Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Little money in school board race so far

Eric Davis,  who's seeking re-election as the District 5 representative to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board,  has the fund-raising lead by a long shot in the early financial reports that were due Friday.  As of June 30,  Davis reported he had raised just under $7,700,  including $500 from former N.C. Board of Education Chairman Howard Haworth;  $500 from John Belk,  president of Belk Inc.;  $250 from current state Board of Education member John Tate;  and $500 each from Anna Nelson of the C.D. Spangler Foundation,  co-chair of Project LIFT,  and her husband Tom Nelson.

Davis'  mid-year tally falls far short of the $27,767 he had at the same point in 2009,  as he was gearing up his first political campaign.  He said Tuesday he now has $15,000 lined up.  "I intend to run as vigorous and successful a campaign as I did in 2009,"  he said.

But it's definitely a different scenario this time,  with five of six incumbents seeking re-election.  Four years ago five of six elected incumbents had either decided not to run or resigned to become county commissioners,  clearing the way for a five-member majority of newcomers to be elected.

Thelma Byers-Bailey,  seeking the D2 seat,  is the only other candidate who filed a report disclosing fund-raising before June 30.  She reports having $2,755 as of that date,  including $675 from herself and smaller contributions from a number of donors.

Davis' D5 challenger,  Edward Donaldson,  is one of two candidates who filed statements saying they don't intend to raise or spend more than $1,000,  which frees them from having to file additional reports. The other is Doug Wrona,  one of three D6 candidates.

None of the other incumbents  --  Rhonda Lennon in D1,  Richard McElrath in D2, unchallenged Joyce Waddell in D3 and Tom Tate in D4 -- has filed a midyear finance report,  an indicator that they hadn't started their fund-raising by June 30.  McElrath and Tate haven't even filed organization papers to create a campaign committee.

Likewise,  candidates Queen Elizabeth Thompson in D4 and Bolyn McClung in D6 have yet to file organizing reports.  Paul Bailey,  the third D6 candidate,  reports giving his campaign a $500 start-up loan.  Christine Mast in D1 reports having $160,  including $100 from herself.

Longtime Elections Director Michael Dickerson says it's not unusual to see a slow start to school board campaigns.  The nonpartisan race has no primary before the Nov. 5 election,  and tends to be overshadowed by city races until the Sept. 10 primary is over.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Comfort index: Another way to parse teacher pay

North Carolina's average teacher pay may be among the lowest in the nation,  but when you figure in the cost of living it rises to low average,  according to a "salary comfort index" created by the web site

Yesterday's post about teacher pay got a lot of discussion going. It highlighted a chart based on a National Education Association report that puts North Carolina dead last on a ranking of how inflation-adjusted teacher salaries have changed over the past decade.  Just ranking average salaries,  that study puts us at 46th.

Reader Wilton Carter Jr.,  who describes himself as a retiree and a taxpayer,  said he thinks the comfort index provides a more realistic picture of working conditions.  A teacher might make more money in another state,  he notes,  but see it eaten up by higher living costs.

TeacherPortal,  which is run by the online marketing firm QuinStreet,  rates North Carolina 35th on the comfort index,  with South Carolina 32nd.  Connecticut is rated as the most financially comfortable state for teachers,  and Hawaii the least.

The site uses the NEA data as a starting point but also uses  "job surveys and private data analyses"  to calculate average salaries,  which are weighed against cost of living.  The pay numbers are slightly different;  the NEA pegs North Carolina's average at $45,947 while TeacherPortal puts it at $46,605,  with 10 states lower.  TeacherPortal also lists starting salaries;  North Carolina is 45th at $30,779.

I don't know enough about living elsewhere to have a reading on whether the comfort index matches reality.  Northeastern states that I think of as expensive ranked better than North Carolina:  New Jersey is 15th with an average salary of  $66,612,  New York 24th at $72,208.  Even California is a couple of notches above North Carolina at 33,  with an average salary of $67,871.  The worst on the mainland were Arkansas ($46,500),  Vermont ($50,141) and New Hampshire ($52,792).

