Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Letter to Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners about the old Villa Heights Elementary School building

Dear Dumont Clarke,

I’m a homeowner in a neighborhood 2.5 miles from the old Villa Heights Elementary School and 2.5 miles from Garinger High School. I’ve paid property taxes supporting CMS, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County since 1986. I prefer Villa Heights remaining in CMS control as a short-term spot for a special academy connected with Garinger High, with a long-term goal of returning it to being a neighborhood elementary school. I do not favor another charter school at that location.

My concerns are these:
  • I'm not convinced that charter schools have strong enough state oversight of their financing and performance, and therefore I'm not interested in my long-term tax investment in the building being diverted to private lenders or organizations investing in charter schools.
  • I'm not convinced that another charter school in the area will serve all students, including the large population of ESL students stuffed into overcrowded schools elsewhere in CMS.
  • I'm concerned about precedent being set that will force small, neighborhood schools to be turned over to charter organizations. That includes the school in my neighborhood, Merry Oaks, which has a large ESL population.
  • I'm concerned about Veritas' move away from its original planned location on Shamrock Drive, a location that would have had the potential to serve more diverse students in neighborhoods further out on the Eastside. I'd like to know more about why the organization moved away from that location.
  • I'm concerned that Veritas is an organization run by people with their own children invested in south Charlotte schools, not one that grew organically out of local neighborhood parents.
  • I’m concerned that some comments from Veritas supporters indicate a mindset that would appear aimed at siphoning off the children of gentrifying parts of central Charlotte while not supporting existing students at existing schools. Excerpting from an earlier letter I wrote to school board members: Comments from some Veritas supporters about the LIFT plan for Garinger are troubling. One example: "However, the program doesn't need to operate in a facility that is nestled within a neighborhood that is gentrifying. This will negatively impact property values.” As a longtime neighbor of Garinger, I know its students have been stereotyped and falsely blamed for trouble in nearby neighborhoods. I also know the school is working hard to improve its reputation and results, and I'm proud to have donated books to one classroom in the past through Donors Choose. Characterizing students who need the LIFT program as being a danger to a "gentrifying" neighborhood and young children perhaps indicates that Veritas supporters have a lack of understanding about a unique part of Charlotte, grappling with historical segregation, rising rents and property values, and also pockets of lack of opportunity.

At minimum, I'd like for the county commission to put a pause on any decision for one year - Veritas is at 100 students, I've read, rather than the 200 students that it estimated in its charter application to the state. Another year of discussion and community involvement, bringing in all nearby neighborhoods affected by the move and not just Villa Heights, would be more appropriate.

At maximum, I'd like for the county commission to support CMS plans for a Garinger learning center at the school short term, and then explore with CMS ways to return the school to a neighborhood elementary.

Thanks for your time.
Andria Krewson,
Merry Oaks resident

Monday, November 09, 2015

Supporting Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board's decision to retain use of the Villa Heights Elementary building

Dear Tom Tate and other school board members:

I'm concerned about efforts by Veritas Community Charter School to paint the school board as breaking a commitment with its decision to terminate the lease for the Villa Heights school building. I'm also concerned about an apparent lack of awareness by Veritas supporters about the needs of all students in my area of Charlotte.

I've seen the agenda item in which CMS proposes to terminate the lease with Veritas for Villa Heights, and I've read that CMS plans to use Villa Heights as a Project LIFT Center for Garinger High School. Its proximity to Garinger seems an appropriate use for Villa Heights. While I'm sad for Veritas that its plans to use the building will not pan out, the CMS contract appears to have given CMS an option to use the Villa Heights building for other purposes. I support that decision. The move follows the letter of the contract and reimburses Veritas for the work it has done at the school.

As a resident of nearby Merry Oaks who is familiar with the historical dynamics of neighborhoods that Veritas is targeting, I appreciate the Veritas' leaders efforts to serve students in the area. I also know that existing public schools, including charters and magnets, are working hard to serve the communities and are improving.

