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Wednesday, 07 August 2013 00:00

Saving specialty license plates great for WNC

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op frThe General Assembly’s renewal of the specialty license plates for North Carolina drivers surprised many only because it seemed such a no-brainer that it was curious there was even a debate. Thank goodness lawmakers saw the light.

Let’s take a look at what was almost undone by our state legislators: a program that produces — without any extra public spending — millions of dollars for some of North Carolina’s most prominent nonprofits, providing them with money to invest in some of the of the state’s treasures. That list includes coastal estuaries and sea turtles along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

 

Among those who helped maneuver the bill through the legislature were the leaders of the Friends of the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. Holly Demuth leads the North Carolina Friends of the Smokies, and she says it was a tough year to get anyone to worry about a bill such as this.

“Quite frankly, there were some huge issues going on in Raleigh. It made it extremely difficult. No one wanted to expend their political capital,” said Demuth.

For the Friends, the renewal means about $400,000 a year to help pay for special projects on our side of the park, programs that include keeping the park’s backcountry accessible, providing school children the opportunity to take field trips into the park, and building a new visitor center.

The argument that kept coming up during debate over the full-color plates is that they were not legible for law enforcement. Then both the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles and the state Highway Patrol said nonsense, the plates were fine.

In truth, the near-demise of this program was more likely due to hurt feelings over the fact that courts have said that “choose life” plates were illegal. State legislators supporting that license plate, after being told such a plate was unconstitutional, tried to pull the plug on all the full-color plates. Petty? Of course, but that’s politics, especially in this age when too many elected leaders equate compromise with defeat.

Regardless of what almost killed the plates, Demuth and leaders of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation helped save them. Those of us who take real pleasure in the grandeur of our mountain surroundings appreciate their work and encourage Western North Carolina residents to buy these great-looking plates and support these valuable organizations.

 

Taking advantage of teachers

Most school teachers I know — and I’m married to one — are the type who will sacrifice personal benefit for the greater good, whether that’s their students or their school. Unfortunately, elected leaders sometimes take advantage of that mindset.

Perhaps school officials in Macon County have not done a great job of making incremental cuts over the past few years to deal with declining budgets, and perhaps the Macon commissioners should come up with some more money to cover budget shortfalls. But the proposla to yank teachers’ meager 2 percent supplement to make up for the shortfall is just miserly.

Macon Schools are short of money this year. Over the last few years, the system spent down its fund balance instead of making incremental cuts as other systems have during the recession. Now, faced with a shortfall, one poposal is to take away the $400,000 in supplements teachers have been getting at Christmas. 

Superintendent Chris Baldwin says many teachers he’s spoken with are OK with taking the supplement if it keeps other teachers in the classroom. Another teacher we interviewed said the same thing.

Surprise, surprise. Of course that’s the answer most teachers would give because that’s mostly the kind of people who go into teaching and stay in the classroom. On the other hand, when Macon County is handing out large pay raises and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on capital projects, perhaps county and school leaders are asking the wrong question. How about something like this: is a salary freeze (instead of a  pay cut) for one more year OK, even if it means delaying construction of new ballfields or pool renovations?

The way I see it, teachers get taken advantage of too often, but it’s usually by politicians or right-wing ideologues who refuse to adequately fund education but want to blame schools for a lot of the country’s social woes. It surely must hurt a lot worse to be taken advantage of by leaders at the local level who have other options.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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