The dueling lists show what we all know:  Numbers can be sliced and diced a lot of different ways.  It's always helpful to know if the folks doing the analysis have an agenda.  NEA obviously favors higher teacher pay.  QuinStreet's purpose seems to attracting readership from current and aspiring teachers,  who may then click through to sponsoring schools of education.

Monday, July 29, 2013

N.C. teacher pay: Worse than Mississippi?

There's a chart that's making the rounds showing North Carolina as a dead and dismal last on teacher compensation,  even before last week's vote to withhold raises for 2013-14.  Bill Anderson of MeckEd sent it to Superintendent Heath Morrison,  who's been mentioning it at every opportunity.

The graphic presentation comes from a North Carolina teacher's blog, Teaching Speaks Volumes,  but the numbers come from a National Education Association report on state rankings.

You're probably more familiar with another list from that report, ranking our state 46th in average teacher salaries,  about $10,000 below the national average (and $1,500 below South Carolina).  That's nothing to boast about,  but heck,  we're ahead of West Virginia and Mississippi.

The chart highlights another way of looking at it.  The NEA calculated salaries in inflation-adjusted dollars and charted the change over the past decade,  from 2001-02 to 2011-12.  Teacher salaries across the nation declined almost 3 percent by that measure,  while North Carolina's dropped almost 16 percent.  Indiana had the next-biggest decline at 10 percent.

You can quibble over whether we're last or almost last,  but either way it's a picture that's raising questions about the state's commitment to teachers, students and public education.

At a forum last week on the state's Read to Achieve program, moderator Mike Collins asked Morrison and top officials of three other nearby districts whether North Carolina is a good place to teach.  "No!"  called several people in the audience of about 200 educators and advocates.

Crystal Hill,  executive director of elementary education for the Mooresville Graded School District, said the daughter of Superintendent Mark Edwards recently chose a teaching job in Tennessee over offers from her home state because she can make $11,000 a year more.

"My personal feeling is that clearly there is an attack on public education,"  Hill said.

The administrators were all polished speakers,  but my favorite quote of the evening came from an audience member who identified himself only as a grandfather whose mother had been a teacher.  He talked about the push for accountability in the face of cuts.  "They want you to build a house,"  he said,  "but they won't give you no plywood,  no nails,  no saws,  no hammers."

Friday, July 26, 2013

New tests to map path for students, CMS

If you've got kids in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  get ready for more tests and a new acronym:  MAP.

Measures of Academic Progress,  a computerized testing system created by the nonprofit Northwest Evaluation Association,  will be a cornerstone of the district's efforts to make sure all students are on track to graduate high school and succeed in college or careers,  Superintendent Heath Morrison and Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes told the school board this week  (see the presentation here).

MAP reading and math tests will be given to students in grades 3-8 in fall,  winter and spring,  Morrison said.  Some schools used the system last year,  with others starting in 2013-14.  By 2014-15,  Morrison and Barnes said,  all elementary and middle schools will be using MAP,  with results used to report on whether students are on track to graduate.

"More tests"  is not a phrase that's likely to generate applause among teachers and parents.  Board members and Morrison were quick to say they're concerned about overtesting and have urged the state to ease up on mandatory end-of-year exams  (which will be given in addition to the MAPs).

But Morrison said MAP is the right kind of testing:  It provides timely information about what kids know and what they need help with,  in a format that students and parents can understand.  "Most parents ask a simple question:  Is my child reading on grade level?"  Morrison told the board.  He said MAP lexile scores make it easy to see whether students are at,  above or below grade level, and what each student needs to do to improve. And the tests are designed to provide consistent year-to-year tracking,  something that's a challenge with ever-changing state exams.

Northwest,  or NWEA,  defines its approach as based on  "kid-centric education,"  with test results used to help teachers design individual strategies for learning.  President and CEO Matt Chapman writes that he is seeing an increased use of student results to evaluate teachers  --  one of the driving forces behind new N.C. exams -- and supports that approach only if it's part of a balanced evaluation system that focuses on helping teachers improve.

