All posts by SusanBook

The Cost of Things

Like most in North Carolina, my family has been preparing for Hurricane Florence.  I’ve got everything from glow sticks, to glow in the dark pajamas to peanut butter and crackers.   This blog was difficult to write this week only because my thoughts are on the storm.  My favorite history teacher told me that there are only a few rules or axioms in history.  One is that war costs money.  I think we should declare our own axiom of history, natural disasters cost money.

While federal dollars play a role in disaster relief, there are still road repairs and other costs that are handled by the state.  For the most part, this is handled by a rainy day fund.  However, what happens to that rainy day fund if we cut North Carolina taxes through the new amendment?  I’m not an economist, but without taxes exactly how do we pay for significant expenses?

Hurricane Matthew cost North Carolina approximately 4.8 billion dollars.  Federal help was slow and not sufficient.  Our own state legislature had to allocate disaster relief.  This means we had to spend our rainy day fund.  That in itself is fine.  That is what the fund is there for in the first place.  However, how do we replenish it with a tax cap?

Renee I’m sure will have a very deep analysis of all the amendments.  However, while the threat of Hurricane Florence is emanate take a moment and think.  Think how the tax cap will hurt North Carolina and potential disaster relief efforts if it is passed.  The tax cap amendment is just plain bad economics.

On a more personal note, we here outside the cone of uncertainty are thinking of those who are not.  Share a loaf of bread or a bottle of water.  Be kind to one another and be safe.


How to be an Advocate When Your School P**ses You Off.

Last Tuesday, I was livid.  It had nothing to do with reassignment plans, it was an IEP issue.   It was deeply personal, and I had a little boy in tears on the second day of school.  After discussion in the main office with teachers and administrators, I believe the problem was resolved, but a deeper issue remained to be taken up with others later.

On Wednesday, I admit my desire to take a Red4Ed selfie was basically zero.   My school dropped the ball.  My child had another terrible start to a new a school year despite my best efforts.  I know what the problem is, but I’m meeting resistance to get it resolved.  It was hard to be a public education advocate that week.  To be honest, I did skip the selfie.

So why defend something that can screw up so royally?  For me, it’s about the big picture.  No school system is perfect.  However, I believe in the mission of public education.  I believe in educating all children. I believe in equality and diversity and community, and public schools have the potential to provide that.  I believe that public education is the best investment we can make for our future.

If you scratch the surface of so many problems, just below lurks a lack of funding.  In so many ways, it is at the root of so many problems, both big and small.  Which is why despite anger over IEPs, a frustrating bureaucracy, or even reassignment, we must continue to advocate.   We need to channel our anger.  If we can get 150 parents to come out to a meeting about reassignment , we need to get even more to come out when commissioners decide our budget.   We need those numbers to lobby our legislature to fully fund our public schools.  Most of all we need everyone to vote for those who will defend public education this coming election.


Voting for School Board

School board member is perhaps the hardest job I can think of.  It can be thankless, and parents like me can be relentless.  Yet, school board members keep us informed, and even can help us navigate the minefield that is public education policy in North Carolina.  Most importantly they set policy on the ground level.

There are many things I look for in a school board member.  First and foremost, I look for someone who is willing to truly serve our schools.   There are some who might use the school board to jump start their political career.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if your only motivation to run for school board is to move up the political ladder, I’m not interested in your candidacy.

Here in Wake County, and in large counties across the state, school board members will run for a small district.  However, they will effect the board as a whole.  A good school board candidate must be willing to care about the entire county and put the general well being of all children first.

The best school board members have been good communicators.  They listen and are willing to talk with anyone.  They answer email, take calls, and meet with their constituents. They advocate for our schools at the county and the state level.

While many may argue with me, I actually don’t think that political parties should endorse school board members.  I believe that public education is non partisan.  I believe that as long as the board member cares about the welfare of all children, and believes in public education, they can be an asset to the board.  Having people who have unique and even dissenting opinions can make a stronger and more representative body.

So we all have homework to do.  Find out who is running.  Find out why they are running.  Decide if they will are willing to work on behalf of the all the children in your county.   They shouldn’t have a political agenda except for making our schools the best they can be.

More on electing a school board?  Read Stu Egan’s Caffeinated Rage Post 

Stuck in Committee

As Save Our Schools NC members begin to put together the voter guide there are some who will stand out above others.  There are those in the General Assembly that worked tirelessly to fight for public education, but there are those who actively hindered public education legislation.  Phil Berger continually kept public education bills stuck in committee.  On May 16th, we chanted Remember in November.  So, here is a very little blog post to keep our minds fresh.

When the House passed HB13, this seemed to be a reasonable solution to the class size mandate.    I assumed it would go quickly through committee and then get a vote in the Senate.   The house passed it unanimously so it must be a solid fix to a major problem, right?  Being new to the political scene in North Carolina, I had no idea why passing the house meant very little.  I was told point blank by everyone, unless Senator Berger wants to pass the bill, the bill will die in committee.  I was livid that this was politics in our state.  I’m still livid.  With public pressure, we did eventually get a vote on HB13, but by the time Berger’s Senate got a hold of it, it was not the same bill.

