Friday, January 30, 2015

CMS will hire teachers and hope for the best

Budget time always carries a bit of uncertainty for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools because of how much the district relies on the county and state government. This year, that uncertainty has been kicked up a notch, and the school board has to hope it doesn't come back to bite them.

You may recall the state legislature's decision last year to no longer automatically give districts more money commensurate with enrollment growth. Basically, CMS knew that if they had, say, 2,000 more students, then they would be sure to get money for more teaching positions to cover the  growth. That won't happen this year, a difference then-Superintendent Heath Morrison called a "radical change" to education funding.

CMS said this week that it expects 2,400 more students for the 2015-16 school year. But will the district receive money for more teachers? Probably, based on promises made by legislative leaders, but no guarantee.

So CMS is going to go out and hire them anyway.

Sheila Shirley
Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley told the school board Tuesday that the district plans to go out and hire the best teachers they can this spring, when most of that hiring is typically done. By the fall, when CMS will know exactly how much money they'll get, it would be too late.

Superintendent Ann Clark and Shirley said that if the money from the state comes up short, CMS will find money to pay the teachers elsewhere instead of laying them off.

Board members gave their blessing for the plan.

CMS is also banking on entry-level teacher pay rising once again, to $35,000 from the current $33,000. Shirley said that was part of Gov. Pat McCrory's plan.

The discussion was the first on the budget in 2015. There will be budget workshops the next two months before Clark's recommendation comes out in April.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Millard House a finalist for Tulsa superintendent

Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief operating officer Millard House is one of two finalists for the superintendent's job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Tulsa World reported and then confirmed.

House is a Tulsa native spent the first two decades of his career there as a health and PE teacher, principal and administrator. In 2003, he was the Tulsa Public Schools Principal of the Year.

He came to CMS in 2012 and left only a year later to become the executive director of New Leaders, a national nonprofit that trains administrators of high-poverty schools.

House was previously a finalist for superintendent in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Will CMS name an interim superintendent?

Mary McCray
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools doesn't technically have a superintendent right now. That might soon change.

School board chairwoman Mary McCray said Wednesday that the board would meet in closed session next week to discuss a potential interim superintendent. She said the discussion would not involve setting the stage for a search for a permanent superintendent, since that needs to be done in public.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark has been leading the district without a job title change since former Superintendent Heath Morrison resigned in November. She has said she would be open to serving as superintendent if the board desired.

McCray didn't say whether they were specifically looking at Clark. But a significant portion of the community has backed her to lead the district for the long-term.

The district has chosen an interim superintendent the last two times the superintendent has left. Hugh Hattabaugh was interim superintendent after Peter Gorman left in 2011. Frances Haithcock was the interim after James Pughsley retired in 2005.

Later start times for high schools isn't a dead issue

Ann Clark
A group of parents and teachers has pushed for years to move back the start times for high schools. Based on what Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said Wednesday, the issue may get a public hearing in the near future.

Most high schools start their days at 7:15 a.m., but there's been quite a bit of research that shows beginning school that early can have a negative effect on teenagers. A school bell task force has spent the past year studying whether it would be possible to move those back.

The task force was convened under former Superintendent Heath Morrison. When he suddenly resigned, some members of the task force told me they were concerned about where their work would go under Clark's leadership.

Clark said at a board workshop Wednesday that CMS staff was working to put together a report for the school board on what the school bell task force had recommended -- which would include later times for high schools and a shorter elementary school day.

She didn't say when that report would be.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ousted CEO vows to re-open failed Entrepreneur High

Hans Plotseneder
It's only been a few days since Entrepreneur High closed its doors, but its former CEO is already promising to restart the school without the board that fired him in Christmas Eve.

You'll recall that this school's board chairman told the state that it only had $14 in the bank last week. The charter school advisory board then took the first steps toward revoking its charter. With that hanging over the school's head, chairman Robert Hillman shut down operations Friday.

In an email sent to the media in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Hans Peter Plotseneder -- also known as Dr. Plots -- insists that he is the only person who has the right to operate the school and lays out a plan to do so.

Plotseneder was fired Christmas Eve after a series of emergency board meetings in late December. Hillman wouldn't go into detail about what led up to the firing, but other school staff members said Plotseneder didn't do enough to take care of the school's students, leading them to withdraw from the school en masse.

Plotseneder's plan hinges on cutting Entrepreneur High's staff in half and relying on public money slated to arrive in February. He claims that he would receive $124,000 from the state and as much as $90,000 from the county.

Plotseneder then plans to receive $90,000 in grants, secure a bridge loan of $75,000, and sublease part of the building, an old Food Lion off Central Avenue. Ultimately, he wants to bring in a charter management organization to take over.

All that would certainly be difficult given that the remaining handful of students have transferred out of the school and that it faces forced closure in a matter of weeks.

The state Department of Public Instruction wasn't immediately able to say whether Entrepreneur High was still eligible to receive money from the state.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

CMS unveils plan to pay 'highly effective' teachers more

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has outlined a plan to give some "highly effective" teachers more money.

Of course, it leaves plenty of room to debate whether it is a fair and effective way to motivate people in the classroom.