"Teaching is a complex task with numerous factors involved,  and teachers deserve to be treated with respect rather than threatened with public retribution based on test results that almost certainly do not present a comprehensive view of how a teacher is performing,"  Chapman writes (read the full post here). "The national fixation on testing,  especially standardized accountability testing,  is unfortunate and can hurt student learning."

Of course,  the most meaningful reviews come from those who have seen any system in action.  So if you've experienced MAP already,  please weigh in and let the rest of us know what to expect.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Will vouchers spur new schools?

Will North Carolina see a spurt of new private schools opening in 2014-15,  when $4,200  "opportunity scholarships"  become available for low-income students?

Superintendent Heath Morrison,  no fan of sending public money to private schools,  says the Florida system that served as the model for North Carolina's new vouchers sparked a round of new private schools,  some of which closed or did a poor job of educating students.  Jonathan Sink,  the CMS legislative liaison,  said he'd expect to see area churches open schools to take advantage of the scholarships.

Morrison noted with skepticism that $4,200 a year isn't enough to cover tuition at most private schools in the Charlotte area.  The most prestigious schools,  such as Charlotte Country Day,  Charlotte Latin and Providence Day School,  run about $20,000 a year.  A study by the pro-voucher Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina pegged Mecklenburg's median tuition at $7,750 to $9,565,  depending on grade level.

Tom Franz,  head of Trinity Episcopal School in uptown Charlotte, says the scholarships will help students from families of modest means get an education at established, successful private schools.  Trinity,  where tuition is about $15,000 a year,  provides financial aid to many students,  he said,  but it's seldom enough to cover the family's full need.  A state scholarship coupled with Trinity's aid might help more students be able to stay for several years.  "This is the kind of thing that makes it doable and affordable for families,"  Franz said.

Everyone's still figuring out the details of the new program,  but Franz said it appears to be similar to the privately-funded Children's Scholarship Fund,  which he considers a successful approach.  Most independent schools aren't interested in government money if it comes with strings attached,  Franz said,  but the opportunity scholarships appear to leave the decision-making to the independent boards that run the schools.

Franz agrees with Morrison that the opportunity to get public money may inspire new schools to open,  and that some of them may be poor quality.  The same could be said of new charter schools springing up,  he said  --  some will be excellent and some will be weak.

Charter schools,  like traditional public schools,  must give their students state exams and be rated on the results  (A-F letter grades will debut in August 2014).  Morrison questioned why private schools that take tax money won't be held to the same accountability standards.

Darrell Allison,  president of PEFNC,  says vouchers aren't likely to inspire successful students to leave good public schools.  Instead,  he says,  it's a chance for students who aren't thriving to leave schools that aren't serving them well.  And his group contends that if a student gets a better education for $4,200 in public money  --  compared with more than $8,000 per pupil in public schools  --  it's not only a good deal for the family but for taxpayers.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

CMS disappointed in school gun vote

After sorting through a lot of bleak budget news early this week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders hoped they'd win their fight to keep guns out of school parking lots.  But Tuesday night legislators approved House Bill 937 with the clause intact that allows people with concealed handgun permits to keep those guns in locked compartments of vehicles on school grounds.

Jonathan Sink,  CMS' legislative liaison,  and Randy Hagler,  interim chief of the CMS Police Department,  had gone to Raleigh to argue that the bill does nothing to keep schools safe,  even in the scenario that some gun advocates envision in which an armed good guy takes out a school shooter.  "How does it make schools safer if guns are stored in locked cars?"  Sink asked.

He says Mecklenburg County has about 8,500 car break-ins a year,  which means guns sitting in school lots are guns that could end up stolen.

Police chiefs at all 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system made a similar argument, according to the Associated Press.  The bill now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for signing.

At a Wednesday news conference, Superintendent Heath Morrison said he hasn't seen the gun bill but opposes anything that allows guns on school property.  He said he believes police officers should be the only people carrying weapons at school.

