Editorial: Nameless bureaucrats aren’t N.C. public schools’ problem, it is legislative neglect

Posted December 24, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2021 8:58 a.m. EST

Miles Turmon teaches an elementary school class in Durham. (WRAL/Lora Lavigne)

CBC Editorial: Friday, Dec. 24, 2021; Editorial #8724
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

It seems Phil Berger, leader of North Carolina’s legislature, now agrees that our state’s public schools do, in fact, fail to meet the State Constitution’s guarantee of making sure every child has access to a quality education.

“Lagging achievement,” he says of our public schools. “Outright failure,” he goes on. So, he does agree that the state –which by the way includes Phil Berger and the other legislators who serve under his leadership – is in violation of the Constitution. It is good to see that he’s come around to agreeing with no fewer than two affirmations of that by our State Supreme Court since 1997.

Judge David Lee, who Berger regularly personally insults, denigrates and mischaracterizes, did what he was assigned to do by former state Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin (a Republican like Berger). He brought the plaintiffs and defendants together in OPEN court, reviewed the facts of the matter and the positions of the opposing parties and facilitated a mutually agreeable resolution.

What Berger doesn’t like is that it is an affirmation of public education and our state’s constitutional principle that it is state government’s responsibility to provide every child with access to a quality education.

Does Berger believe that’s what is happening today? The Education Law Center, in its “Making the Grade 2021: How fair is school funding in your state” gives North Carolina an “F” in funding level – 49th among the 50 states and Washington D.C. The state gets another “F” in funding effort – 47th. Who’s responsible for those bottom-of-the-barrel levels?

Berger blames “a failed education bureaucracy.”

Is he talking about the state Board of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the women and men who serve on local boards of education, school district superintendents, the classroom teachers and their students?

Of course this presumes Berger and his legislators have no responsibility.

Blame the bureaucrats. It’s a nebulous, meaningless dodge of the responsibility Berger shoulders. Who was the champion of abolishing the Teaching Fellows program? Who continues to push private school vouchers that funnel millions of dollars to schools that aren’t required to show reasonable or transparent measures of student achievement – they aren’t even required to show that students show up at class.

In a transparent and methodical way, the plaintiffs (local school systems, students and parents) and defendants (the state of North Carolina and the state Board of Education) worked together under Judge Lee’s guidance to reach agreement on specifically where North Carolina’s schools were failing to provide for a quality education and what specifically needed to be done to remedy the situation.

It’s not, as Berger suggests, an “unconstitutional scheme to funnel $1.7 billion in extra money to a failed education bureaucracy.”

It’s far from a “simple application of more money,” as Berger suggests. That, in fact, has been the way he’s going about directing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund his private school voucher program.

It does take a lot of money to address the decades of neglect that North Carolina’s public schools – its teachers and students – have suffered.

The plaintiffs and defendants, working with the Friday Institute for Education Innovation at N.C. State University, the Learning Policy Institute in Washington and coordinated by WestEd, came up with a comprehensive plan to deliver a sound basic education for children in North Carolina public schools.

It is no broad-brush solution but a highly detailed program that pinpoints specific areas of need throughout the public education process to help make teachers more effective and provide students with resources and support services so they’ll be better learners.

It is an example of leadership that Berger should be praising and supporting.

Current Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt should be in the forefront to support and fund this critical effort – instead of sheepishly and quietly remaining on the sidelines.

Now that Berger has said he agrees that North Carolina has been violating the State Constitution when it comes to meeting its obligation to provide a quality education to all children it’s time for him to speak up.

If you don’t agree with the detailed program outlined in the Leandro remedial program tell us, just as specifically, what you’d do to right this awful wrong.

Just blaming un-named bureaucrats is a dodge.

Throwing more money at the situation – as is being done through his private school voucher program – is just more of what he says are unproductive efforts.

North Carolina students deserve the quality education they’ve been promised and too-long denied. Berger and his legislators need NOW to put-up or get out of the way.

Letter: Taken Out of Context

I have been surprised to learn that my comments — submitted online and made in person to the NC General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee calling for the creation of a Sandhills-based congressional district with a core group of counties consisting of Cumberland, Hoke, Scotland, Moore and Robeson — have been used by Republican Senate Co-Chair Warren Daniel in an attempt to justify the maps that were adopted by the General Assembly that splits these five counties into three different congressional districts.