The whole thing is tied in with a state law that requires school districts to come up with ways to give their best teachers a bonus. To qualify under the CMS proposal, teachers would have to meet these criteria:

  • Teach at one of the 14 consistently underperforming schools that are part of the Beacon Initiative developed this school year.
  • Be at least proficient in all leadership and student learning standards (I and IV for those on the inside)
  • Have at least one rating above proficient
  • Meet some attendance benchmark. This wasn't outlined at the meeting.
It's unclear how many teachers would be eligible for a bonus. CMS staff who presented the plan said they hadn't run the numbers. The actual award will depend on how many teachers qualify.

The result is likely to be disappointing to a large percentage of the district's teachers. But the district doesn't have a huge pot of money to work with.

The state estimates having $1 million to distribute. CMS generally makes up 10 percent of the state in everything, so the district plans to give out about $100,000. The actual numbers could vary because the awards are funded by license plate sales.

School boards are supposed to send the plans to a N.C. House and Senate committee by Thursday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Who's going to be the new school board member?

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is looking for a new member, and if history is any indication, there'll be a lot of interest.

Joyce Waddell, who represented District 3, stepped down to assume her role in the N.C. Senate. Her district runs from uptown north and east through the University City area.

Waddell ran unopposed in 2013. But in elections before that, the District 3 seat has been one of the more hotly contested positions on the board.

Nine names appeared on the ballot in 2009, when Waddell won the seat with 32 percent of the vote.
Four people vied for the seat in 2005, when George Dunlap won re-election.

Dunlap, who now is a Mecklenburg County commissioner, ran unopposed a few times before that.

Applications are due Feb. 2. You can apply online here. They'll pick somebody Feb. 5.

I have two people so far that I've confirmed are going to apply.

  • Levester Flowers is a retired Bank of Amerca employee and a familiar face in local politics. He's a regular speaker in the public comment sessions and has been vocal about getting families more involved in their children's education. In 2011, as CMS moved to shut down campuses amid budget cuts, Flowers organized a group called "Save Our Schools." He has run for a seat on the City Council before.

    He told the Observer he is throwing his hat in the ring to help continue the "upward spiral" of test scores, graduation rates and reading proficiency.
  • Pat Martinez is a Charlotte businesswoman who runs a company called "Leadership in the Clouds," which works with other businesses on leadership development. She is an advocate for the Latino community and would be one of the first Hispanic people on the school board (if not the first).

    She said she wants to "work with school board members to restore trust and continue to enhance the integrity of our school system."
Know of anyone else applying for the position? Let me know. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

CMS to more closely track hours of part-time workers

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is now going to make sure its part-time employees are tracking their hours -- a change CMS says is a side effect of the Affordable Care Act.

President Barack Obama's signature health insurance law has been leading to changes to plans across the public and private sector, and school districts are no exception. They, too, would be subject to penalties for not offering health insurance to employees working 30 or more hours per week.

Part-time workers in public schools generally work between 20 and 30 hours each week. Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark wrote in a report to the school board Friday that part-time workers are now required to use the the district's computer system to document their "actual hours worked" to ensure they don't exceed the 30-hour threshold.

The district is now setting the bar for part-time employees at 28 hours per week, effective Jan. 1. Part-time jobs can range from speech pathologist to media center assistants.

The Affordable Care Act also means that a new class of workers will be eligible for coverage. The state defines them as "non-permanent employees who work at least 30 hours per week." This appears to include interim or temporary positions, like a fill-in teacher or principal. These jobs weren't eligible for health insurance before.

Now they'll get access to a "bronze" level high-deductible plan.

CMS says 220 employees were identified who qualify, including 32 retirees. This could cause some issues for people who retired from the district but came back to work in a temporary role. Clark's memo said the district has "informed these employees of the potential negative impact on their retirement benefits, including their health insurance coverage."

It's unclear whether all this will cost CMS any more money. I was unable to get a hold of somebody in the human resources department to ask.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ann Clark launching Raleigh lobbying public efforts

The North Carolina legislature will soon be back in session, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hopes to be a prominent voice in Raleigh this year.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark is scheduled to kick off her public lobbying effort this weekend at an event sponsored by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. Called "What happens in Raleigh matters in Mecklenburg," the forum will feature speakers who believe the state budget doesn't properly fund education in the Charlotte area (If you're interested in going, the event is at 10 a.m. Saturday at the YWCA, 3420 Park Road).

Also speaking will be John Dornan, founder and former executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina; and Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst at the Budget and Tax Center, part of the N.C. Justice Center.

Clark spoke at a similar event last year. But this year, the appearance comes as she will be assuming one of her most prominent roles yet in Raleigh as she acts in the superintendent's role for CMS. She told the Observer last month that she's already been setting up individual meetings with the Mecklenburg County delegation. That group will be getting another friendly face in January when school board member Joyce Waddell steps down to take a seat in the N.C. Senate. Expect that to happen at the board meeting next week.

Clark has said 2015 will include targeted trips to Raleigh to push for increased teacher pay and for support  in recruiting top young teachers.