrayJeff Wise and Ericka Ellis-Stewart.

ACTS,  which is affiliated with the national Parents Across America,  partnered with the local Swann Fellowship to interview candidates for the three at-large seats on the CMS board  (click on the Swann link to see the interviews).

The email went to people who signed an online petition opposing CMS'  use of standardized testing to shape teacher performance pay.

"It was clear from the interviews that this spring's testing fight had placed the issue front and center in the school board race.   ...  Only one candidate  –  Tim Morgan  –  voiced strong support for expanded testing. Others were opposed to it.  Some candidates expressed concerns about testing,  yet felt strongly that results of tests should be used to evaluate teachers.  Some hedged to the point that we’re not sure where they stand,"  says the email,  forwarded by ACTS member Carol Sawyer.

"Mecklenburg ACTS leadership is not endorsing any candidates at this time,"  the email says,  but offers these thoughs on the three to watch:

"We were particularly impressed with the depth of understanding Mary McCray showed regarding a range of issues   –   an understanding that reflects her many years as a teacher and as leader of a major teachers'  association.

We liked Jeff Wise's eloquent discussion of the goals of schooling and the way that standardized testing undermines these goals.  Mr. Wise,  however,  is relatively new to this process,  and did not have strong positions on a number of other key issues.  We will be watching to see how he develops as a candidate.

Ericka Ellis-Stewart had clearly spent time thinking about the practical problems of standardized testing,  although she was vaguer than we would have liked about how much testing she would support.  We were impressed with her thoughtful discussion of other issues."

The Nov. 8 election is less than two months away,  and I know I need to get organized on coverage.  Candidates,  groups and interested individuals,  please keep me posted on endorsements and opportunities to meet the candidates. One that I know of: MeckEd and WFAE will host an interactive debate on Oct. 19;  click the MeckEd link for details and a chance to participate.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Broad trip and other news

Next week The Broad Foundation announces the winner of the 2011 Broad Prize for urban school districts.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is one of four finalists,  along with Miami-Dade and Broward County in Florida and Ysleta,  Texas.  The winner gets $550,000 in scholarships for this year's seniors, while the runners-up  --  a position CMS has claimed twice before  --  get $150,000.

The foundation will pay for former Superintendent Peter Gorman,  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh,  board Chair Eric Davis and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators President Randolph Frierson to attend Tuesday's ceremony in Washington,  D.C.    In addition,  CMS will spend about $6,800 in money from the Spangler Foundation on airfare and hotel rooms for 12 more people (hotel taxes and some plane tickets aren't in yet, so the total isn't precise).

On the attendance list:  Board members Kaye McGarry,  Trent Merchant,  Joe White and Joyce Waddell;  Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark;  Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley;  LaTarzja Henry, head of public information;  Judy Kidd,  president of the Classroom Teachers Association;  Karen Meadows,  a science teacher at Collinswood Elementary;   Vanessa Benton,  director of academic services;  and Kathryn Block and Rashidah Morgan, who are in administrative jobs paid for by The Broad Foundation.


In other bits from a busy week:  MeckEd put out an interesting report on Mecklenburg County's 11 charter schools this week. Most intriguing is an at-a-glance matrix that compares per-pupil spending, which ranges from $5,546 at Queens Grant Community School to $24,185 at Metrolina Scholars Academy.

Charters are public schools run by independent boards,  rather than county school districts.  They get state money and a per-pupil share of the money Mecklenburg commissioners provide for CMS.  Many supplement that spending with grants and fund-raising.  Unlike regular public schools,  charters don't get money for buildings,  which is part of what contributes to the per-pupil gap.  Metrolina is in the middle of a capital campaign to buy a former office building, and that bumped up the tally.

Kudos to MeckEd for diving into charters.  They're a relatively small but important part of public education,  and I've never found time to give them the attention I'd like to.


Following up on the new contracts approved for a dozen CMS administrators earlier this week:  After initial reports that there were no pay hikes, it turns out that Scott McCully's pay went from $107,765 to $121,014, a 12 percent raise.  McCully's title is still executive director of student placement,  but as part of the shuffling of duties when Hattabaugh became interim superintendent,  McCully took charge of CMS police,  athletics and alternative education.


Speaking of job shuffles: Co-blogger and fellow education reporter Eric Frazier has stepped into an editing job for the coming year.  We're rearranging positions to gear up for the Democratic National Convention.  Eric's move is great for him and the Observer,  though I hate to lose him from the beat  (he escaped once,  to do social media,  but we reeled him back in for the past year).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CMS leadership: Stability and change

Update at 5:40 p.m.: Tahira Stalberte of the public information office says she just found out she got incorrect information last night when she told me there were no raises. Scott McCully, who oversees student placement, got additional duties and a raise, she said. She said she would find out how much tomorrow.

