It’s time for North Carolina to give its teachers their fair share, Opinion, Sylva Herald

It’s time for North Carolina to give its teachers their fair share

In 2023 state policymakers were confronted with alarming data: teacher vacancies had hit record highs. Not only did 1 in every 18 classrooms lack a licensed teacher, but districts serving the greatest share of Black students and students from families with low incomes faced the greatest shortages. In other words, the teacher shortage had reached crisis levels, demanding a dramatic response from lawmakers.

Sadly, that response never came. Now the teacher vacancy problem has gotten worse.

At the 40th day of the 2023-24 school year, 6,006 classroom teaching positions were vacant, smashing the prior year record by 18 percent. This year, more than 1 in every 16 lacked a licensed teacher over a month into the school year.

These vacancies continue to be associated with the demographics of the district. Districts with more students from families with low incomes and districts with more Black students tend to experience higher teacher vacancy rates. The association has grown even more stark this year.

As a result, it’s disproportionately Black students and economically disadvantaged students who pay the price for lawmakers’ unwillingness to make the necessary investments to attract and retain certified teachers in every classroom.

Of course, all students suffer from teacher vacancies. And it’s not just the students assigned to an unlicensed teacher.

Teacher vacancies increase the demands on the teachers who have persisted in spite of state policymakers’ efforts to drive them from the classroom. Vacancies create larger class sizes. They require experienced teachers to assist untrained, novice teachers and to fill in when substitutes are nowhere to be found. This leaves our best teachers with less time to lesson plan, individualize instruction, assist less experienced colleagues, or to find regular opportunities to decompress from an increasingly difficult, stressful job.

As vacancies rise year after year, an increasing number of teachers are taking on more responsibilities to fill in the holes.

It should come as no surprise that North Carolina’s teacher vacancy problem has worsened. The 2023 budget failed to include any meaningful efforts to reverse the ongoing war on the teaching profession. In spite of the teacher shortage crisis, legislators cut public school budgets and provided meager pay raises of only 3.6 percent, barely keeping pace with inflation. Average teacher pay is 23 percent below the national average. Our schools remain among the worst-funded in America, and our teachers continue to earn salaries that dramatically trail their peers in other industries.

Legislators know that teachers remain the most important in-school factor for boosting academic achievement. Yet they have instead chosen to prioritize a massive expansion of the state’s private school voucher program to benefit wealthy families already enrolled in private schools. While investments in teachers have been shown to boost academic performance, statewide voucher programs have produced unprecedented drops in test scores for voucher students.

The voucher expansion also sends a clear message to public school teachers: state leaders would rather subsidize their wealthy donors than provide teachers with competitive salaries, repair dilapidated school buildings, or give teachers adequate support staff such as teacher assistants, nurses and school psychologists.

Legislators’ failure to support teachers and improve their working conditions is at the heart of the long-running Leandro court case which requires that all children have access to highly qualified teachers. The case has spurred a detailed, research-based, multi-year plan to increase investments in educators and students in order to provide the basic level of schooling promised under our state constitution. Unfortunately, legislative leaders have fought tooth and nail to get the plan thrown out by the courts, sending educators (and students) another clear message: they’re uninterested in making things better.

The legislature has further conveyed their contempt for teachers by continuing to meddle in how teachers can do their jobs. The Parents Bill of Rights creates purposefully ambiguous restrictions on how teachers approach subjects related to sexual identity and limits their ability to support trans students or others exploring their gender identity. The bill also allows bad actors to file frivolous information requests and objections to instructional materials, chilling instruction on controversial subjects while also wasting teachers’ limited time and resources.

Other bills targeting teachers’ instructional practices could be revived this year. For example, HB 187, which seeks to create a chilling effect around an honest teaching of history and current events, is awaiting action in the state senate. Additionally, a major candidate for governor has conducted his own witch hunt of teachers – seeking and failing to find “indoctrination” – and has referred to educators as “wicked people.”

Is it any wonder that teacher vacancies continue to rise?

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are several obvious steps that the legislature could take to attract and retain excellent, well-trained professionals in every classroom:

• Large, across-the-board pay raises;

• Proper staffing levels for support staff such as teacher assistants, psychologists, nurses, counselors and social workers;

• Capital improvements to ensure each school offers a healthy, inviting learning environment;

• Restoration of professional development and early career mentoring funds.

Not coincidentally, these are all elements of the Leandro Plan.

If legislators want to address the teacher vacancy crisis, they can implement these evidence-based policies. But if they’d rather erect barriers to make academic success more difficult for Black students and students from families with low incomes, then they can continue their current strategy of undermining and alienating educators.

Kris Nordstrom is a Senior Policy Analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education & Law Project. He previously spent nine years with the North Carolina General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division. This column was distributed by NCNewsline.com.