There were numerous bipartisan speakers at the UNC-Pembroke and Fayetteville Technical Community College September hearings who spoke in favor of a Sandhills district. I am perplexed by the silence from the Moore County Republican Party with regard to being included in a congressional district that keeps a community of interest whole rather than splitting the community into three congressional districts.

Sen. Daniel shows how geographically challenged he is by claiming that Congressional District 8 is a Sandhills-based district, even though southeastern Mecklenburg, all of Union, Stanly and Anson counties are included in the district.

These are issues that will now be decided by the courts, but here again the NC General Assembly has not done right by the people of North Carolina. My comments only asked for a true Sandhills region, not a Democratic or Republican Sandhills region.

The voters should decide who will represent the Sandhills in Congress, not the General Assembly.

Maurice Holland, Jr., Chair

Moore County Democratic Party

McNeill Announces Retirement from General Assembly

Rep. Allen McNeill
Rep. Allen McNeillCourtesy photograph

State Rep. Allen McNeill, who has served five terms in the General Assembly representing part of Moore County, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection.

McNeill’s District 78 seat included mostly Randolph County and a small part of northern Moore County, but new districts drawn this fall and approved by the General Assembly have reconfigured that district to take in a significant portion of Moore, including Pinehurst, Foxfire, Robbins and Seven Lakes.

Prior to winning a seat for the state House, McNeill served approximately 30 years in the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office.

McNeill’s announcement comes as filing opens for the 2022 campaign season. Under the new districts, Moore County will be divided into three state House seats: Districts 51, 52 and 78.

“I will fulfill my current term of elected office for the next 13 months ending on Dec. 31, 2022,” McNeill said in a statement announcing his retirement.

“It has been the privilege and honor of my life to have served the citizens of Randolph and Moore County these past 9+ years. I and my office have tried to make constituent service our number one priority, having helped hundreds of people through the years with a variety of different issues.

“I have worked hard to bring resources and jobs to my district. Helping sponsor and pass legislation to save Randolph Health (hospital) was a particular blessing for me. I have sponsored numerous bills, many of which became law, and worked hard as chairman of the Justice and Public Safety Committee to make sure that the needs of our courts, prisons, probation, law enforcement, wildlife, National Guard, and emergency management was fully funded.”

McNeill currently serves as chair the Justice and Public Safety Appropriations Committee and the Pension Committee; vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the Judiciary 2 Committee. He is also a member of the Election Law and Campaign Finance Committee, the Transportation Committee, the Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Financing Committee, and the Justice and Public Safety Oversight Committee.

“I will miss the joy of helping people and passing legislation to make our lives better. With my time at the Sheriff’s Office and the legislature I have been involved in public service for approximately 45 years.

“I am sure that God has other important work for me and look forward to starting another phase of life after Dec. 31, 2022. Until then I want to make sure that my constituents know that for the next thirteen months I still represent Randolph/Moore counties in North Carolina House District 78.”

McNeill’s retirement could open a heated contest for the District 78 seat, since it contains a large portion of Moore County. In the District 52 seat, currently held by Rep. Jamie Boles, he is expected to face fellow Republican Rep. Ben Moss of Rockingham in a GOP primary bid. Moss’ district was redrawn, and Richmond County is now in District. 52.

The District 51 seat is currently held by Rep. John Sauls, a Lee County Republican, and that district’s composition heavily favors a Lee County candidate.

Campaign filing begins at noon and ends at noon on Dec. 17.

Candidates Waste No Time Filing for ‘22 Election

Ronnie Fields files for re-election
Sheriff Ronnie Fields completes paperwork to file for re-election in 2022. He was joined Monday by a crowd of supporters and members of the Moore County Sheriff’s Office. Laura Douglass/The Pilot

The political filing period for the 2022 election cycle opened at noon Monday, and 12 candidates had submitted their paperwork within the first hour at the Moore County Board of Elections office in Carthage.