And he noted that the day Hagler went to Raleigh to oppose allowing guns on school grounds was the day two CMS students got into a shootout with police in the parking lot of Hidden Valley Elementary.  A 17-year-old student died in the incident.  Morrison said that illustrates the danger of guns getting into the hands of students.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

School board travel tab rising

Travel costs for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board are rising,  in part because members want to have a stronger voice in national policy.

The board allots $5,150 a year for the chairman to travel and $3,100 for each of the other eight members,  a total of $29,950 a year.  For the last couple of years they spent far less -- $17,529 in 2011-12 and $12,500 the year before.

For 2012-13,  the board spent $24,024.  At-large member Ericka Ellis-Stewart,  who was board chair for the first half of the budget year,  spent just over $7,200,  the largest amount  (read the summary for all members here).  Obviously that's more than her normal allotment,  even figuring half a year at the higher rate.  Current Chairman Mary McCray says the board agreed to cover her travel costs for Council of Urban Boards of Education sessions when the board endorsed her appointment to the CUBE steering committee.  The steering committee meets five times a year at locations around the country,  and members are required to attend four of those meetings,  McCray said. The board added $5,000 to Ellis-Stewart's travel budget for that purpose.

This month,  Ellis-Stewart went to a CUBE summer issues seminar in Seattle at a cost of about $1,870.  She was one of three members,  along with McCray and Joyce Waddell,  who went to the National School Boards Association annual conference in San Diego,  at a cost of more than $2,000 each.  She also spent almost $1,200 on an NSBA Federal Relations Network conference in Washington, D.C., and about the same on a trip to Indianapolis for the Council of the Great City Schools fall conference.

Ellis-Stewart's role is part of the board's strategy for making their views known to local,  state and national lawmakers,  all of whom shape education policy and spending in CMS.  McCray,  a Democrat,  and Vice Chair Tim Morgan,  a Republican,  have spent a lot of energy lobbying the Republican-dominated state legislature and the Democratic-majority county commission.  Ellis-Stewart,  also a Democrat, was tapped to be the expert in national issues.

McCray was the second-largest spender,  with a 2012-13 tab just over $4,500.  Other than the San Diego conference,  that travel was in-state.  Morgan spent about $1,200,  all of it for in-state travel.

Waddell spent just over $4,000 on the San Diego trip and four in-state conferences,  including some of Richard McElrath's unspent allotment.

Eric Davis took the most expensive single trip,  spending almost $3,100 to join the Chamber of Commerce inter-city trip to New York City in October 2012.

Rhonda Lennon and Richard McElrath spent nothing on travel last year,  according to the CMS tally.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

School board competition coming?

Halfway through filing,  we have exactly one candidate signed up for each of the six Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board district seats.

Surely that will change in the coming week.  Uncontested school board races are a rarity.  Four years ago,  five of the six district races had competition,  with District 3 pulling nine candidates.  In 2011,  14 people signed up for the three at-large seats.

Let me apologize in advance for temporarily ignoring anyone who files next week. I'll be off and will catch up on the race when I return July 22.

A couple of leave-behinds for all that free time you'll have without reading my blog:  First, I almost overlooked this interesting report from the N&O's Lynn Bonner on the state Board of Education trying to figure out the best way to use the new state exams.  Many of us will be eager to see what they come up with in August.

Second, I just stumbled across an entertaining self-parody by some Teach For America cadets,  called "S*it TFAers Say"  (thanks to ed blogger Alexander Russo for sharing it).  A few phrases baffled me,  but anyone who spends time around educators will surely get a few good chuckles of recognition.  As Russo notes,  the video "reveals an admirable level of self-awareness."  Enjoy!

Friday, July 12, 2013

CMS: California weekend wasn't on taxpayer tab

A reader emailed to ask about a recent business trip Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrators made to California.  They left on Friday,  this reader said,  for meetings that started on Monday.  He wanted to know who was paying for the weekend.