Inflation Reduction Act’s Benefits Lauded, Letter to Editor, Sylva Herald

IRA’s benefits lauded

To the Editor:

Everyone deserves to live a healthy life with financial security. We want to pay less for prescription drugs and live in a world that we can pass on to our grandchildren where carbon pollution is dramatically reduced. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Biden in 2022, does just that. Are you paying less for some of your prescription medicines like Jardiance, Xarelto or Eliquis? Paying $35/month out-of-pocket for insulin? Have you received tax credits for home improvement projects like weatherization or rooftop solar? If you said yes to any one of these, you benefited directly from the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Inflation Reduction Act is a massive piece of legislation with a not-so-sexy name that covers many important areas like healthcare, the environment, IRS tax enforcement, investment in rural communities, tax credits for electric vehicles and a minimum corporate income tax. The size and scope of the legislation makes it difficult to keep track of.

So here are five ways that the IRA helps us right here in North Carolina. First, it increases access to clean energy for working people by lowering energy costs, providing $80 billion in financial rebates for millions of households to buy clean energy products like more efficient heat pumps and appliances. Second, it brings an estimated 2.7 billion of investments in clean power generation and storage. Third, it makes electric vehicles more affordable to the average person through discounts. Fourth, it supports farmers by funding and supporting climate-smart farming solutions and investments to boost clean energy and provide energy efficient upgrades. Finally, it provides funding to protect our communities against climate change by providing flood proofing and storm resistance.

And that’s not all! The IRA allows Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, helps to build a fairer tax code by getting corporations to pay a 15 percent minimum tax and cracks down on wealthy tax cheats by increasing enforcement of the tax code. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) prior to the Inflation Reduction Act, budget cuts prevented the agency from ensuring that large corporations and high-income individuals pay the taxes they legally owe. However, a January IRS report noted that, due to funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, the agency collected $482 million in ongoing efforts to recoup taxes owed by 1,600 millionaires, while also improving taxpayer services for all Americans. We often complain and wonder what the federal government has done for us, and we have a hard time naming anything concrete. Well, here are concrete ways that we benefit from just this one piece of legislation.

To learn more, join Indivisible Common Ground WNC at Bridge Park in Sylva on Saturday, June 1, from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. to spin a wheel, answer questions about the IRA and win prizes! 

Nilofer Couture, Cullowhee

Check out these amazing Letters to the Editor, Sylva Herald, May 7, 2024

We need to exercise our electoral muscles wisely; consider the stakes

To the Editor:

The very thought of a fair election in Russia is both amusing and sad, but guess what? It could happen here. How? How many times have we heard, or said, “I don’t like either choice in this year’s presidential election”. Did we do anything to help pick our choices? Sixty percent of us don’t even vote!

Former President Harry Truman once said that the highest rank in this country is not president, but “CITIZEN”. True power and responsibility in America has always been in the hands of its citizens, but just like certain muscle groups in our bodies, if we don’t use it, we lose it. Only we can give it away, and we have slowly been doing that over many years. More and more we hear people say “I don’t get involved with politics,” and they say it with great pride like they have done something noble or important. Why? We exercise our hearts and bodies to maintain our existence, and to thrive. Lack of physical exercise results in loss of muscle mass, brain function, ability to do the things we like, and eventually just withering away. Lack of political exercise achieves similar results.

While we stay silent, we have had our election results questioned by the very folks that want to control elections to their benefit. That effort continues today, counting on our lack of interest, and if those efforts prevail, our elections will begin to look like those in Russia. Rights that we have had for decades are gone not because we voted for a change, but because we can be counted on to not get involved. We have a Supreme Court on the verge of making new law, instead of merely ruling on the validity of law. Even though presidential immunity is not granted in our constitution, the Supremes are considering granting that, if the act is within the scope of his or her official duties. How messed up is that? Why would our president NEED to do something illegal to lead our country??  It hasn’t been necessary in over 200 years. Why now?

Not everyone is thrilled about our choices this November, but we still need to exercise our choice so that we can continue to do so. We can choose to be active, and to encourage our fellow citizens to do the same, and to lift each other up to regain what we have lost due to inactivity. Our vital signs are still good. Choosing a good, experienced personal trainer who has our interest at heart will be necessary.

Conversely, choosing one who offers no plan, but who tries to instill fear that exercise is bad for you, and that the personal trainer is your enemy will be disastrous to our nation’s health.  Don’t be fooled. No one will be healthier or happier by choosing someone who says “only I can fix it”. It doesn’t work that way.

Choose wisely. Our nation’s health depends on it.

Mark Ballinger, Sylva

Hats off to Jeff Miller, others for Honor Air Flight for local veterans

To the Editor:

I can’t say enough about the man, the legend, the man who makes veteran visits to memorials in Washington, D.C., possible.

He is Jeff Miller, CEO and president of the Blue Ridge Honor Flight. He is an amazing human being to make local veterans’ dreams come true with a once in a lifetime experience in the Honor Air flight to Washington, D.C. on April 27. Thank you for allowing we Guardians to share in the tears, smiles, remembrance, freedom, patriotism, to serve them on the flight, to hold their hands, and to respect of all these veterans that we love so much.

We appreciate Jeff to infinity and beyond! Thanks for all the planning, organization, the staff, Joann, Lynn, Chris, and Izzy are rock stars!, medical teams, volunteers, bus drivers, the food vendors (McDonald’s, Arby’s and Chick-fil-a) the pilots, everyone in Maryland and D.C. and the manpower it took to pull all of this together; it is truly remarkable. We thank God for Jeff – he is a hero serving heroes.