Sheriff Ronnie Fields was first in line, joined by a large contingent of supporters, including a number of senior staff members with the Moore County Sheriff’s Office. A Republican and longtime law officer, Fields is currently serving his first term after handily defeating opponents Steve Adams, a local businessman, and former sheriff Neil Godfrey in the 2018 election and 2018 primary, respectively.

Two candidates for the Board of County Commissioners also filed paperwork in the first 60 minutes of the open filing period, which runs through Dec. 17 at noon.

Jim Von Canon is seeking the District 1 seat that will be vacated by Commissioner Catherine Graham, who is not seeking re-election. A Moore County native, Von Canon retired from a 28-year military career in 2018.

“What a great place this is to live. I want to keep it that way,” Von Canon said, noting that his teachers at Vass-Lakeview Elementary had set him on the path for success. “I want to keep us going in the right direction. To keep Moore County growing and for it to be just as great for future generations. If I can do half of what Catherine Graham has accomplished, that would be an impressive feat.”

John Ritter is running his first local campaign for the District 3 seat that will be vacated by Commissioner Otis Ritter. The two men are distant relatives.

A practicing attorney in Seven Lakes, primarily focused on real estate, wills, corporate and civil matters, Ritter lives in the Westmoore community. He previously ran in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor in March 2020, finishing fourth out of a slate of nine candidates.

He said that Otis Ritter had reached out and encouraged him to seek the District 3 seat, which represents the interests of northern Moore County. “That meant a lot to me.”

“I want good government and that is one thing that we have blessed with in Moore County. I would like to see that continue,” Ritter said.

State Sen. Tom McInnis was also at the Moore County Board of Elections office on Monday; however, he was unable to file his intent to run for the newly drawn Senate District 21 seat.

A court order issued Monday from the N.C. Court of Appeals temporarily blocked state legislative and federal candidates from filing based on a lawsuit that claims the political districts, drawn and approved by the Republican-led General Assembly, are unconstitutional.

McInnis told The Pilot the legal maneuvering will likely take up the entire two-week open filing period and may lead to the need for two primaries to be scheduled in the spring.

In other local races, six candidates filed for one of three open seats on the Moore County Board of Education shortly after noon on Monday. This is a non-partisan race but is expected to be hotly contested after a year of local school board infighting amidst the backdrop of a nationwide politicization of public school governance.

Helen Garner Maness, a retired educator who taught business education at North Moore High School for 20 years, is running in her first political campaign for the District 3 seat, currently held by Pam Thompson. Maness, a Moore County native, is a graduate of North Moore and held national board certification in business education. She was honored as the school’s Teacher of the Year twice, and recognized as the Future Business Leaders of America State Advisor of the Year and also the N.C. Business Teacher of the Year.

“I have always felt the school system should be a family that supports the students, parents, faculty, support staff and leadership in order to be a successful component of any community. The Board of Education is the head of that family and should be willing to stand up for everything that is needed to make our schools successful in all ways.”

Shannon Davis is also running for the school board District 3 seat. A resident of Carthage and a Moore County native, Davis attended Calvary Christian School and has chosen to homeschool her three children.

“I am running because, as Americans, we have a right and duty to protect education. Children are our future and our education system is failing,” Davis said.

Four candidates also filed Monday seeking one of two at-large seats on the school board: Ken Benway, Pauline Bruno, Robin Calcutt and Rollie Sampson.

Ken Benway retired from active duty in 1993 and settled in Whispering Pines in 2004. He described himself as a “dyed in the wool patriot,” and that he has some skills he feels will be helpful to the school board process.

One priority concern Benway identified is Critical Race Theory. “I think we need to keep the curriculum even-handed. I am not a fan of CRT, but I also oppose it going too far the other way. I want a fact-based curriculum.”

Bruno is a Pinehurst resident who recently stepped down as chair of Moore Republican Women. Bruno is a former special education teacher with 21 years experience. She, too, has publicly stated her opposition to CRT being taught in school.

The national political furor over CRT seeped into much of the Moore County Board of Education’s discussions this year. Most board members maintain that Moore County Schools teachers are neither embracing nor structuring lessons based on the controversial legal and academic movement. This spring, the sitting board narrowly voted down a policy banning the use of critical race theory as a basis for school curriculum. That vote reflected disagreements among board members’ definitions of CRT, and some who didn’t think board policy should deal with specific academic theories.