HB13 isn’t the only education bill I’ve watched die.  There are countless education bills that were left to die in committee.  Bills like the state wide school bond were just left to rot in Phil Berger’s own personal trash pile.

I’m so tired of watching our public education die in committee.  I would be terribly naïve to believe that the election in November will bring about a complete change to our General Assembly.   However, it is our job as citizens of the state, and voters to do whatever we can to put those who hinder public education out of a job.  It is our job to put those who follow power blindly out of a job.  Now is not the time to be timid.  Now is the time to take a stand.

There will be flashy ads supporting Berger.  He no doubt will spout numbers and claim to have helped public education.  In the end, remember, it was Phil Berger who caused the class size mandate issue, and then hindered our fight to end the chaos.  He never took responsibility and he needs to be voted out.

Those of you in Senate District 30 are now some of the most powerful voters in our state.  In this election, you are the center of power in North Carolina not Raleigh.  Make your vote count.  Jen Mangrum will fight for public education.  Phil Berger will only drag it down.





The PTA Tax

When the NC General Assembly leaves gaps in funding it’s sometimes the PTA that picks up the slack.  PTAs across the state fund iPads,  smart TVs, and library books.  We have carnivals, bake sales, restaurant take overs, and fun runs.  We get corporations and businesses to sponsor playground upgrades in exchange for advertising.  I call this the PTA tax.

PTAs seem to be paying more than their fair share.  If you aren’t directly involved, it is way more than just decorating of hallways and teacher appreciation projects.  PTAs now pay for equipment.  We pay for teacher training and their travel expenses.  Some PTAs have set up food pantries and stock supply closets.  This isn’t normal.  This is an indication of an underfunded school system.

While some schools can fill gaps left by the NC General Assembly, many cannot.  Not many areas can crowd source enough  funds to pay for technology, or other classroom needs.  This leaves even greater disparities in our schools.  More than ever our zip codes are determining the quality of our schools.

All this was never intended by the founders of the PTA.  The PTA was founded to advocate for children.   It remains the core of the PTA’s mission today.  The NCPTA Mission Statement states: The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.  Bake sales aren’t mentioned.

So how do we fix this?  I suggest, we infiltrate the PTA.  Get involved in your local unit.  Be the advocacy chair, or at the very least, make sure you have an advocacy chair.  You don’t have to be president to make a difference.  When you do run a fundraiser, remind your school the reason it’s necessary.  Remind them that we are essentially being taxed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

In my heart, I’d love to call for a general strike of all PTAs across the state.  We stop fund raising and insist that our legislature do it’s job.  We let our wealthier areas feel the true pinch that our legislators have created.  Instead of fundraising, we organize parents and community members to educate others, vote, and advocate in the name of public education.

Of course in real life, my own PTA applauded my principals and then planned another restaurant takeover.   Still, PTA is an excellent way to advocate for our public schools.  We can support public schools and issues that our schools face.  Be a voice of change when you can, or simply educate.  Sometimes you have to put up with the bake sales to get to the good stuff.



Tilting at Windmills.

Since February, I’ve felt a little lost.  I began my journey as a public school advocate in a time of great crisis.  I began trying to end the unfunded class size mandate.  In fact, Public Schools Forum named the class size mandate the biggest education issue in North Carolina.  As I’ve continually stated HB90, the bill that eventually passed, isn’t a cure all, but certainly no one feels like we are in a crisis.   So what does an advocate do when a crisis isn’t knocking directly on her door?

I started to feel like I was tilting at windmills.  It was the school bond, it was tax caps, it was HB514.  It was school safety and our need for more support staff like psychologist, nurses, and counselors.   It was  teachers marching and speaking of low wages, and rising medical costs.  My heart ached and my head spun.  With so few paying attention, it was hard to keep in mind that all these were very real issues.  The NC short session felt dizzying.  My efforts felt futile. It was so much easier to work on one hashtag, one issue.

I think the biggest eye opener for me was that my one issue, class size chaos, was just a symptom of a broader disease.  The broader disease is a systematic lack of funding for our public schools in North Carolina.  It might take the shape of a unfunded mandate, or a lack of teacher pay for our veteran teachers.  It might look like crumbling school buildings, lead in the pipes, or fundraisers for basic classroom needs.  It’s all the same disease.  All these problems stem from the same source, the refusal of our legislators to fully fund our public schools.

The problem is that all that doesn’t fit in a catchy hashtag.  It’s broad and hard to nail down.  There is no single bill to defeat or help pass.  It can sometimes be clumsy and complicated to convey to the public.  How do I compete with talking points that claim legislators are funding education?

Thus, I take on a new and even more difficult task than working on just one little bill, one issue.  I take on the task of getting our kids the schools they deserve.   I join countless others, who no doubt, are politically more savvy than I.  The only way I can think to truly fight the disease of under-funding our schools, is to vote.  We need to vote in true supporters of public schools, and vote out those who have done us harm.

We are not actually tilting at windmills, our giants are very real.  Keep your chin up.  Keep working.  Keep talking to your neighbor about legislators who have helped or hindered the cause of public education.   Most of all, believe our greatest victory is ahead of us.  It is November 6th election day!