It’s an experience we will carry for the rest of our lives. You made a difference in the lives of these three veterans and mine and so many others. We were just truly humbled and blessed by this experience!

Sheila Crumpler, 

Jackson County Veterans Officer

Get to the polls to vote, and to help

To the Editor:

There is a second primary for the Republican nominations for N.C. lieutenant governor and N.C. auditor. Your vote helps determine which candidate will be on the November ballot. If you are registered Republican or registered Unaffiliated and voted the Republican ballot in March, or either of those who didn’t vote in March, you are eligible to vote during this runoff.

Early voting has started. All precincts vote at the Board of Elections (876 Skyland Drive, Sylva) during early voting. Hours are Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through May 10, and Saturday, May 11, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. There has been no wait, so please stop in!

On Election Day, May 14, you must vote in your precinct. All precincts will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Photo ID is required.

It has been a privilege to be a poll worker during Jackson County elections since November 2022. The training provided by our Board of Elections staff for those working the polls makes it clear how the built-in checks and balances keep our elections fair and safe. It gives us the opportunity to work with experienced staff, both permanent and temporary, who are knowledgeable and supportive.

During the March primary, the Jackson County Board of Elections made a seamless transition from the retiring director, Lisa Lovedahl to the incoming director, Amanda Allen. Amanda has subdued the firehouse of information she encountered upon arrival and is able to answer questions like she’s always been there. That is due to her prior experience as a poll worker, as well as the expertly trained staff Lisa left behind. I truly enjoy working with this team. You would too! When poll workers walk through the door of the voting place, we drop our political affiliations, and we are all just Board of Election employees who work cooperatively. Our goal is to make sure all eligible voters can cast their vote and know that their vote matters and that it counts.

You can be a poll worker, too! There is no better way to build confidence in our elections than to be a part of them. Poll workers are your neighbors. Even if you can’t work full days, you are needed! There are several ways to apply to be a poll worker – a paid position (currently $11/hour). Jackson County election workers: must be registered voters and residents of Jackson County, cannot be an elected government official or manager/treasurer for a candidate or political party, and cannot be a candidate or near-relative of a candidate or elected official. Application and job descriptions are available at jcncelections.org/get-involved or you can fill out the “Democracy Heroes Form” online at ncsbe.gov/about-elections/get-involved-elections/become-election-official. You can stop by the Board of Elections to fill out an application and meet some of the staff with whom you will be working. The Board of Elections is open year-round to answer questions, register voters, change registrations, etc. You can reach them at 586-7538. 

Kristin Kane, Sylva

Let’s make every day Earth Day

To the Editor:

Earth Day ’24 was April 22 so yes, it’s over. The theme was planet vs plastics. Here are some of the reasons we must make every day Earth Day:

Scientists tell us that there are at least 75+ million tons of plastic in our oceans and that could increase to 53 million tons per year by 2030. Why is that important? Plastics account for 85 percent of all material waste, are a threat to all marine life, people, and influence climate. Costs to tourism, fisheries, aquaculture, health, and cleanup are enormous. That cost could rise to $250 billion by 2040 if things don’t change. Ninety-nine percent of plastics are made from chemicals derived from crude oil and natural gas. When these fuels are burned, they send about 400 million tons of climate-warming greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere every year. The U.S. emits about 25 percent of global greenhouse emissions and our individual carbon footprint is about 18.6 tons of C02 – the highest per capita in the world. About 8 percent of the world’s oil is now used to make plastics. Without major action, that percentage could rise to 20 percent by 2050.

So, what’s the health impact on us? Plastics break down into micro and nanoparticles that are incredibly small and are in our air, drinking water and food causing a multitude of serious health issues. It’s estimated that each of us takes in the amount of plastic in a credit card every week! So, what can we do individually?

1) Reduce usage of single-use plastics: refuse single-use plastics you don’t need – plastic straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils and containers; take your own reusable substitutes; and tell business owners you want them to go green.

2) Support lawmakers and legislation to reduce plastic production and waste locally, at the state level, and nationally. Vet candidates on their positions regarding the environment. Signing petitions is easy and it has been proven that when decision-makers receive thousands of petitions they take note. This might be the most important action you can take. Our present congressional members score embarrassingly low on voting for our environment. Lifetime League of Conservation averages for Sen. Budd: 4 percent; Tillis, 11 percent; and Rep. Edwards, 6 percent. Our delegation average is 3 percent – only Florida and Missouri score lower. We can’t let this continue!

3) At present only 9 percent of plastic is recycled worldwide. If you don’t recycle, start now.

4) Participate in cleanups beside and in rivers and lakes.

5) Support organizations that are fighting all forms of pollution and environmental threats. Do an online search by your area of interest but here are few that are successful and highly rated: Climate Reality, Interfaith Power & Light (many petitions for people of faith); Friends of the Earth; Earth Justice (legal action on policy); Dogwood Alliance (trees and forests); Care 2 (variety of petitions); Ocean Conservancy; Beyond Plastics; The Union of Concerned Scientists.