The reader is mostly right.  Superintendent Heath Morrison,  Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark, School Performance Chief Kelly Gwaltney,  Learning Services Chief Valerie Truesdale and Central Learning Community Superintendent Kit Rea went to California on Friday,  June 28, to learn more about using technology to "design schools of choice,"  said CMS Communication Chief Kathryn Block. There was a meeting on Friday,  she said,  with most of the business done Monday and Tuesday.

The district spent $6,005 for airfare, car rental and lodgings,  Block said,  but over the weekend the administrators were on their own for lodging and meals.

The trip included meetings with IDEO,  a Silicon Valley consulting firm that has worked with San Francisco schools;  the superintendent and school board members in Napa Valley public schools;  and Apple,  which is heavily involved in digital education.  Block said one benefit of the trip is that Apple is sending staff to lead a  "transformation summit"  for CMS principals in August,  at company expense.

Does switching students fix a school?

How do you fix a failing school?  Charlotte-Mecklenburg's turnaround plan for Hawthorne High illustrates the slippery nature of that all-important question.

You have to start by defining a failing school.  For the purposes of North Carolina's school improvement grants,  falling into the bottom 5 percent for performance on English and math exams qualifies.  That's a group that includes Hawthorne,  where fewer than 40 percent of students passed English I and algebra I in 2012.  Based on that,  CMS recently received a three-year grant.

But low scores at Hawthorne are hardly a surprise. It has been an alternative school serving ninth-graders who failed eighth-grade reading and math exams.

The CMS improvement strategy?  Phase out that program and replace it with a health science magnet.  The switch is almost guaranteed to boost pass rates.

The new Hawthorne High may well provide a valuable resource for students,  who will get a chance to work with nearby hospitals to prepare for high-demand careers.  But as a school improvement plan,  it seems a bit like reducing a hospital's mortality rates by replacing the intensive care unit with a maternity ward.  The numbers will improve,  but what does that meant for the sickest patients?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Principal pipeline: Promise and hurdles

Developing a cadre of effective principals isn't easy, according to a new Wallace Foundation study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and five other districts.

"Building a Stronger Principalship"  chronicles the first-year efforts of six districts trying to develop a  "principal pipeline."  Those districts  --   CMS;  New York City;  Denver;  Gwinnett County, Ga.; Hillsborough County, Fla.;  and Prince George's County, Md.  --  will continue the grant-supported study through 2016,  trying to find better ways to recruit,  train and evaluate principals and assistant principals.

West Charlotte's John Wall (center), one of Morrison's first principal hires

One early hazard noted:  A focus on accountability can lead to principal firings,  "thus simultaneously increasing the demand for new principals while making the position less attractive to prospective applicants." That may sound familiar in an area that has seen significant principal churn and complaints that veterans are being run off.  But CMS wasn't one of the three districts where the issue was noted.  The study includes this quote from New York City (a district that hires as many as 200 principals a year):  "The principalship is not that attractive any more. People see it as a career ender. Think about it: you go into a failing school, you’re given maybe two years to turn it around, and if you don’t, you’re gone [and no longer have a job]."

The study gives CMS credit for a strong partnership with Winthrop University,  which collaborated with district leaders to create a Leaders for Tomorrow graduate program to train principals with the skills CMS seeks. The district is also noted for its five-year program of coaching and education for new principals.

The study focuses on 2011-12,  the transition year between Peter Gorman and Heath Morrison.

During his first year,  which just ended,  Morrison named 26 principals,  including one for the new Grand Oak Elementary that brings CMS to 160 schools.  Morrison told me he counts it as a victory that there seems to be less confusion and turmoil about principal changes than there was when he arrived.  He credits that partly to better communication and community involvement.  He's also striving to create enough of a leadership bench that when a successful principal moves on,  there's a member of that school team ready to step in.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

School library gets summer visits

Who goes to school on summer vacation when they don't have to?

A small but steady stream of students, siblings and parents at Cornelius Elementary are stopping by on Wednesday afternoons to read, use the school iPads and take Accelerated Reader tests. No one's getting paid to open the school library during vacation,  but media specialist Pam Lilley and literacy facilitator Annalee Taylor are coming in anyway.

