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North Carolina editorial roundup

May 1, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


May 1

The Charlotte Observer on a mass shooting on the campus of UNC-Charlotte:

It’s our turn, Charlotte, to live the nightmare.

It’s our turn to see the breaking news email about gunfire, to feel the notification buzz on our phone, to be jolted that our city is included in the next words we read.

It’s our turn to watch aerial footage of places we’ve walked, to watch video loops of cautious police leading students we might know.

It’s our turn to pray that we don’t know the victims or shooter, then to pray for those who do.

It’s our turn to see tweets from our public officials who are “shocked and saddened,” from our governor who is en route to the scene, from our members of Congress who are “monitoring the situation.”

It’s our turn to have Gabby Giffords send her sorrow our way.

It’s our turn to type tweets or Facebook posts about students who went to class like every other student, about holding your child a little tighter tonight, and feel it a little more intimately this time.

It’s our turn to wonder what on earth we can do to change this, to wonder if better school security or mental health awareness or anything might stop this plague of gun violence.

It’s our turn to hope that this shooting might be that catalyst for change, perhaps even locally or with state lawmakers.

It’s our turn to realize that it won’t, that we’re no different than Red Lake or Santa Fe or so many others.

Except some things are different now.

It’s our turn to see that networks aren’t breaking in to programming to cover this school shooting, that Twitter isn’t putting snark on hold, that national newspapers aren’t going to put this tragedy on their front pages.

It’s our turn to realize that if that notification on our phone was about gunfire in another city, we too might have mentally swiped it away.

It’s our turn to understand that it’s no longer big news when someone walks into a classroom and starts firing, that mass shootings happen with such regularity that they’ve become more like all the other shootings with all the other guns.

It’s our turn to also understand that “thoughts and prayers” from Republicans have worked, just not the way we want. They’ve worked as a stall and diversion, a way to say something without having to say anything, until the next shooting happens and everyone moves on.

Because everyone does move on now. And they will again, more quickly each time. This is the new nightmare — that we’ve become deadened to the worst in us because it no longer feels like the worst. It’s just who we are, and it’s our turn to live it.




April 30

StarNews of Wilmington on teachers who are rallying:

We write this as products of public school teachers who transformed our lives. We write this as parents who have seen public school teachers transform the lives of our children. We write this as parents, journalists and members of this community that see and know the incredible challenges teachers face every day.

Thousands of teachers from across North Carolina are travelling to Raleigh on Wednesday for what’s being called a Day of Action. Last week in this space we expressed disappointment that the rally was forcing the Brunswick and New Hanover school systems to cancel classes in a school year in which Hurricane Florence has caused major disruptions.

We want to be clear — we support most of the causes teachers will be rallying for in Raleigh. We supported a similar rally last year because it seemed that teachers were having to take such actions to get their voices heard. However, because of the extraordinary number of days missed last fall, we feel that teachers in our area could have made their voices heard without further disrupting classes.

That in no way means we do not support teachers and their need to be heard. We simply believe that the Hurricane Florence disruptions meant a different approach was needed this time.

We write this as products of public school teachers who transformed — maybe even saved — our lives. We write this as parents who have seen public school teachers continue to transform the lives of our own children. We write this as parents, journalists and members of this community that see and know the incredible challenges teachers face every day.

We write this as editors who are dismayed by commenters who actually believe that teachers work only during school hours and do nothing on weekends or over breaks.

We write this as parents and residents who have seen and are currently experiencing the disparity in facilities, resources and maintenance of our schools.

We write this as a Wilmington native who started school just as legal racial segregation had ended and now see de facto segregation as the status quo.

We write this as we’ve seen a school board set district lines that ignored or wished away the indelible harm, mistrust, hurdles and divisions caused by years of segregation and “separate and unequal” treatment in our schools and in the larger community and economy.

But we also write this as realists, understanding that since North Carolina teachers have no legal means of collective bargaining, change will come primarily by voters electing enough sympathetic legislators. Those numbers currently are not on the side of the teachers who will be in Raleigh on Wednesday. We believe that rallies that result in the cancellation of classes in areas where so much instruction time already has been disrupted will not help.

We adamantly support our public schools. We adamantly support teachers and consider it one of the noblest of callings. In this particular place and at this particular moment, however, we disagree with the tactics and believe they could backfire.

We will be happy if we are wrong.




April 30

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the first draft of the North Carolina House budget:

The North Carolina House budget, released Monday evening, is in many ways typical of N.C. Republican budgets. It features “tax reform” that’s really just tax cuts, and it’s fuzzy on whether teachers will get the kind of pay and resources they and their classrooms deserve. That dynamic of cutting taxes and underfunding education is what’s bringing public school teachers to Raleigh again for another rally Wednesday.