For the sake of our children, grandchildren, and future generations, please do your part to make every day Earth Day.

Gene Tunnell, Cullowhee

Sunshine week comes as we are swimming in conspiracy theories, editorial Sylva Herald

Sunshine Week comes as we are swimming in conspiracy theories

Rob Schofield

Rob Schofield

This week is Sunshine Week – the 20th such annual celebration of open government principles and accomplishments since the event was conceived and launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. And if there was ever a time in which all aspects of law and policymaking in our country were badly in need of more sunshine, this is it.

As anyone who’s peeked at a social media feed knows, the U.S. is utterly awash these days in crazy conspiracy theories. All across the nation – and especially, but not exclusively, on the political right – large numbers of people have fallen prey to the notion that massive, secretive, and diabolical plots are afoot to do … well, you name it.

Many of these kooky ideas came to the surface during the dark and confusing initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic. First, frightened people fell for the false idea that COVID was a scheme concocted by powerful and hidden elites to accomplish any number of nefarious ends. Then came the claims that COVID vaccine injections would render the vaccinated somehow subject to tracking by big tech companies (and/or the government, or some other big and mysterious institution).

But, of course, none of this is particularly unprecedented. In the mid-20th Century, a movement led by a demagogue U.S. senator named Joseph McCarthy and groups like the John Birch Society successfully peddled the false notion to millions that the U.S. government had been infiltrated by an untold number of communist agents bent on stealing our freedoms.

In the following decades, similar outrageous claims arose about the Apollo moon landing, about the JFK assassination, and even about the shape of the Earth.

Among the most infamous in recent years are the truly loony claims of the QAnon cult, which among other things, promotes the idea that the modern world is controlled by, as the New York Times explained the group’s fantasies a few years back, “a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.”

And then, most dangerously of course, there are the mad claims of former President Donald Trump – a man who once promoted the lie that then-President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen – that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

More recently, Trump, who is documented to have uttered and spread thousands of lies as president and in the years since leaving office, has pushed the blatantly absurd and false claim that President Biden is smuggling immigrants across the southern border as part of a fiendish scheme to steal the 2024 election.

As loony as they may be, however, one of the biggest and most vexing problems with these kinds of false conspiracy theories is that they are, almost by definition, difficult to debunk. President Obama ultimately resorted to publishing a copy of his birth certificate, but for a variety of obvious reasons, it’s more difficult to instantly discredit bizarre and outlandish claims like those embraced by the QAnon crowd.

Now add to this that the truth – especially when it comes to matters of public health and science – often involves gray areas and imperfect or evolving information, and the task for myth debunkers becomes that much more challenging.

And this fact serves to highlight an especially bitter and destructive irony here in North Carolina during Sunshine Week.

For while it’s the political right that has most frequently promoted or stood silently by in the face of outrageous conspiracy theories, while benefiting from the paranoia and distrust of government they’ve bred among many voters, it’s also the right that has made secrecy and lack of sunlight – especially at the N.C. General Assembly – its stock-in-trade.

Think about it.

Over the past decade-plus of Republican rule in the legislature, secrecy — in the way the budget is written and enacted, in the way debate over legislation is conducted (or more often, not conducted), and even in the way the public and lawmakers themselves are apprised of when the legislature will meet and the bills that will be considered – has become one of the conservative majority’s signature strategies.

Just last year, GOP legislative leaders went so far as to pass a new law that vastly enhances their ability to keep records secret, and even to reap personal profits from them.

And yet, bizarrely, it is this same party that promotes (and disproportionately benefits from) widespread public distrust in government that is – you got it – rooted in a fear of things like secrecy.

It’s really a darkly ingenious strategy – almost as ingenious as systematically enfeebling core public services like public education with repeated and debilitating budget cuts, and then fanning the flames of public dissatisfaction with those same schools for failing to provide every student with the one-on-one attention that parents demand.

And it’s a strategy that all caring and thinking people must do their utmost to expose and resist – both during Sunshine Week and for the remainder of 2024 – if we’re going to sustain our democracy.

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the ‘News & Views’ weekly radio show/podcast. This column was distributed by NCNewsline.com.

2024 Primary Candidate Information

NONPARTISAN ELECTIONS

The Jackson County Democratic Party supports Gayle Woody and Wes Jamison in the elections for Jackson County Board of Education. Please note that the Board of Education elections are NOT primary nominations but the actual elections for School Board Members.

 

Wes Jamison, District 3

I am Wes Jamison, a native of Sylva, raised on Monteith Branch, and a product of our local education system. After graduating from Smoky Mountain High in 1997, I earned a degree in Civil Engineering from N.C. State University. At that time, I returned home to serve as a transportation engineer with the NCDOT.

As a devoted parent of four children attending Jackson County Schools, I am deeply invested in the future of our educational system. Throughout my tenure on the Jackson County School Board, I have been an advocate for early childhood development programs, championing the expansion of pre-K initiatives across our county. Moreover, I have supported our dedicated educators and staff, ensuring they have the resources they need.

Providing a safe environment for our students is extremely important. Through collaboration with law enforcement, including both the current and former sheriff, we have successfully implemented School Resource Officers on every campus, fostering a secure learning environment for our children.