They join countless educators, community groups and families doing their part to avoid what Lilley calls  "the summer slide" that happens if kids spend their vacation vegging in front of TV sets or video games.  Summer break can also be tough on middle-aged education reporters who miss being around cute kids,  which is why I headed north to serve as a guest reader.

The visit was reminder of all the things educators do,  often on their own time and their own dime,  to support their students.  It also reminded me that schools defy easy labels.  Cornelius is known for being home to some of the county's most affluent lakeside neighborhoods.  But as Lilley told me,  the suburban school also serves students who don't have computers at home and might need a little help to make sure they've got books to read.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

CarolinaCAN targets N.C. teacher pay, tenure

A national education-reform group is launching a North Carolina branch to push for changes in teacher pay, tenure and evaluations.

The N.C. Campaign for Achievement Now, or CarolinaCAN, is the seventh state spinoff from 50CAN, a national group trying to create like-minded organizations across the country. CarolinaCAN will formally debut today with an analysis of shortcomings in student achievement,  followed by a "Year of the Teacher" push for evaluations,  pay and layoffs to be linked to student results and other measures of effectiveness (find the issue brief at the CarolinaCAN web site above).

"Our state has an honored tradition of education leadership,"  the introduction says. "But there is so much more needed to support and leverage our great teachers. Three reforms will help us get there: improving our statewide teacher evaluation system, reforming the state’s outdated tenure and layoff systems, and creating meaningful rewards for excellence. This brief outlines the shortcomings of the current evaluation, tenure, layoff and compensation policies, and proposes reforms to re-position North Carolina as a national leader in teacher excellence."

Julie Kowal,  a North Carolina native formerly with the education consulting firm Public Impact,  is the new group's executive director. Public Impact is working with the Charlotte-based Project LIFT to design new "opportunity culture" jobs that give highly effective classroom teachers higher pay for taking on more responsibility.

Figuring out how local this new group is takes some teasing out.  50CAN,  which originated in Connecticut,  has a plan to spend almost $7 million on education policy campaigns in the seven states (Rhode Island,  Minnesota,  Maryland,  New York,  Pennsylvania and New Jersey are the others).  That money comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,  the Walton Family Foundation and other major donors,  says Fiona Hoey,  the group's media and marketing director. So far the site lists no donors specific to North Carolina,  and the advisory board has yet to be named.

The CarolinaCAN site says the national group recruited "a group of independent, nonpartisan organizations dedicated to top-notch schooling to consider joining forces to help improve the education landscape" in North Carolina, with those organizations helping 50CAN  "and local partners" create CarolinaCAN and launch "The Year of the Teacher."  The N.C. founders,  in addition to Public Impact and Project LIFT, are  listed as KIPP charter schools in Charlotte and Gaston; the Charlotte office of New Leaders (recently joined by former CMS Chief Operating Officer Millard House);  Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina; and Teach For America offices in Charlotte and eastern North Carolina.. Teach For America President Matthew Kramer chairs the 50CAN board.

In other states,  including Minnesota and Rhode Island,  CAN political action groups have pumped money into state legislative and local school board campaigns.  Hoey says there's no plan for CarolinaCAN to get involved in this year's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board race,  though she says she's not in a position to rule anything out for a group that's just getting off the ground.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Two newcomers in CMS board race

Thelma Byers-Bailey filed for the District 2 seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board today, bringing the total to four incumbents and two newcomers.  It's only Day 2 of filing,  which runs through July 19.

Byers-Bailey,  a lawyer,  CMS grandparent and daughter of the educator whose name graces Walter G. Byers School,  is the first candidate to file for the westside District 2 seat.  Incumbent Richard McElrath hasn't said whether he'll seek a second term.

Paul Bailey, mayor pro tem of Matthews,  filed Friday to run for the south suburban District 6 seat.  Amelia Stinson-Wesley, appointed to that seat two years ago when Tim Morgan won an at-large seat,  also hasn't revealed her plans.  Like Morgan,  Bailey is active in Boy Scouts.  He has spent 16 years on the Matthews Town Council  (he doesn't have a campaign web site yet,  but his bio is on the town site).

