Friday, April 29, 2011

Listen to legislators debate CMS bill

For those who are interested in the debate over performance pay in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Thursday's legislative discussion of the controversial House Bill 546 is available in audio archive. Select 04-28-2011; the issue comes fairly early in the session.

The bill, of course, is the one that would grant the CMS school board authority to sidestep state requirements for teacher evaluation and pay in order to launch performance pay, which Superintendent Peter Gorman plans to do in 2014. Unlike a 2007 bill authorizing performance-pay pilots, it doesn't require teacher approval.

Five members of the local delegation weigh in. Sponsors Ruth Samuelson and Ric Killian, both Republicans, and Martha Alexander, a Democrat, urge colleagues to approve the bill, with the understanding that it will be "parked" before going to the Senate. Samuelson says CMS leaders "need time for the community in Charlotte to rally around it" and says district leaders haven't done well so far at getting teachers and parents on board. Alexander notes that some of the emails legislators have gotten from local opponents contain "misinformation," such as saying CMS plans to take $5,000 from all teachers to reward the top 25 percent.

Democrats Tricia Cotham and Beverly Earle urge defeat. Cotham, who is on leave as a CMS assistant principal and was once the district's teacher of the year, is the most vocal opponent. She says she met repeatedly with Gorman and others to talk about performance pay and doesn't oppose the concept. But she says Gorman has reneged on his promise to "do performance pay with teachers, rather than to teachers."

"They need the legislature to do the dirty work and to be the bad guy," she says. She also argues that it's hypocritical for legislatures to green-flag extra testing in CMS while scaling back on state testing.

The bill passed 72-42, so the ball is back in CMS' court. So what comes next?

I'm still trying to get word from Gorman on that. My guess is performance-pay goes on the back burner until the 2011-12 budget gets through Mecklenburg County commissioners, with large numbers of parents and community leaders gearing up to push for more money. By then, the pilot version of the new tests will have been given in May. Best case for Gorman: They go smoother than the April "field tests" and some of the opposition dies down. Worst case: Parents and teachers are incensed once again about the time and energy that go into all these new tests, which will be taking place about the time layoff notices go out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

CMS payroll corrected

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools payroll data we posted last week contained incorrect annual salary information for about 1,250 hourly workers who were cut from 40-hour to 37.5-hour work weeks as part of this year's cost-cutting. CMS ran the numbers on the old 40-hour basis; the Observer's online database has now been corrected, thanks to an employee who noticed his listing was wrong and spoke up.

Most of the 18,202 listings, including all the highly-paid staff, were correct in the original listing, so the errors did not affect the analysis done for Sunday's article based on payroll data. The employees working 37.5-hour weeks are mostly assistants, according to CMS.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cheaper way to do pre-K?

Is Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spending too much for administration of its Bright Beginnings prekindergarten centers? School board member Rhonda Lennon raised the question last night, as the board discussed asking county commissioners for millions more to preserve the program.

Lennon noted that centers with fewer than 300 children had administrative payrolls of $200,000 or more. A look at the latest payroll data shows she's right. Tryon Hills Preschool, with about 250 students, is paying about $210,000 for a principal, assistant principal, senior administrative secretary and secretary. Amay James, which is about the same size, pays about $246,000 a year for the same staffing combination.

The board already voted last fall to close Amay James at the end of this school year, merging its students into new preK-8 schools. Superintendent Peter Gorman's budget proposal would close the remaining four centers as the federal stimulus money that kept the program at its current size, with about 3,100 4-year-olds, dries up. Under his plan, the remaining 90 Bright Beginnings classrooms would be located in high-poverty elementary schools that qualify for federal Title I aid.

Seven of the nine board members said last night they support asking county commissioners for about $10 million to cover the stimulus gap and keep the program intact (the county had been footing a bigger share of the preK bill before the economy crashed). Lennon said she'd support maintaining the same number of classes, "but not in the current format."

Lennon made no motion, and agreed to cancel a budget meeting scheduled for today, saying she didn't think it was realistic to ask Gorman to draft a new pre-K plan in less than 24 hours. So it remains to be seen whether he'll find a way to save classes while streamlining costs before the board's May 10 vote, or whether the majority of the board expects him to do so.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CMS teacher-pay bill moves forward amid criticism

The controversial teacher performance-pay bill crafted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff and introduced by state Rep. Ruth Samuelson moved another step toward approval today in a 25-17 House committee vote. But some legislators were wary, noting the huge amount of criticism they've heard from constituents. One called it "an example of ready, fire, aim."

Superintendent Peter Gorman told the committee what he's been saying here in Charlotte: The performance-pay plan is a good one, but he and his staff haven't communicated it well. MecklenburgACTS, a local parent group that opposes the bill, countered with an open note to Gorman on their Facebook page: "The problem here is not ineffective communication. The problem is that parents do not support the massive expansion of high-stakes standardized testing that pay-for-performance, as currently conceived, will require."

Reporter Jane Stancill of the Raleigh News & Observer was there; here's her report from the Under the Dome blog:

A House education committee gave the OK to a bill to allow Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to create a new program to pay teachers according to their performance.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the only N.C. district that has been approved to alter the state pay schedule under a 2007 performance-pay pilot bill that would require approval of a majority of teachers. The current House Bill 546, which applies only to CMS, would grant the district freedom to change the way teachers are evaluated and paid -- without teacher approval.

The bill, which was drafted by CMS staff, has been greeted by outrage from teachers and some parents, who object to the dozens of new tests the district is rolling out to help generate teacher ratings, reports Ann Helms of the Charlotte Observer.

The bill passed the committee 25-17, largely on party lines. One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican, urged passage Tuesday but said the district had work to do to win support from the community before a final version is approved. That will take time, she said, but in the meantime the bill needs to pass one chamber to stay alive before a key deadline next month.

Several lawmakers said they were uncomfortable moving forward with a problematic bill on an issue that is so heated.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said it had been years since he received so much e-mail on any one issue. Rep. Ray Rapp, a Mars Hill Democrat, said he was surprised at the intensity and the volume of the e-mails. He suggested a study committee be formed to look into the issue further. "I think this is an example of ready, fire, aim," he said. "It just seems terribly premature to go ahead with this."

Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Matthews Democrat and former teacher, said a third grader had called her during Easter weekend to oppose the bill. There are serious trust issues in the school district, she said. "You cannot do this to teachers, you must do this with teachers."

Teacher performance pay is a major part of Superintendent Peter Gorman's plan to improve student performance; he believes rewarding teachers for results, rather than longevity and credentials, will help attract and keep good teachers.

Speaking to the committee Tuesday, Gorman said he wanted to work with teachers to smooth out problems, and stressed that various measures other than tests would go into the evaluation of teachers.

"We have not done a good job of communicating," Gorman said. "We are committed to do that."

Pastors, politicians join in prayers for students

As state and local officials plan for layoffs of hundreds of local teachers, Charlotte-area houses of faith plan to band together this weekend to pray for the community's children. Officials at Covenant Presbyterian Church and the Council for Children's Rights say this weekend, many congregations will devote specific times during their worship services or space at their facilities to observe a weekend of prayer for children.

The weekend will culminate with a Christian prayer service on Sunday May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1000 East Morehead St. Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board chair Eric Davis and Mecklenburg commissioners' chair Jennifer Roberts will speak. Glenn Burkins, editor of the website, will lead a conversation about how Charlotte can respond to the needs of local children. Details: call Courtney St. Onge at 704-804-7565 or