I am dedicated to enhancing opportunities for our students, equipping them with the skills and experiences needed to thrive in an increasingly competitive world. Over the past eight years, I have demonstrated a commonsense approach to decision-making, grounded in research and thoughtful deliberation. While not every decision may please everyone, rest assured that each is made with the utmost consideration for our community’s best interests.

I humbly seek your support and your vote. Together, let’s continue to build a brighter future for Jackson County.” (profile published in The Sylva Herald, February 14, 2024)

Gayle Woody, District 1

I decided to run for the Jackson County Board of Education because I believe our teachers and parents need a voice from someone who has been there. My four children were born in Jackson County and graduated from SMHS. As a parent I supported our children’s teachers and I wanted to be listened to when I had a concern. I can truthfully say I was. As a former art teacher at Fairview and SMHS I understand the daily concerns teachers face. Most teachers I worked with during my career did everything they could to help their students learn and reach their full potential. They deserve full support from the School Board.

I began teaching in Swain County in 1974 and retired from JCPS in 2016 (taking time to stay home with our children). During those 42 years I saw the academic pendulum swing back and forth on school policy and teaching methods. What remained constant was the need for children to have a safe and healthy environment in which to learn and trained competent teachers to teach.

My husband, Phil, is also a retired teacher and coach from JCPS. We have been married 48 years and have been blessed with 12 grandchildren.

Effective School Board members do not have personal agendas but make decisions by determining what is best for students, teachers and staff. If elected I pledge to support our teachers and listen to the concerns of parents, teachers and staff. I will be a voice for our community.(profile published in The Sylva Herald, February 14, 2024)

 

PARTISAN NOMINATIONS

The following candidates are partisan nominations in the Democratic Primary. The Jackson County Democratic Party does not support individual partisan nominees in the Primary. The list below gives the main website for each candidate.

 

Presidential Preference

Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

https://joebiden.com

 

NC Governor

Gary Foxx

https://www.garywfoxxforncgovernor.com

 

Michael R. (Mike) Morgan

https://morganforgovernor.com

 

Josh Stein

https://www.joshstein.org

 

Marcus W. Williams

https://www.williamshouseusa.com

 

Chrelle Booker

https://electchrellebooker.com

 

 

NC Lieutenant Governor

 

Rachel Hunt

https://www.rachelhunt.com

 

Mark H. Robinson

https://mark4nc.com

 

Ben Clark

https://www.benclarknc.com

 

 

NC Attorney General

Satana Deberry

https://www.satanadeberryfornc.com

 

Tim Dunn

https://dunnfornc.com

 

Jeff Jackson

https://www.jeffjacksonnc.com

 

 

 

NC Commissioner of Insurance

Natasha Marcus

https://natashamarcus.com

 

David Wheeler

https://www.wheelernc.com

 

 

NC Superintendent of Public Instruction

C. R. Katie Eddings

https://eddingsforeducation.com

 

Maurice (Mo) Green

https://www.mogreenfornc.com

 

Kenon Crumble

https://kenoncrumble.com

 

 

NC Treasurer

Gabe Esparza

https://www.gabefornorthcarolina.com

 

Wesley Harris

https://harrisfornc.com

 

 

NC Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 5

Allison Riggs

https://www.riggsforourcourts.com

 

Lora Christine Cubbage

https://www.cubbage4ncsupreme.com

 

 

 

A sense of neighborhood is priceless, Letter to the Editor, Sylva Herald

A sense of neighborhood is priceless

To the Editor:

I grew up in a home that consisted of parents, grandparents, children, uncles, aunts and a variety of family members who visited on a regular basis.

I was able to socialize without ever leaving my home. The front porch was definitely a place where we interacted with the neighbors and friends on a daily basis. Having been brought up in a Hispanic family, Spanish was the primary spoken language. I spoke Spanish the majority of the time, although English was also spoken. There was never a time when I felt less important than others because my parents made sure that I was able to relate to others, both in English and Spanish,

One unique difference between my home today and my home now is that relating to others was always person to person. There were no technological gadgets used to relate thoughts and feelings. We ate meals together on a daily basis. I never ate at a restaurant until I was out of high school. There simply was no way for my parents to afford eating at a restaurant. The food at home made it possible for me to eat with other members of my family. The beauty of eating at home was that we could discuss a large number of issues with each other while sitting at the table. There were no misunderstandings of meaning as there can be on social media.

Today, the cell phone has become the panacea and instrument that is utilized to share our love for each other, and this is truly tragic. We no longer share our love for each other by touch and verbalization. That form of communication was more powerful than a phone or computer could provide.

Living in Sylva reminds me of living in my childhood neighborhood. I am fortunate enough to have neighbors who relate to each other on a regular basis with a great deal of love and affection. We all care about one another. I have been able to talk with some Spanish speaking individuals and I visit restaurants with Spanish speaking people.

Research has shown that people who socialize with others in a caring manner are healthier and live longer. Please make sure that you spend time sharing your thoughts and feelings with the people in your neighborhood, your church, and other venues in Sylva. It is through sharing a meal together and spending time communicating with others that we learn to live a more meaningful life!