Last night the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board gave a dozen top staffers contracts that run through June 2013,  with only Kaye McGarry dissenting.  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh told the board the contracts,  which will run about a year past the arrival of a yet-to-be named superintendent,  will help keep CMS on track through a time of change.  When a superintendent leaves,  he said,  other districts often come sniffing around the most talented staff,  hoping the uncertainty about their future makes them ripe for hiring.

The new or renewed contracts don't bring any pay hikes, according to public information staff who checked.

And the contracts don't mean the new superintendent can't bring in his or her own aides.  As Hattabaugh noted,  his own former job as chief operating officer is unfilled,  as is the chief accountability officer's job vacated when Robert Avossa because superintendent in Fulton County, Ga.  And new leaders have a way of shuffling staff and creating new titles.

The board also approved PROACT Search, an education search firm headquartered in Illinois, to help find the next top dog. Read the contract and work plan here.

Meanwhile, the board also heard a report on CMS efforts to build a leadership pipeline that covers everything from preparing teachers to move into school administration to identifying principals who would be strong contenders for top posts in the district.  "I believe we are about a year away from one of the strongest principal groups in this nation,"  Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark told the board.

Several board members said developing talent is one of the most important things the district can do to ensure strong,  ongoing success for schools.  Certainly I've seen the pattern that's known throughout the country:  A visionary principal creates a "beat the odds" school,  gets promoted,  and the new principal can't sustain the gains.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rethinking retention

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's new preK-8 schools are less than three weeks old,  but Ashley Park Principal Tonya Kales reports one unexpected lesson:  She's rethinking the value of making children repeat a grade.

A longtime elementary school teacher and administrator,  Kales says she's been among those who think it can help to hold back a kindergartener who's struggling with basic skills or a third-grader who's far behind in reading and math.

Then her middle-schoolers reported,  and she realized some will celebrate their 16th birthdays in eighth grade.  They're physically and socially out of step with their younger classmates,  and they're frustrated at not being in high school.  Most,  Kales says,  were held back in early grades,  when it seemed like no big deal.  Now their parents and teachers are trying desperately to keep them from giving up on school.

Kales is getting a first-hand look at what the N.C. School Psychology Association has been saying for years:  "It turns out that retention is not a 'gift of time,'  as might be intended,  but a year-long sentence to be served,"  says a 2005 NCSPA position statement.

Research done at CMS found that children do perform better when they repeat a grade,  but in subsequent years they fall behind classmates who were weak on skills but were not held back.  By eighth grade,  the held-back students are far more likely to fail exams and get suspended,  the study found.

"Retention is the most powerful predictor of who will drop out,"  the position paper says.  "One retention increases the likelihood by 4 to 5 times;  two retentions increase the likelihood of dropping out to almost 100 percent."

The NCSPA doesn't advocate turning a blind eye and "socially promoting" students without addressing their failures.  Instead,  it urges schools to find ways to keep children with their peers while providing the extra help to catch up.

Update at 6:20 p.m.:  Just stumbled on a clip I'd been looking for this morning.  In 2010,  Superintendent Peter Gorman made it tougher for principals to retain students,  for pretty much the reasons cited above.  "We don't believe a student who is 17 and in their middle-school years is ever going to graduate, "  Gorman said.  "We've got to get them into an alternative high school setting."

CMS has created alternative settings,  such as the Transitional 9 Program at Hawthorne High.  But that doesn't help students who have already been held back;  they can't get into alternative high-school programs until they complete eighth grade.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

CMS testing ramping up early

Fresh off summer vacation, many students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools find themselves staring down another crop of district-wide tests. CMS calls the tests "formatives," which is to say they help formulate the rest of the semester's instruction by giving teachers an early read on students' aptitude. Some students took the tests on the very first day of classes, said Scott Muri, chief information officer for CMS.

The formatives, which are optional, aren't the same as the 50-plus mandatory new end-of-semester tests that sparked all the commotion last spring. Those are called "summatives," which aim to show what kids have learned at the end of a semester. Muri said the formatives were first used last year. (They included math and language arts tests in grades preK-8, as well as fifth and eighth grade science. In high schools: English I, Algebra I, biology, U.S. history and civics and economics).