Comments on Facebook from some Veritas supporters about the LIFT plan for Garinger are troubling. One example:
"However, the program doesn't need to operate in a facility that is nestled within a neighborhood that is gentrifying. This will negatively impact property values.”
As a longtime neighbor of Garinger High, I know its students have been stereotyped and falsely blamed for trouble in nearby neighborhoods. I also know the school is working hard to improve its reputation and results, and I'm proud to have donated books to one classroom through Donors Choose. Characterizing students who need the LIFT program as being a danger to a "gentrifying" neighborhood and young children perhaps indicates that Veritas supporters have a lack of understanding about a unique part of Charlotte, grappling with historical segregation, economic inequities, rising rents and property values, and also pockets of lack of opportunity.

The CMS Board is right to terminate the lease with Veritas in order to use Villa Heights to provide more creative resources for Garinger students. I support the decision to use Villa Heights as a center for at-risk students from Garinger, and I support the board's proposed compensation plan for Veritas Community School.

Andria Krewson,
homeowner in Merry Oaks since 1986

Saturday, October 24, 2015

From 2009, some context for 2015's Charlotte mayoral race

Charlotte's mayor holds a part-time position with little power, and candidates historically have aimed to appeal to voters outside of parties. This year is no different.

Also this year, much has been made of candidate Jennifer Roberts' record on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. Her opponent, Edwin Peacock, also has a record worth examining from his time on the Charlotte City Council.

Here's just one small video clip, from way back in 2009, when a Democratic majority had just taken office and Republicans were feeling squeezed. The debate is about asking a committee to study four-year terms and features council members Edwin Peacock and Susan Burgess.

Here's the longer, wonky version. It captures a moment, to me, that puts to rest the idea that Peacock could indeed be an independent mayor not swayed by Republican platforms and issues.

Bonus on the long version: Charlotte's ex-mayor Patrick Cannon makes an appearance.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Get ready to vote for Charlotte mayor, city council and school board elections on Nov. 3

Charlotte has an election for mayor, city council, and school board on Nov. 3, with early voting beginning Oct. 22.

Turnout in small local elections is usually abysmal, but these elections often have direct impact on our daily lives because they influence schools, noise ordinances, local property taxes, and transportation options like the Central Avenue trolley. And a ballot isn't like homework - you can show up and vote for only one or two offices if you're not confident of the names in all the races, or you can privately ask me or another neighbor for their opinions. 

Merry Oaks neighborhood residents are choosing eight people total out of 19 running for office (not including our incumbent district rep, Patsy Kinsey). That's a lot of research for voters to do, but some organizations endorse slates of candidates, and you can keep an eye on media sources to hear more.
Updates 10/24: On your ballot is a question about whether county commissioners should serve four-year terms instead of their current two-year terms. The Charlotte Observer gives the background here:

New residents of Charlotte or people who moved recently CAN still register to vote AND vote on the same day at early voting sites, starting Oct. 22. Locations include sites at CPCC, Sugar Creek Library, and the main library uptown. If you're a new voter in Charlotte, you'll need ID and proof of your residency - a gas bill, pay stub, or other document showing your address. Details from the N.C. Board of Elections: http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/BOE/Documents/early%20voting%20calendar%20for%20nov.pdf#search=same%2Dday%20registration

You can also vote with an absentee ballot by mail, in case you're out of town or unsure whether you can get to the polls on Nov. 3. The form to request a ballot by mail is here: http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/BOE/voter/Documents/AbsenteeBallotRequestFormweb.pdf#search=absentee

The polling spot on Election Day is at Merry Oaks Elementary School, and you might need to buzz in at the front door, but it's always a treat to walk through the school and check out kids' work on bulletin boards.
The N.C. Justice Center has a great site that answers registration questions simply. Here's a link: http://www.ncvoter.org/voting-in-nc/#five

