Monday, November 29, 2010

Feds: Congressman's staffer cheated constituents

A staffer for former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes was sentenced to two years’ probation today on a charge of extorting money from constituents who had turned to her for help.

Click here to read court papers.

Elizabeth Lozada, 43, of Concord, N.C., appeared in U.S. District Court in Greensboro. She pled guilty in May to extortion of less than $1,000, which is a federal misdemeanor.

Her public defender, Thomas Cochran of Greensboro, declined to comment on the case at her request.

Lozada served in Hayes’ Cabarrus County office from 2005 through 2008, the end of Hayes’ term. She earned $41,000 in her last year there, according to the website LegiStorm, which tracks congressional office spending.

According to documents filed in federal court, Lozada’s responsibilities as a constituent liaison included assisting Spanish-speaking residents of the 8th Congressional District on a variety of issues involving the federal bureaucracy. Those included offering help with passports, Social Security and immigration matters.

- Barbara Barrett, Maria David

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Big classes, big problems

CMS officials have compiled a list of all high school classes with more than 35 students, suggesting the problem is especially glaring at suburban campuses.

Click here to see a list of all big classes at CMS high schools.

School board member Kaye McGarry said she requested a campus-by-campus tally because she was concerned about how recent budget cuts are driving up class sizes.
The statistics suggest suburban campuses don't benefit as much as low-income ones from a CMS policy that assigns more teachers to low-income students in hopes of helping them overcome their social disadvantages.

McGarry and others say the policy might need to be revisited in light of a budget gap of up to $100 million CMS faces next year.

- Eric Frazier

Monday, November 22, 2010

Letter: 'Conduct unbecoming an officer'

The city of Charlotte today released former police officer Marcus Jackson's termination letter after a judge ruled the document is public record under the state's new personnel law.

Click here to read the termination letter.

Jackson's attorneys argued the letter should not be released until criminal charges are resolved, citing state law allowing material in ongoing investigations to be withheld.

But Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin disagreed.

Observer attorney Jon Buchan successfully argued that the dismissal letter is public record and not investigative material.

In the dismissal, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe cited two December 2009 incidents in which Jackson is accused of conducting traffic stops on women. Six women have accused Jackson of sexually assaulting them while he was on duty.

- Doug Miller

Monday, November 15, 2010

Motion: Baker not a flight risk

In court papers seeking to reduce bond for Elisa Baker, her lawyers argued that even if Baker tried to flee Caldwell County, she could not hide for long.

Because of "overwhelming and international publicity" surrounding the death of her 10-year-old stepdaughter, court papers filed Monday say, Baker would have difficulty avoiding detection if she was released from jail.

Click here to read the motion.

The body of Baker's stepdaughter, Zahra Baker, was dismembered and the remains were hidden across several rural locations. The motion said Elisa Baker cooperated with law enforcement and told them where to find the remains and other evidence - the only "credible evidence" publicly known.

Baker is jailed on a charge of obstructing justice related to the case.

The motion seeking lower bond also cited Baker's ties to the area. She only left when she moved to Australia briefly and married her current husband Adam Baker, Zahra's father.

She has surrendered her passport to authorities.

- Doug Miller

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trent Merchant's e-mail on CMS closure vote

Trent Merchant

On Sunday evening, CMS board member Trent Merchant sent an e-mail to his fellow board members urging them to "take no action on the Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck piece of the staff recommendation and the board alternative that has been assembled."

He says he would rather delay the decision until next spring for the 2012-13 school year. Board Chair Eric Davis, however, reiterated Sunday night that he intends to go through with the vote on Tuesday.

Read Merchant's e-mail below:

From: Trent Merchant
Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:49 PM
To: Eric C. Davis; Tom Tate; Joyce Waddell; Rhonda Lennon; 'Richard McElrath'; Joe White; Kaye Mcgarry; Tim Morgan
Subject: Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck


I apologize for communicating via email, but our time is running short, and having met with, spoken with, or traded messages with all of you individually over the last week, I thought that for the sake of consistency and simplicity it might be best to communicate with the entire board at once.

On Tuesday night, I would like for us to pull and then take no action on the Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck piece of the staff recommendation and the board alternative that has been assembled. I would like for us to do this in a way that is pro-active, rather than as a consequence of simply voting down the staff rec or the board alternative.