As expected,  the incumbents have filed for re-election in the other four districts:  Rhonda Lennon in District 1, Joyce Waddell in District 3,  Tom Tate in District 4 and Eric Davis in District 5.  Keep up with filings at the Mecklenburg Board of Elections web site.  See a map of voting districts here.

Do grads pay off for principals?

Superintendent Heath Morrison says he expects "an uptick" in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' graduation rate for 2013,  though official numbers aren't out yet.  (It was 76.4 percent in 2012;  check details for districts and schools here.)

Comments on this blog have raised the question of whether principals collect bonuses if their graduation rates rise.   The answer:  Only at West Mecklenburg and West Charlotte High,  as part of school improvement grants.  Bonuses based on 2013 graduation rates will be paid in September,  according to spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte.

The CMS bonus system has long been a patchwork of pilots and special projects,  with schools moving in and out of eligibility as one funding source runs out and another grant comes through. The CMS payroll data I got in April showed 1,054 people getting bonuses (out of almost 18,700 employees).  Twenty-four were principals,  including four at high schools:  West Charlotte ($10,000 for John Wall), West Meck  ($5,500 for Eric Ward),  Vance ($2,950 for Melissa Dunlap) and Garinger  ($2,400 for Kondra Rattley,  who was recently promoted to executive director in a zone office).  Even at West Charlotte and West Meck,  that money wasn't necessarily tied to graduation rates.  Wall,  for instance,  was recruited last July through Project LIFT, which paid him a $10,000 signing bonus.

Meanwhile,  the school board has yet to set the standards for Morrison's performance bonus.  His contract allows him to collect up to 10 percent of his $288,000 base pay,  awarded by Oct. 31.  New state exams are complicating efforts to measure his impact on student achievement;  the results won't be released until October  (some speculate it could be later)  and it's far from clear that 2013 scores will be comparable to previous years.  I'm guessing the graduation rate will be one of several measures used to rate the superintendent.

Friday, July 5, 2013

CMS lawyer eyes run for Congress

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools attorney George Battle III is eyeing a run for the 12th District seat in Congress if incumbent Mel Watt is confirmed as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Battle's exploratory committee has scheduled an announcement for next week  (his campaign web site even sports a second-by-second countdown). Battle said this week that his candidacy "would have no effect on my current job" as general counsel for CMS.

Battle,  a graduate of West Charlotte High and son of a former school board chairman,  has held the CMS job since 2010. The general counsel is one of two positions hired directly by the school board  (the other,  of course,  being superintendent).  So if Battle runs and wins,  the folks who prevail in the November school board race could have another task to tackle.

CMS school board race starts today

Filing for the six district seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board opens at noon today.

Four years ago,  most of the incumbents stepped aside,  leaving new members to claim five seats on the nine-member board.  This year four of the incumbents  --  Rhonda Lennon, Joyce Waddell,  Tom Tate and Eric Davis  --  say they plan to run again.  Richard McElrath in District 2 said this week he still hasn't decided,  while Amelia Stinson-Wesley,  an appointee to the District 6 seat,  says she's not ready to tip her hand.

For a $60 filing fee,  contenders can take a shot at one of the toughest jobs in town.  Board members earn about $12,600 a year  --  far less than Charlotte city council members or Mecklenburg County commissioners  --  for overseeing one of the area's biggest organizations. Members need to keep up with rapidly changing trends in education;  understand a tangle of federal,  state and local regulations;  and have a working knowledge of such fields as construction,  technology and transportation.

Candidates should be prepared for anything.  The folks who got elected in 2009 didn't expect to be plunged into teacher layoffs and school closings,  but that's what dominated their first couple of years.  Then came a superintendent search.

For those of you who decide to take it on,  please shoot me a link to your campaign web site,  some bio information and a good head shot (  I'll try to make it easy for blog readers to stay up to date on the campaign.