Who are the candidates?
Charlotte mayor:Ed Peacock (R) and Jennifer Roberts (D). Both have sites on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Links: http://www.edwinpeacock.com/ and http://www.jenniferrobertsformayor.com/
Charlotte city council:
At-large: From a group of eight people, you get to vote for four people. You can vote for less than that number if you like.
Democratic candidates are Julie Eiselt, Claire Green Fallon (incumbent), Vi Lyles (incumbent), and James (Smuggie) Mitchell. Q&As with them before the primary from The Charlotte Observer are at these links: 
Republican candidates are Pablo Carvajal, John K. Powell Jr. and David Michael Rice. Links to their websites are here:
http://apps.meckboe.org/CandidatePrint.aspx (I've yet to find Q&A links at the Observer to them, but keep an eye on this Observer link: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/election/  ) I'll come back to the Observer as a research tool later.
City Council District 1: Patsy Kinsey, the incumbent representing the Merry Oaks area, has no opposition. She's on the ballot and you can vote for her, but the seat essentially appears settled because she has no opposition. Update 10/24: There's now a write-in campaign for Billy Maddalon, owner of the Van Landingham Estate, which was turned down in a rezoning request from building a neighborhood private pool. Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/WriteInBillyMaddalon?fref=ts
Board of Education - at-large:
You get to vote for three people out of these nine people for this nonpartisan part of the election. Incumbents are Ericka Ellis-Stewart and Mary T. McCray.
This Board of Elections site lists candidates and their websites: http://apps.meckboe.org/CandidatePrint.aspx
Observer Q&As with the candidates are at these links:
Angela Ambroise: http://bit.ly/Ambroiseclt
Janeen Bryant: http://bit.ly/bryantclt
Larry Bumgarner: http://bit.ly/bumgarnerclt
Ericka Ellis-Stewart: http://bit.ly/EllisStewartclt
Levester Flowers: http://bit.ly/flowersclt
Jeremy Stephenson: http://bit.ly/stephensonclt
Amelia Stinson-Wesley: http://bit.ly/stinsonwesleyclt

On researching the candidates: I highly recommend taking the time and possibly money to read the candidates' answers to journalists' questions at The Observer's site. Instead of just political talking points, you're getting the assistance of journalists in hearing answers to broad community issues. You might hit a paywall, and some people use different browsers, incognito windows or private browsing to get around that paywall, or you can pay 99 cents for a trial subscription, though that sets you up for automatic renewal at $9.99/month or $99/year. You can also try to get around the paywall by clicking on links from social media, from the candidates or from people you know.

Offices on the ballot:

Mecklenburg Board of Elections info:

Simple Q&A on how to vote:

Problems? You can call the N.C. Justice Center at 1-888-OUR-VOTE or 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

(By Andria Krewson. A short version of this post appeared in the Merry Oaks neighborhood newsletter.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Salty-sweet economics: comparing Second Helping and a certain 24-hour bohemian coffee shop

In a tiny storefront in a small strip shopping cluster on Central Avenue, workers at Second Helping Charlotte hustled all day Friday to serve a crush of customers.

A volunteer from the nearby Merry Oaks neighborhood took phone orders. One employee struggled to increase her speed at the register. A bit of media coverage and a boost from social media bumped up business at the carryout restaurant that serves home-style food like fried chicken, meatloaf and desserts from Neet's Sweets. The leaders of the carryout and catering business had spread the word that the storefront just wasn't bringing in enough cash. Closing loomed.

Second Helping was started to employ women who had been incarcerated - those who faced huge obstacles to employment. So a closing meant the loss of jobs for people who had few other choices.

The higher social purpose spurred neighbors in Plaza Midwood and Merry Oaks to help - through social media, with food purchases or by giving time on site taking phone orders.

That's not an uncommon story. Why it matters now is that the surge of business fell on the same day that a beloved bohemian Charlotte coffee spot faced a social-media assault. One former worker shared a tale of perceived wage theft and time-clock shenanigans, and word again spread through Facebook, Reddit and Twitter. Other former employees joined the pile-on. Some loyal customers said they planned to avoid the coffee shop until labor questions were resolved.

The coffee shop responded late Saturday night with a Google document shared on Facebook. It tried to walk the fine line between defending itself and not commenting on a "personnel matter." It failed.

The writer said the business intentionally hired people “who are not otherwise employable,” or as one Reddit commenter called the workers, "alternative people" with tattoos and piercings.

(What exactly are "alternative people?")