Michael Gonzalez, Sylva

Let First Principles prevail, Letter to the Editor, Sylva Herald

Let First Principles prevail

To the Editor:

A Google search reveals this simple concept: First principles thinking (or reasoning from first principles) is a problem-solving technique that requires you to break down a complex problem into its most basic, foundational elements. The idea: to ground yourself in the foundational truths and build up from there.

The Supreme Court will soon be making a ruling on the Fourteenth Amendment, the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and whether Donald Trump is qualified to be President of the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3, states: ”No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the Unites States, or under any State, who having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

The Presidential oath states: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Donald Trump addressed his supporters at the Ellipse (after having asked them to be there) on Jan. 6. He pleaded with them until around 1:10 p.m. to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell”. From then until 4:17 p.m. he watched on television as his supporters invaded the Capitol, destroyed public property and endangered the lives of those in charge of defending the Capitol. Their illegal activity resulted in deaths inside the Capitol. While Donald Trump watched this chaos/protest/riot/insurrection/rebellion he had several people plead with him to call the mob off. He refused. Until 4:17 p.m., three hours and seven minutes after his speech at the Ellipse ended.

If the Supreme Court can, using first principles thinking, decide that Donald Trump is still qualified to run for and possibly be elected president after he failed/refused to protect the Capitol on Jan. 6 we might as well shred the Constitution.

This writer is fully aware that Trump has not been convicted of any violation of his oath yet. But television news documented his failure/refusal to protect the Capitol for all to see. The Supreme Court must use the obvious truth at their disposal to render Donald Trump unfit to hold any public office again.

Trump has appealed to various emotions within millions of people. Party loyalty is one of the strongest, including appealing to the Supreme Court which has been stacked with no less than three of his appointees. The entire Fourteenth Amendment is based on emotion in the sense that it provides for “equal protection under the law”. Yet, it tempers those same emotions with reason. The Supreme Court must follow the law. First principles will work.

Dave Waldrop, Webster

Let us lift up, not tear down, Letter to Editor, Sylva Herald

Let us lift up, not tear down

To the Editor:

I am a 60-year-old man who lives in Jackson County and a father. I am concerned about the eroding of trust in one another; and it seems to be coming from the vociferous voices of untrustworthy people allowed to speak from over-sized bullhorns.

We don’t trust our librarians and their extensive education. We don’t trust educators. Heck, we don’t trust education in general. We don’t trust parents to raise their children. We don’t trust our friends and neighbors who work for our government, the government for and by the people. Fear replaces trust, and living in fear makes for behavior that is unhealthy for our communities. Rather than building up, we tear down; rather than love, we hate. Why is it easier to carry a weapon of death into a public space, a library for instance, than it is to protect the freedom of speech?

Please my friends, let us love and trust one another. Let us be individuals together, diversity within our unity. Let our libraries be, and trust our librarians. Let us lift one another up and not tear each other down.

Scott Carpenter, Sapphire

Democracy or Fascism? Letter to the editor Sylva Herald

Democracy or fascism?

 To the Editor:

Some people still believe that America is involved in a traditional Democratic/Republican political struggle. That is an illusion. What we are actually doing is grinding out our future system of governing. The struggle is between a fledgling Democratic Republic and an emerging wave of fascism which is clearly led by Donald Trump.

The doors have been accidentally left open for this struggle by our original Constitutional framers. They wrote the original document with a couple of flaws that render our Republic very fragile. The first flaw was the assumption that those who would be elected president would instinctively protect and defend the Constitution. We are seeing in Donald Trump that that notion is simply not tenable. Trump is actually using the trust inherent in the Constitution to destroy the document’s principles on the way to a new form of government (fascism).

The second glaring weakness of the Constitution is the Supreme Court. Can you believe that it is a body of mere humans who are fallible who are appointed by politicians who have no written ethics to guide their behavior and maintain some faith by Americans that they weigh matters according to the Constitution. They are free to behave as they choose. We are now seeing those seeds produce bitter fruit.

In recent times the Supreme Court engineered yet another dangerous flaw called Citizens United. It allows corporations and wealthy influencers to buy legislation that fits their interests, not that of the American people. Can someone find me a corporation in ancestry.com? No, you cannot. They are not people. This may be what Benjamin Franklin feared when he replied, “A republic if you can keep it.”

Right now it appears that fascism has the upper hand in the struggle. Democracy is in a chokehold. Can our form of government withstand the onslaught of Donald Trump and the fascist regime he espouses? Not until/unless we see the struggle as what it is. Then we must amend the Constitution to prevent breaches of trust that we are victimized by at this point in time.

The movement toward a “more perfect union” cannot be facilitated by abandoning our Democratic Republic and drifting into a fascist regime. Americans must choose to protect and defend the Constitution or risk losing our way of life.

Dave Waldrop, Webster

The sensible option is, don’t consolidate, letter to Editor, Sylva Herald

The sensible option is don’t consolidate

 To the Editor:

Option 4. Do nothing.

Option 4 is no consolidation of the departments of health and Social Services.

Jackson County commissioners have the option of leaving these agencies to operate independently as they do now.