Still, there are items in this budget’s first draft that should encourage all North Carolinians, including education advocates. We hope these items survive — at least conceptually — as House and Senate lawmakers begin the journey toward a final budget:

Opioid addiction: The House budget gives an additional $5 million per year for state-run opioid treatment programs. It also creates new programs like addiction help for people in prison and continues to fund a “quick response” pilot program for treating overdoses that’s already been successful in the Cape Fear area and could expand to other areas.

The best way to fully attack opioid issues is to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, which would increase access to treatments for opioid use disorders. But the House budget shows that Republicans are at least aware of the need to meet the growing opioid crisis.

Rape kits: There are more than 10,000 untested rape kits statewide, a backlog that includes decades worth of unsolved cases. It’s inexcusable, and state lawmakers and Attorney General Josh Stein are moving toward correcting this tragic negligence. Legislation would direct police and sheriffs departments to submit new kits to the State Crime Lab, and the budget currently contains $6 million to help pay for testing of backlogged kits. That’s what the attorney general has called for, and the final budget should include it.

Advanced teaching roles: The budget doubles a current $1.5 million grant for “create innovative compensation models” that would give up to a 30 percent raise to teachers who come up with plans that lead to “measurable improvements in student outcomes.”

We’d rather have districts than the state deciding which teachers get grants, and we understand concerns about tying money to short-term “measurable” outcomes. We also agree with educators who say this type of initiative shouldn’t replace better teacher pay. Still, educators should be receptive to programs that encourage innovation. This one does.

School security: The budget allots tens of millions of dollars over the next two years for school safety grants, the News and Observer reports. Schools can apply for money for several areas, including school resource officers to mental health support personnel. The criteria for which applications get selected are unclear, and we worry that the Republicans state schools superintendent will show preference toward physical security upgrades and school resource officers (which can do more harm than good). But we like that the budget not only provides both money and flexibility for school safety.

Election security: The president doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem, but intelligence reports show that in 2016, Russia hacked into local U.S. election boards — and apparently a Florida voter-registration network in 2016. Few believe that Russia or other countries plan to back off next election, so North Carolinians should be pleased to see several million dollars in state and federal money going toward modernizing the state’s election security.




April 30

The Fayetteville Observer on prioritizing flood-proofing in the state:

As Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters receded and we began cleaning up the massive mess, it became apparent that we had some difficult challenges ahead. A changing climate was making hurricanes bigger, slower, wetter. We saw the need to prepare for the kind of flooding we encountered. A lot of scientists told us that, and at least some of our political leaders agreed.

Then, just two years later, along came Hurricane Florence, putting a big, red exclamation point on that reality. Gov. Roy Cooper uses the phrase “new normal” a lot as he talks about what the two hurricanes did to this state, and what we need to do to prepare for similar future storms. It’s a huge task. We need to make hard decisions about where development is OK and where it isn’t — including tough calls on who can rebuild after a big flood and who will have to move to higher ground. We need to look at roads, bridges, power grids and all the other infrastructure in flood-prone areas and begin to raise, harden or move them. We’re talking about billions — probably hundreds of billions of dollars in construction spending.

The alternative is spending many billions every time a big hurricane like Matthew or Florence gives us another slap.

But so far, all the talk has mostly been just that — lots of talk and not much action. If another big hurricane swamps us this year or next, the toll is likely to be the same as the last one — or maybe worse.

With the 2019 hurricane season just a month away, the big risk-management and insurance company, Zurich North America, has issued a report that says state leaders aren’t doing enough to mitigate risks. It urged state leaders to act promptly to better storm-proof our vulnerable areas. “Despite the double hit of Matthew and then Florence, along with an extremely active though not directly damaging to North Carolina hurricane season of 2017, people and businesses are missing an opportunity to improve their resilience,” Paul Lavelle, the insurer’s chief claims officer, said. “The trends are clear — natural hazards are getting worse. Now is a key window of opportunity with the recovery still ongoing in many communities to take action and reduce future risk.”

In North Carolina and in the rest of the country as well, the report says, roads aren’t built high enough or with enough space for flood water to flow around or under them. It also warns that the state hasn’t moved quickly enough to stop the pollution from flooded sewage-treatment plants, hog lagoons, poultry farms and coal-ash pits. In many cases, the report says, state help will be needed because local government doesn’t have the financial resources to make improvements.

“Communities can no longer afford business as usual, quite literally,” Lavelle said. “The growing economic and human cost of these events requires that we not only change how we respond, but also do so far more quickly than we have in the past.”

But that’s not what we’re seeing, although Cooper has proposed a state construction bond project that would include spending $800 million on water and sewer projects. But as the report also points out, the state has done nothing to discourage building in high-risk areas and taxpayers continue to subsidize projects like the restoration of eroding beaches that encourage even more development in areas increasingly threatened by rising sea levels even in normal conditions, let alone during hurricanes.

For reference, the report suggests, state officials might want to consider what other coastal communities are doing to flood-proof themselves. Some of the smart ones include Norfolk, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Miami, Florida.

We hope our leaders in Raleigh are paying attention to what Zurich North America has found. Ignoring the company’s advice could be a fiscal nightmare.