The boundaries have changed slightly since the last district election.  See the district map here,  and click here to see which precincts have been assigned to different school board districts.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

CMS pay studies: Season Four begins

Most of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' task forces have wrapped up their work, with reports due later this month.  But one is just gearing up. Welcome to Season Four of  "CMS employees study better ways to get paid."

Season One: Performance Pay debuted under Superintendent Peter Gorman,  with teachers invited to contribute to a long-term plan to shift all employees to a pay system based on performance.  It began with studies showing the current teacher pay scale,  based on longevity and credentials,  has little to do with rewarding effectiveness.  It quickly exploded into controversy over testing,  value-added ratings and a legislative push that many teachers saw as an attempt by Gorman to go behind their backs. The dramatic season finale featured Gorman's 2011 resignation,  as he moved on to a job in private industry.

Season Two: Talent Effectiveness brought the mild-mannered interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh assuring employees that the lack of money for rewards was actually a good thing,  creating a pressure-free environment for a new group of teachers to study effective teaching. Susan Varga, a middle-school math teacher, signed on to a year-long advisory post,  while many remained skeptical. That season ended as expected,  with Hattabaugh returning to Florida and a new superintendent taking over.

By the time Heath Morrison introduced Season Three: Strategic Compensation,  the ongoing saga was getting national viewers. Another group of educators signed up to help craft a plan for revising pay in a way that would be meaningful and -- unlike the many pilot programs CMS has tried -- sustainable.  They aimed toward a March 1 deadline for sending their plan to state officials.  With less than a week to go,  some of those teachers told the school board how delighted they were that Morrison was really listening to them.  But  there was a plot twist:  CMS had decided not to submit a state plan after all.

When I talked to Morrison recently about his first year,  he said that because there was no state money to support a new strategy, “I didn’t feel a need to rush this.”  His top staff and the educators who helped create the plan are continuing to review it,  he said,  but so far neither employees nor the public have seen results.  He said the latest compensation task force,  which begins its work this summer,  will incorporate that work,  and all members of the past panel are invited to stay on board.

I talked to a couple of teachers who served on last year's task force,  and they voiced a mix of confusion and  optimism.  "He may not be going as fast as some people would like," said task force member Michael Pillsbury, a math teacher at Randolph Middle, "but I think he's on the right track."

I'm not sure what's left to study.  As Morrison is quick to note,  the lack of state money for even a bare-bones raise puts a damper on brainstorming better ways to reward employees.

At the very least,  we can surely anticipate a new name for the project.  And we can count on a new cast:  Morrison recently named his second new human resources director in seven months,  and Chief Operating Officer Millard House,  who spearheaded last year's strategic compensation study,  just announced he's leaving CMS

Monday, July 1, 2013

Should CMS create an all-male school?

An all-male school to help African American boys excel, stronger offerings for gifted middle-school students and more STEM, language and Montessori magnets in the suburbs are likely to be among the suggestions we'll see this month when 22 task forces publish their advice for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Superintendent Heath Morrison created the panels,  made up of employees, students and citizen volunteers,  in November,  when he unveiled  "The Way Forward."  Those groups recently wrapped up their study,  and Morrison said he expects to publish the reports and start discussing them with the school board in July.

My predictions come not from a crystal ball but from minutes filed on the task force web site.  Those minutes,  prepared in a standard format by CMS staff,  don't give much away,  so I'm sure there will be surprises when the full reports come out.

For Morrison and the board,  the next step will be sorting out the long list of recommendations:  What can be done quickly?  What needs to be part of a long-term strategy?  What's just not practical?  The next phase  could be a turning point in Morrison's leadership.  Lots of people stepped up to serve on task forces.  If they think their work ends up sitting on a shelf,  they could grow disillusioned.  If they see results,  enthusiasm could build.

Traditionally,  CMS advisory boards have also been a training ground for school board candidates.  Filing for the six district seats opens Friday;  we'll see how many task force members put their names in.

As Morrison marks the end of his first year,  I'm trying to get updates on the biggest efforts he has talked about or launched so far.  Morrison's staff is getting answers to several items I've asked about.  Let me know what you're thinking;  I may have left some out.