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

Six vie for 3 seats on Sylva town board


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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Possessed of a troubling charisma, letter to the editor, Gary Carden, Sylva Herald

Possessed of a troubling charisma

To the Editor:

In a March issue of the Sylva Herald, letter writer Dave Waldrop commented on the character of our former president, Donald Trump.

I agree with his basic message: He considers Trump to be unfit to once again be elected to the highest government office in our country. Essentially, I agree with Dave, but I feel he does not take his message far enough. He concludes that Trump is filled with rage, and it is this unbridled emotion that renders him unfit for office.

In actual fact, Trump has an amazing ability to appear filled with anger and contempt while speaking with his followers. He promotes rage in others, while he remains the crafty and cool speaker. To perceive him as a man who is overcome by his rage for his detractors is a mistake.

This man has a dangerous gift. He can take the discontent of the unemployed, the elderly or any group that feels disenfranchised or “marginalized,” and he can turn them into raging followers who will do his bidding. This man has a dark charisma. Beware!

Gary Carden, Sylva

Important lessons from other states, letter to the editor, Mark Ballinger, Sylva Herald

To the Editor:

We have all heard, from various sources, that if we don’t learn from history, history will repeat itself. The repeating is happening now, especially in a couple of Southern states, and the events bear watching. Keeping track of the events unfolding are worth our time, even if the current tendency is to tune out the news so that our daily lives won’t be disrupted.

First, in Tennessee. The state legislature held a vote to expel three members for simply exercising their rights they have as citizens, (as well as elected representatives), by participating in a peaceful protest over the loss of three young children to yet another shooter. The speaker of the state house said it was “against the rules.” This is where the story gets ugly, like 1950’s ugly. The final vote was: we’ll keep the white lady, but we’ll expel the two black men. Bear in mind, all three participated in the same protest!

Over the entire history of the legislature, there have been many worse activities that did not result in expulsion, including never expelling a member of the KKK. The speaker’s rendition of the story had chilling overtones suggesting that they were not submissive or as contrite as he felt they should have been, and kept pointing a finger at them in a derogatory manner. I haven’t heard of anything this overtly racist in a long, long time. It makes me ill, and I hope my fellow North Carolinians feel the same, and would never let it happen here.

Shifting south to Florida, events there have equal or even more frightening connections to past history than the actions in Tennessee. Many of my wife’s family members are school teachers, and are absolutely appalled at the way the education system is being manipulated. Besides restrictions on what “history” can be taught, there is a rapidly growing list of books that are banned.

Teachers have to hide books for fear of losing their jobs. “Banned” seems to be the new, socially acceptable version of “burned,” but it is a distinction without a difference. How many important books were burned/banned in Germany in the late 1930s? Have we learned nothing from history? Surely North Carolina will remember history and not repeat the stifling of knowledge in Florida?

Please take time from your busy days to learn from what’s happening in other states and past history. It’s up to us. Will we learn, or go back to a much darker point in time?

Mark Ballinger, Sylva