Savings can only be incurred if the county has over 100,000 people and the departments operate in the same building.

Adding any layers of bureaucracy to the county budget will increase salary and benefit requirements in excess of a $100,000. If Jackson County gets sued because the commissioners do something discriminatory it could bankrupt the county.

There is no justification for continuing discussions on consolidation. Low pay driving county workers to leave should be addressed separately.

Call the county commissioners at 586-4055. Option 4 Do Nothing. Consolidation will hurt the residents of Jackson County and put politicians in charge of your healthcare and county services.

Christine Taber, Sylva

Why should I attend a precinct meeting? Letter to Editor, Sylva Herald

Participating in democracy a must

To the Editor:

At a recent meeting of the Sylva-Dillsboro Combined precinct “steering committee,” the question arose, “Why should I attend a precinct meeting?” 

While I had an idea, or I wouldn’t have been there, I struggled to put my response into words. I truly wanted to be able to answer this question, so I reached out to other precinct/party officers looking for the words I had struggled to find. They came through for me.

In the days of our founders, a “virtuous” man was a person who willingly dedicated part of their time to help their neighbors, their community, and their country. They believed that a democratic republic relied on such public virtue and on a complementary quality, public vigilance – the vigilant safe-guarding of your and your neighbors’ rights from people who would willingly cast them aside for power. For most of us that service can most conveniently and effectively come at a precinct level – within your neighborhood. 

It’s there we can meet, plan and operationalize the means of getting out our local voters to ensure the victories of only “virtuous” men and women, those who reflect the values both of our neighborhoods and our Constitution. Often the greatest influence in getting a potential voter engaged is personal, one-on-one.

Today’s political districts have far too many people for voters and candidates to know each other well. Ask any candidate running for a state office and they will tell you that the precinct level is where they want to meet people, talk to them, shake hands.

 Most of us get our information digitally and there is more of it than we can digest. 

When we sit down with people who share a common purpose, it gives us the chance to make sense of all the information as we bounce ideas around and to grow stronger through the diversity of our life experiences and our gifts. 

There is a synergy that can’t be created, nurtured, or experienced by reading a newsletter. Synergy is the interaction or cooperation of two or more individuals to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. 

Being engaged in these activities is fun, rewarding, and energizing.

Many people think getting their neighbors to the polls, helping them become knowledgeable about issues and candidates, and building a candidate bench is a task for someone else. 

It’s not. 

It’s our collective responsibility and when we fail to do it democratic republics can wither. Most Americans do not even know the party leaders in the precinct in which they reside and vote. 

Let’s change that! The Sylva-Dillsboro Democrats invite you to join us at our headquarters, 500 Mill St., Sylva, on Oct. 18 starting at 6:30 p.m. for a soup and bread supper, followed by a precinct meeting from 7-8 p.m. Come enjoy a good meal, share your energy and ideas, meet some of your neighbors, and find out how you can contribute to the continuation of our democracy.

Kristin Kane, Sylva

Let’s not undermine the community treasure that is our library, Letter to Editor, Sylva Herald

Let’s not undermine the community treasure that is our library

To the Editor:

Libraries are the backbone of any community. They serve a number of critical functions, particularly in rural areas such as far Western North Carolina where, because many homes remain without internet services, use of computers and printers are provided free of charge at the library.

This proved a godsend when schools were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A well-stocked library provides opportunities to read about history and current events; offers wide-ranging research resources; fiction and non-fiction choices for people of all ages, information on political opinions and views, world religions and cultural issues.

For patrons who choose to seek them out, materials related to gender and racial identity are available.

Displays commemorating special events such as Indigenous Peoples Day, Pride Month, religious and secular holidays are organized at appropriate times throughout the year. Reading classic literature at home with my parents and, later, with my own children was special to me. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Charlotte’s Web” and even, “Where The Wild Things Are” are prime examples.

I believe we gain better perspective on the human condition when we read about people, places and events that are not part of our everyday world.

Banning such literature limits a reader’s appreciation of the world.

If I as a parent feel something is inappropriate for my child it is my responsibility, and mine alone, to assure they are not exposed to it.

I happen to be a white, heterosexual Christian. That does not diminish my desire to learn about others who differ from me in their religious, racial, sexual, cultural, educational or professional experiences.

What a sad, lonely place it would be if we were not given the opportunity to surround ourselves with the richness of the human experience. I respect that the opinions of others may be different from mine but expect that mine will be respected in return.

The purpose of a library is to make information and resources available to patrons from all walks of life with many diverse views.

If an item is felt by an individual to be offensive to their personal values or beliefs, then I respectfully suggest that they choose not to read or watch it.

Our library system and its individual county libraries are a remarkable resource to this part of the state. The staff members are knowledgeable about the collections and eager to assist with any requests.

The opportunities provided for our citizens quite often exceed what’s available in many more urban areas. The administrators are, in my opinion, excellent stewards of the financial resources available to them and are to be commended for their professionalism and understanding of the needs of the communities they serve. Please, let’s not undermine a wonderful organization that serves us all so well.

Jenifer Montsinger, Sylva

NC school vouchers, a decade of failure…Sylva Herald guest columnist

 

NC school vouchers: A decade of failure… and now more expansion?

