The Follies

The Follies

- in Fitzsimon File


What happened to the coal ash pond task force?

It’s not like we need another reason to be skeptical of the McCrory administration’s response to the coal ash spill into the Dan River or the ongoing leaking of toxins from the other 31 coal ash ponds into the groundwater.

Conflicting messages from McCrory and his Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla this week are troubling enough– McCrory writing Duke Energy saying that his primary desire was that the company move the coal ash out of the leaking ponds and into lined landfills while a day later Skvarla was making excuses to the editorial board of the Southern Pines Pilot about why that might not be possible.

There are still unanswered questions about the sweetheart settlement that DENR reached with Duke Energy last year after the department intervened in a lawsuit by environmental groups filed to force the company to clean up the coal ash.

The settlement included a small fine but no requirements for Duke to do much of anything. The state has notified a judge that it may seek to expand and modify the settlement in the wake of the Dan River disaster. It seems like the least they can do.

Last year’s settlement may be part of the federal criminal investigation prompted by the spill that has already included grand jury subpoenas for numerous officials with Duke Energy and DENR.

Then there are the close ties between Duke and the administration. McCrory himself worked there for 28 years and the company spent more than a million dollars to get him elected governor beginning in 2008.

There are also several other former Duke Energy employees in high-ranking posts in the administration and DENR’s chief spokesperson Drew Elliot was formerly with Progress Energy before it merged with Duke in 2012.

And then there’s this interesting nugget from the blog Coal Ash Chronicles.  There is no mention at all on DENR’s website of the coal ash task force that DENR announced with some fanfare on February 11, nine days after the Dan River spill.

A news release from the department quoted Sec. Skvarla saying that the task force would “include experts in the areas of water resources, dam safety and solid waste management” and “be separate from the state’s ongoing review and decisions regarding appropriate enforcement actions against Duke Energy related to the spill.”

Coal Ash Chronicles has repeatedly asked for a list of the task force members, how they were chosen, a schedule of meetings, and information about the group’s first meeting which was apparently held on February 14.

Two weeks later, the Chronicles had received no response and there was no information about the task force available on the DENR website.

The solution to the coal ash problem is not that difficult to understand—simply require Duke Energy to move the toxic ash out of the ponds and into safer landfills, as Governor McCrory seem to suggest this week before this own top environmental official contradicted him.

But if a task force exists, the public ought to know about it and its meetings ought to be announced and open to the public.  All we have so far from DENR is a news release and a couple of comments on Twitter promoting it.

North Carolina a leader in moonlighting teachers

Here is one of the more telling facts about the scandalously low teacher pay in North Carolina. Researchers at UNC-Charlotte report that almost a third of teachers in the state work at a second job during the school year.

North Carolina ranks third in the country in the number of teachers forced to moonlight to pay their bills.  And it’s no wonder, with the state also ranking near the bottom of the 50 states in teacher pay.

And Governor Pat McCrory’s proposal to give just starting teachers a few thousand dollars a year more while ignoring two-thirds of the teacher workforce isn’t likely to reduce the number of teachers working a second job very much.

Teachers in North Carolina must work 15 years before their annual salary is $40,000.

You would think that a job that politicians constantly remind us is so important would pay enough so teachers wouldn’t have to moonlight.

Time to revisit the N.C. Teaching Fellows

The Public School Forum’s Friday Report notes some interesting facts about the latest bi-annual teacher preparation study conducted by UNC Chapel Hill’s Education Policy Initiative. The whole thing is worth a read—as is the Friday Report—but here is something in particular that policymakers ought to consider.

“As in years past, UNC System teachers are more likely than other teachers to stay in the classroom for more than 3 years, and consistent with the nature of the program, Teach for America teachers are the most likely to leave before their 3rd year.”

It is not surprising that teachers trained by UNC schools tend to stay in the classroom longer. That’s one of the many compelling reasons Governor McCrory and state lawmakers ought to reconsider their decision to end state support for the award-winning N.C. Teaching Fellows program. It provided scholarships for North Carolina students who agreed to teach for at least four years, with many of them staying in the teaching profession for much longer.

Attracting and keeping quality teachers doesn’t seem that complicated.  Give bright students an incentive to enter the teaching profession, pay teachers well, give them enough funding and support to do their jobs, and respect them and what they do every day.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.