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The most recent budget request from the Mount Airy school system is asking for more local funds, and part of the reason is having to pay for a 10 percent salary increase Gov. Mike Easley is expected to include in his budget proposal. Most teacher positions are funded by the state, but districts typically supplement those positions by hiring additional teachers from local dollars. When the teacher salaries go up across the state, the county has to foot the bill for its locally funded positions.This brings up the interesting issue of teacher compensation. Easley has already pushed through several pay hikes, part of a goal he announced several years ago to put North Carolina’s teacher salaries above the national average. No one would argue against the importance of strong education, and few would dispute that teachers play the most influential role in the learning process, whether for good or bad. But how do you encourage the good teachers to stay in the profession without giving the poor ones undeserved benefits? The debate is summarized very well in this Time Magazine cover story from a couple of months ago.We’ve all had our share of good and bad teachers growing up. Deciding on the fairest compensation system isn’t just a matter of good public policy, it’s a matter of fairness for those who turn down more lucrative careers in favor of the chance to better the next generation.

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This semester each school in the Mount Airy system is deciding whether or not to adopt a character education program offered by the state. From the looks of it this seems like a good system for what it does — establishing a comprehensive and consistent code for enforcement and punishment of disciplinary programs tailored around the culture of each school. But the interesting thing about the program is that it views character education much the way we view academic lessons, implementing a system where students are taught good behavior and rewarded for demonstrating it. So the role of schools isn’t just to teach reading and writing (or math, social studies, etc.). For many, character education is part of a mission that keeps getting broader.

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Everybody chill

I spent my childhood in cold weather states, so I know I’m a little biased. But there’s a sense of bizarre humor to take with every snow spell, when the rush for bread and milk is exceeded only by the stampede of school and event closings. A number of Surry’s weekend events were canceled or postponed for a “storm” that never arrived, unless you view a few flurries and sub 25 degree temperatures as a threat. Some of the Christian schools in Forysth County that didn’t have MLK Jr. day off are already calling for 2-hour delays — and there’s no precipitation in the forecast. When the most that ever arrives is a couple inches of snow and a thin sheet of ice, one has to wonder if we’re just looking for a reason to take off work or play.

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School Calendars

School boards are in the process of finalizing the next school calendars. Since the General Assembly succumbed to pressure and mandated a later start to schools, how do you think that’s working? A lot of folks liked the idea of finishing the semester’s exams before Christmas holidays. That’s no longer possible. But the trade off is that summer vacation is longer. Any thoughts on whtehr the deal was worth it?

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When we asked our bloggers to suggest some new discussion topics, the issue of schools and businesses going tobacco-free immediately came up. It’s a very relevant issue. In the last few months alone we’ve had both school systems, Northern Hospital and a number of restaurants prohibit smoking and chewing tobacco. Looks like Surry Community College might be next. Do the public health benefits of such policies justify the restrictions? Or are we going too far?

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Will the extra quarter-cent sales tax fly through the referendum Tuesday. Not likely, even though there’s no organized opposition. I’m not saying it will fail. I think it will pass. But it won’t be by a landslide. A lot of folks just don’t like tax increases, no matter how small or who else might be paying them. And as our county ages — and it is aging rapidly as retirees move in and young people look elsewhere for decent jobs — getting people excited about building new schools gets more difficult because so many don’t have a direct, vested interest. The message that needs to be hammered home is that Surry County can’t stay the same. It can get better, or it can get worse. Not attending to our school needs can only insure it will get worse.

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It seems so damning at first glance. Five of Surry County’s 16 schools have “failed.” And one of them, Westfield Elementary, for the second straight year. The thing is, that’s not really the case. Some small segment of the student population didn’t achieve some arbitrary goal, so the entire school is judged a failure. The small sample might not even have been statistically valid, but it makes no difference. And unfortunately the standards get more unattainable in the years to come, until they reach a point where the slightest misstep by one student can label a school a failure. No Child Left Behind sounds good on paper, but there’s little evidence it’s really improving the delivery of education.

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So come November we’ll have the chance to vote on increasing the sales tax by a quarter of a percent. That’s an extra 25 cents on a $100 purchase, Not much, is it? But it all adds up, about $1.9 million annually, most of which the county would apply toward school construction.
Some argue that the sales tax is regressive, and it is. Lower income people spend a higher percentage of their incomes on sales-taxable items, so their effective tax rate is greater than for the more affluent.
Fine, but the argument here isn’t sales tax or no sales tax. We already have one. Another quarter percent isn’t going to break anyone.
What gets me is there are people out there who take the attitude of “I ain’t gonna vote for no new tax no how nowhere.”
Fine, so what’s your solution to replacing our crumbling educational infrastructure?

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