Rob Schofield

The list of shortcomings and failures associated with North Carolina’s decade-long experiment with private school vouchers (aka “Opportunity Scholarships”) is a long and sobering one.

Though originally pitched and sold as a tool that would lift student performance and achievement by providing low-income families with a greater degree of “school choice,” there’s no evidence that kids attending voucher schools have experienced any such renaissance.

The North Carolina schools that receive the funds are almost completely unaccountable and under no obligation to meet meaningful standards, so collecting and dissecting hard data is extremely difficult. A 2020 Duke University report, however, cast significant doubt on the program’s performance. Meanwhile, in states where thorough study has been possible — Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, the District of Columbia – voucher student performance and achievement have both lagged.

There are other significant red flags associated with the program:

Voucher schools frequently discriminate against children and families on the basis of their religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

Many employ curricula grounded in religious fundamentalism and white supremacy that teach factually inaccurate lessons in science (denying the reality of evolution) and history (presenting a sanitized version of the enslavement of African Americans).

Despite these problems and having already spent millions of dollars to no evident and measurable positive effect, state lawmakers are preparing to dramatically expand the program. Legislation making its way through the General Assembly would alter the program so that eligibility – originally limited to lower-income families and later expanded to include middle-class households – will soon be available to all, including the state’s wealthiest families.

Maybe just maybe, however, a recent report by veteran education policy analyst Kris Nordstrom of the N.C. Justice Center will cause the proponents of this headlong expansion to pause and reconsider.

Nordstrom examined some basic data compiled by the Department of Administration’s Division of Non-Public Education and the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority. He uncovered the remarkable and disturbing fact that at multiple North Carolina voucher schools, the number of voucher recipients appears to exceed total enrollment.

This is from the report:

“Data from the two agencies charged with overseeing private schools and North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship voucher program show several cases where schools have received more vouchers than they have students. Several other private schools have received voucher payments from the state after they have apparently closed.

“… An analysis of this data shows 62 times where a school received more vouchers than they had students.”

Nordstrom found, for example, that Mitchener University Academy in Johnston County reported a total enrollment in 2022 of 72 students at the same time that it received school vouchers from the state for 149 students.

As Nordstrom pointed out: “Based on this data, either every student received two vouchers, or the school pocketed about $230,000 of state money for students that never existed.”

Meanwhile, in a story that built on Nordstrom’s report, WFAE radio reporter Ann Doss Helms couldn’t even find one such school in Charlotte (Teaching Achieving Students Academy) which received 22 vouchers but only reported having 13 students.

So how could this happen? How could the state find itself in the position of distributing public funds in such a slipshod manner?

As Nordstrom told me in a conversation earlier this week, the answer lies in the way many private schools in our state have come to operate in the voucher era.

Because the voucher system has so little oversight, it’s not just large and established institutions and elite academies (the places most people envision when they think of private schools) that collect state dollars.

Many schools are shoestring (or even fly-by-night) operations. Nordstrom told me that his analysis indicated that 77 voucher schools this past school year had 25 or fewer students. As he put it: “They’re often opening and closing … sometimes they’re in a church basement. Sometimes they’re in strip malls like this one that Ann Doss Helms in Charlotte was looking for, they just can’t find a physical address for.”

In short, by all indications, North Carolina’s school voucher program is not just shortchanging thousands of children, it’s quite possibly ripping off state taxpayers and enriching corrupt individuals to the tune of millions of dollars per year. Even if several of the reporting discrepancies have innocent explanations – plausible when you’re dealing with scores of tiny operations – their mere existence serves to highlight a huge problem with the program.

In short, Nordstrom’s report is just the latest evidence that North Carolina’s school voucher system is fraught with problems – maybe even widespread fraud. And if state legislative leaders retain even the slightest commitment to honesty in governance and combating corruption – much less “running government like a business” – now is the time for a thorough cleanup and overhaul of the program before any expansion is even considered.

Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day news operations for NC Newsline.

Jackson Dems Host Fundraisers for Gubernatorial Candidate Josh Stein!

Jackson County rocked Monday night by raising over $100,000 for North Carolina’s next governor, Josh Stein! The amount raised was almost equally divided between hosts and attendees of separate July 10 fundraisers in Sylva and Cashiers. Stein spoke of his many contributions to NC, of his work in the legislature with Phil Haire and Joe Sam Queen and of his mentorship by Judge Lacy Thornburg and his long-time friend, Jeff Gray.
At the well-attended Sylva fundraiser, hosted by Johnny Phillips and Christi Hooper, Attorney General Stein was presented a Gayle Woody framed print by JCDP Chair Cody Lewis and his wife Melissa. Joining them in the picture is Hannah Snow, Stein’s Regional Finance Director. The Cashiers event was hosted by Linda and Mark Quick and Ann McKee Austin. The picture shows just how well it was attended by a large enthusiastic crowd of supporters and donors. Stein is a worthy gubernatorial candidate, always fighting, and winning, to protect North Carolina families. Jackson County Democrats are proud to raise funds and work to Get out the Vote for JOSH STEIN!
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