I had tried for several days to push for delay of a month to consider a solution that would pull in 2 elementary zones that had not previously been in the mix, with the reasoning that more pieces = more flexibility and better options. But on our Nov 9 agenda, we will approve Policy JCA, which captures the Guiding Principles, which include a notification date of Nov 15 for student assignment changes, thanks in part to my own shortsighted advocacy in the face of the Superintendent's warning that a hard date was a bad idea. I would personally be willing to be beaten up for breaking the rules, because my own moral compass says that if we reach an outcome that is better for the most students, then the correct play for us as leaders is to pick results over process. But the public is twisting in the wind and I do not believe that a compressed and tense month of debate over 11th-hour options (over Thanksgiving) would inspire public trust.

And so, I hope that we will instead withdraw the Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck piece, expand the geography under consideration, and aim to make a decision in the Spring/Summer 2011 for the 2012-2013 school year. My rationale follows:

FINANCIAL - Both the staff recommendation and the board alternative project approximately $550,000 net savings in Year 1. However, the board alternative will cause the district to lose more than $1.2 million (1/3 of the 3 year $3.7 million School Improvement Grant for Waddell) in that same year, for a minimum net COST of over $650,000. In fairness, if we close Waddell, the net savings could be spent throughout the district, while the SIG money must be spent at Waddell, but with a graduation rate of 52%, aren't those the students who need the additional resources the most?

And if the over-arching problem that must be solved is how to generate as much cost-savings as possible, why would we make a decision that costs more, while angering the community, causing disruption, and taking away resources from students with the greatest needs?

OPERATIONAL - transportation and not having to do this again next year all over again: - The decision in question will touch 3 magnets. We have all acknowledged that transportation will be an area of operations that is discussed early in the budget process. It does not seem like the correct decision-making hierarchy to determine the placement of magnets, hold the magnet lottery, THEN make decisions on transportation. Last year our hand was forced. This year we know that we may have to make adjustments. We should behave accordingly.

In a time that we have framed as financial crisis, how do we save face if we bus students from South Blvd and Sharon Lakes up to Harding? It's 12 miles. For a home school. See for yourself at

We are going to eliminate a transportation zone. We need to take a hard look at West Charlotte IB, which has fewer than 100 students and has produced no recent graduates. The math/science program at Harding has 100 fewer freshmen than seniors this year. But the middle school level math/science program at Morehead is just getting going. etc, etc... there are too many things in flux to make an informed decision with predictable outcomes.

ACADEMIC: The board alternative would dismantle the culture of success at Harding, carve out half of its students, drop in 80% of a school with a 52% graduation rate and 79% EDS, and add the most challenged pieces of West Meck - Reid Park (95% EDS), Westerly Hills (94% EDS), and Barringer (69% EDS at a partial magnet - the home zone EDS will be higher).

Do any of you honestly believe that is a recipe for success?

And when we have failing schools, inevitably they cost us more - but now we have no resources. In fact, the board alternative would eliminate some of the resources currently available by killing the SIG grant at Waddell.

A COMBINATION OF EQUITY AND HOME PROXIMITY - they are not always at odds: Find a compass. Stick the point in Waddell HS. Stick the pencil at Harding. Draw a circle. Interesting how the area is much larger than the geographic area that we have discussed. Notice that there are neighborhoods much closer to Myers Park or Olympic than they are to Harding. But there's no room at those schools, right? Well, what if you could MAKE room by moving certain pieces out of Myers Park and Olympic to other schools. What we added West Charlotte to the mix, especially if IB goes away there? What if the pieces you considered moving out could also go to high schools closer to home, creating more compact boundaries and fewer bus miles? Would you consider making those decisions? Or would you fall prey to the notion that "we have to do something," even if it condemns already challenged students to even more challenged learning situations?

I believe that this is not a time for condemnation, but for mercy and grace, and I think we can make those decisions in a way that are more stable and predictable for families over time, and more economically viable for the school district.

I understand that I have ignored recurring savings in this piece. But our current financial situation and 2014 graduation goals trump long range planning needs at this point. We need to survive financially, succeed academically, and live to fight another day. On this particular item, neither the staff rec nor the board alternative help us to accomplish any of those objectives.

Thanks for your consideration, and thanks for your hard work over the past months,

Trent Merchant
CMS Board of Education, At Large