By about 9 a.m. Sunday, the coffee shop's defensive post was deleted. That's a good thing, because in light of Second Helping's mission to hire formerly incarcerated women who face true employment obstacles, the words fell flat.

But this isn't a story about crisis communications or the power of social media and local TV coverage. It's a story about a changing economy, where service jobs make up a larger part of the labor force, and where the fight for a living wage has targeted chains like McDonald's and has even become part of North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.

The 24-hour coffee shop and hangout opened in 2008, amid the great economic unpleasantness. By 2011, its staff had grown to 60, and one owner visited the White House to share how it succeeded when other small businesses failed. The hangout space and bohemian environment were key - it created community in a part of town where wages were scarce and time was plentiful. Now, amid economic recovery, it's struggling with scaling up, perhaps even turning into a franchise, without losing ambiance.

One Reddit commenter defended the coffee shop, noting that it paid all employees more than minimum wage and helped with car-repair issues and an eviction problem. The shop had also given to charities without asking for receipts for tax write-offs, the commenter said.

The defense, though, echoed the paternalism of Charlotte's textile-mill past. Good service and a communal environment are hard to scale. Prior goodwill can turn into a negative social-media pile-on in an instant.

The pressure of the price of labor is increasing as North Carolina’s economy recovers. Some policy leaders say we should let Adam Smith's invisible hand of the market determine wages. In more-liberal Raleigh or Chapel Hill, the living-wage concept has spread more broadly, and service-worker pay of $10 an hour - the proposed new federal minimum wage - is common.

In Charlotte, the invisible hand is here, now, and the communication tools of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit speed its effects. That invisible hand includes many customers who support businesses with social purposes like Second Helping. Its storefront grossed $1,200 on Friday, up from an average of $100, not including donations. Those numbers pale compared to the coffee shop, but it's a start.

The beleaguered coffee shop grew in a community that once was a paternalistic mill town, in a city where industry has traditionally kept unions away by treating employees well, at least until the great re-set of recession. As the economy turns, Adam Smith's invisible hand will serve labor as well as business owners. And the often-invisible power of people who care about socially responsible spending has strengthened.

That’s a salty-sweet economic reality. It even helps alternative people.

Want to help?

Second Helping offers carryout at its Central Avenue storefront at 2903 Central Ave. It accepts pre-orders for delivery at several other locations in Charlotte. It’s an LLC formed by nonprofit Changed Choices in Charlotte. A quick look at Changed Choices’ tax forms through Guidestar for 2012 showed no issues with excessive compensation of directors.

Photo courtesy of Second Helping. (I wish I knew the worker's name - if you know it, please let me know.)

Monday, May 07, 2012

North Carolina primary election results 2012

Here are live election results for Mecklenburg County from the Mecklenburg Board of Elections, with results Tuesday night. These numbers include primary results for tthe Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, at large and district races.

Beware: Results listed there for congressional races may be only partial results, for Mecklenburg County only (I'm unsure). Check the full North Carolina results at the next link for races that stretch over more than one county.

Here are live election results from the North Carolina Board of Elections, with results Tuesday night. These results include votes on the North Carolina constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, as well as primary results for the governor's race, lieutenant governor and council of state.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Charlotte mayor, council and school board elections for 2011: results and research

You can get direct election results from the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections from today's mayor, council and school board races later tonight. Polls close at 7:30 p.m. and results will start showing up almost immediately.

Figuring out who to vote for in the 2011 elections is a little harder. You can check endorsements at The Charlotte Observer. The League of Women Voters has an extensive PDF voter guide that includes candidates for towns in Mecklenburg County.

Try getting your sample ballot from the board of elections before you hit the polls.

Here's a list of more places you can research candidates in the Charlotte elections:
NCvoterGuide.org, from UNC-TV and the N.C. Center for Voter Education.
Charlotte Observer school board candidate profiles.
Charlotte Observer city council candidate profiles and positions.
Charlotte Observer mayoral candidate profiles and positions.

For the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board race, Lisa Hundley has withdrawn for health reasons, but her name will still appear on the ballot.