CMS is expanding the number of formatives this year to fill in subject areas where no formatives were offered. Muri said CMS is adding science and social studies in grades preK-8, and high schools will add English II, III and IV, Algebra II, geometry, chemistry, world history and earth/environmental science. The existing tests were also updated, with input from teams of teachers who met over the summer. The obvious question: are the formatives expanding because of the controversial introduction of the summatives last spring? Muri said no -- at least not in a specific sense of one causing the other. The only connection, he said, lies in the general sense that CMS is expanding its overall testing program to give teachers more feedback on student performance. The goal of the tweaks with the formatives, he said, is "just to improve, to make sure what we're doing is as effective as it can be."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

School board candidate filed on time

Hans Plotseneder, one of the many candidates running for the school board, takes issue with a story of ours from last week which identified him as one of several candidates who failed to file their financial disclosure reports on time. He said he sent his campaign finance disclosure report to election officials in Raleigh via e-mail before the July 29 deadline expired. A signed copy dated July 29 was sent by regular mail to the Mecklenburg elections board, he said. Mecklenburg officials said that is correct, though they stamped it as having been received on Aug. 2, which appears to be when the mailed copy arrived at their offices. A clerk at the office said Plotseneder was in compliance with disclosure rules.

Friday, September 2, 2011

GOP jostling and the Chamber "endorsement"

There may not be a school board primary,  but the GOP held a de facto selection process Thursday night to winnow four Republican candidates into a three-person slate.

Political newcomer Scott Babbidge eventually bowed out,  clearing the way for the party to endorse Tom DavisTim Morgan and Ken Nelson for the three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board.  Parties aren't listed on the ballot,  and last time around, voters chose a Republican,  a Democrat and an independent.  But the GOP likes to have a slate to promote to voters.

This year's slate  is hardly united.

Morgan,  who now represents District 6,  says he's in it to ensure that the board's current reform plan continues,  even as CMS seeks a new superintendent.  The other Republicans are taking more of a "shake things up" tack.

In his withdrawal statement,  Babbidge took a shot at Morgan for "jeopardizing his current seat" ( actually, if Morgan loses the at-large race he keeps the seat)  and refusing to make way for three additional Republicans, "further solidifying that his motives are more about himself and his own political aspirations than serving our community."  He personally endorsed Davis,  Nelson and independent Keith Hurley.

Davis says the word went out in June, even before candidates began filing, that the Charlotte Chamber had announced endorsements for the board,  including Tim Morgan,  brother of Chamber President Bob Morgan. "It's not fair for the people that have got all the money in downtown Charlotte to say,  'These are the people we want on the board.' "

Davis's account is only partly correct,  says Natalie English,  the chamber's public policy executive.  As Davis reports,  chamber member Pat Riley did tell others on the chamber's June trip to Seattle that he thought Morgan and Elyse Dashew would represent the chamber's interests well.  Riley added that it would be good to have a "candidate of diversity" representing the county,  English said.

But that's not an official chamber endorsement,  she added.  The chamber hasn't had a PAC or made endorsements in years.  Individual members have thrown their weight behind candidates,  but they aren't unanimous, English said:  "If there were such a thing as a chamber slate, it would be more like five people."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

No big bucks in CMS race

Despite all the buzz about the importance of this year's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board race,  campaign finance reports indicate a big ho-hum from donors.

The 16 people seeking three at-large seats in November were supposed to file a mid-year report on donations and spending by July 29.  The reports on file with the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections show Elyse Dashew leading the pack with almost $12,000 raised (her biggest donations are from out-of-state family members).

Update 4 p.m.: Aaron Pomis's report shows him with almost $10,000. But as an alert caller suggested, those numbers were actually money that he raised and spent in his 2009 district campaign. Pomis says the Board of Elections instructed him to repeat those numbers; he's now trying to figure out if he got bad advice, and if so, correct his report.

Beyond that,  nobody reports more than $1,000 coming in,  and some haven't updated their reporting since the early months of the year.

Granted,  campaign energy tends to crank up about now.  But consider the contrast:  This time in 2009,  first-time candidate Eric Davis (now board chair) had filed a 57-page report detailing almost $28,000 in contributions.  He ended up raising and spending $58,000 to win the seat representing the compact District 5 in south/central Charlotte.

The current pack have to make their names and views known throughout this sprawling county.  With all three incumbents stepping aside,  there was talk early in the year that this would be a big-spending race, with newcomers having a real shot at leadership in public education.

So, what's up?  Is the lingering recession squelching big donations,  or will they just land later in the year?  Are candidates focusing more on social networking and public forums?  If the landscape of school-board campaigns has shifted,  who will win and lose?  Will CMS employees or any other interest group turn out in numbers large enough to tip what's usually a low-turnout off-year race?

I guess we'll find out this fall.