Robin Calcutt, a Moore County native and Pinecrest High School grad, is the current chair and professor in the education department at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg. She retired from Moore County Schools with 34 years experience as a teacher, assistant principal of Union Pines High School, principal of New Century Middle and West Pine Middle schools, and MCS’s director of planning, accountability and research. She was recognized as Union Pines’ Teacher of the Year twice and MCS Principal of the Year in 2013.

“In Moore County, our schools are a critical part of the foundation of our community. When we work to serve all children by providing a transparent and accountable education environment that engages, supports, and empowers our students, they thrive and are prepared for their future,” Calcutt said. “When we recruit and support well-prepared professional educators and staff, they provide a superior education. When we collaborate and connect with local, state, and federal organizations, we meet the needs of our students.”

Rollie Sampson is also seeking one of two open at-large school board seats. She currently works for the district as its military liaison. An army veteran and military spouse, Sampson has lived in Moore County since 2005.

In her position as military liaison, she has worked to increase federal funding to MCS by standardizing enrollment processes, establishing transition programs for new students and ensuring district compliance with federal regulations. Sampson is also a licensed mental health counselor and also works closely with school counselors, social workers and school psychologists to support the needs of the district’s 3,600 military-connected students.

“I have a long history of advocating for education in Moore County and believe that the heart of education starts in the classroom with our teachers,” Sampson said. “While I appreciate the work of the current Board of Education members, I believe that change can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas.”

Other candidates filing for office Monday included William Britton, who is seeking the Registrar of Deeds seat. Chris Morgan and Todd Maness are running for Clerk of Superior Court for Moore County. Longtime Register of Deeds Judy Martin and Clerk of Court Susan Hicks announced in October they would not seek re-election after holding their posts for several terms.

Britton, a Union Pines graduate, has worked for Moore County EMS and is also involved in agri-business ventures and teaches hunter safety courses for NC Wildlife. Morgan currently serves as an assistant clerk and has 21 years experience in the field. A law enforcement officer, Maness is employed by the Moore County Sheriff’s Office, where he holds the rank of sergeant.

Daeke Will Not Seek Re-Election to County Board

Jerry Daeke
Jerry Daeke
  • County Commissioner Jerry Daeke announced Monday he will not seek re-election next year. He is the third longstanding county board member to announce his intent to step down at the end of his second term, clearing the way for voters to seat a newly constituted majority next November.

Daeke, who served eight years on the Southern Pines Town Council, and was a member and chairman of the county’s Board of Equalization and Review for a number of years, said he has always believed strongly that elected officials should serve no more than eight years.

“The citizens of Moore County are very fortunate to have the staff we do running this county. I can not say anything greater. They are efficient and congenial, they just go out of their way to do what is best for this county…I appreciate all the support from the citizens and employees of the county.”

A native of Southern Pines, Daeke served on the town’s council during the late 1970s and the late ‘80s. Professionally, Daeke worked as building inspector and planning director in Banner Elk for several years before going to work in land development and as a general contractor, before opening Daeke and Associates, a real estate and appraisal business in Moore County.

He was initially elected to the county board in 2014, taking the seat of retiring county commissioner Jimmy Melton who’d encouraged Daeke to run.

In early October, the county commissioners approved a redrawn residency district map based on updated 2020 census data. The District 5 seat will represent the southernmost end of Moore County and encompasses Aberdeen, Pinebluff and reunites Foxfire into a single residency district. Southern Pines is entirely within the newly drawn District 4 boundaries.

In 2022, District 1, District 3 and District 5 seats are up for election with longtime members Commissioner Catherine Graham (District 1), Commissioner Otis Ritter (District 3) and Commissioner Jerry Daeke (District 5) not seeking re-election.

Potential candidates for county commissioner must live in the district they represent but are elected by voters countywide.

The open filing period for the 2022 election opened Monday and runs through Dec. 17 at noon. Two candidates, Jim Von Canon and John Ritter, have already filed their intent to for the District 1 and District 3 seats, respectively.