Energy Funds are Available to WNC Schools

WNC Communities is launching a program to fund lighting efficiency projects for public schools in Western North Carolina.

The General Assembly allocated $500,000 of TVA settlement funds in the 2014-15 state budget for WNC Communities to undertake this program.
An implementation program is being developed to ensure maximum use of funds in the most effective way, while seeking matching and/or reimbursement funds that may be available as additional assistance. An advisory committee of school representatives, energy experts and others will be named to assist WNC Communities in the implementation of a fair and equitable distribution process.

WNC communities was selected to serve the state in this collaborative effort as the organization is currently serving in similar successful programs with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the distribution of TVA settlement funds. The organization also has a rich history of serving Western North Carolina in carrying out numerous community service programs over a 65-year period.
For additional information, contact WNC Communities at 252-4783.

More Cases of EV-D68 in North Carolina

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services today confirmed the presence of three additional cases of Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, in North Carolina, totaling nine since September 22, 2014. The three specimens that tested positive for EV-D68 were obtained from children ages 10 and under with respiratory illnesses.
One additional case that meets the criteria established by CDC for their investigation of acute neurological illness with focal limb weakness was detected in the eastern part of the state. The patient with this criteria tested positive for rhinovirus/enterovirus but additional testing is being conducted to determine the presence of Enterovirus D68.
Enteroviruses are transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Health officials are recommending that people take the following actions to protect themselves from infection with EV-D68 and other respiratory illnesses:
1. Wash hands vigorously and often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers.
2. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
3. Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.
4. Frequently disinfect touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses and 10-15 million infections across the United States each year. Enteroviruses are common viruses that can cause a range of symptoms, including runny nose, coughing, mouth sores, fever and body aches. Some patients will also develop wheezing and difficulty breathing. If you or your child experience cold-like symptoms and difficulty breathing, contact your health care provider right away.
Since people with asthma have a higher risk of respiratory illnesses, health officials are reminding everyone with asthma to take their medications as prescribed and make sure their asthma is under good control. Health officials are also recommending getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible to help prevent another important cause of respiratory illness that could be going around at the same time.


Christopher_3519 3504 Hi JpegSoon our streets will be scattered with little ghosts, goblins, and witches trick-or-treating this Halloween. “Halloween should be filled with surprise and enjoyment, and following some common sense practices can keep events safer and more fun,” said Sheriff Greg Christopher of Haywood County.

The Sheriff reminds all Haywood County residents to follow these safety tips:
• Watch for children darting out from between parked cars.
• Watch for children walking on roadways, medians and curbs.
• Enter and exit driveways and alleys carefully.
• At twilight and later in the evening, watch for children in dark clothing.
• Make sure that an adult or an older responsible youth will be supervising the outing for children under age 12.
• Check the sex offender registry at sexoffender.ncdoj.gov/ when planning your child’s trick-or-treat route. You can view maps that pinpoint registered offenders’ addresses in your neighborhood and sign up to get email alerts when an offender moves nearby.
• Plan and discuss the route trick-or-treaters intend to follow. Know the names of older children’s companions.
• Make sure older kids trick-or-treat in a group.
• Instruct your children to travel only in familiar areas and along an established route.
• Teach your children to stop only at houses or apartment buildings that are well-lit and never to enter a stranger’s home.
• Establish a return time.
• Tell your youngsters not to eat any treats until they return home.
• Review all appropriate trick-or-treat safety precautions, including pedestrian/traffic safety rules.
• All children need to know their home telephone number and how to call 9-1-1 in case of emergency.
• Pin a slip of paper with the child’s name, address, and telephone number inside a pocket in case the youngster gets separated from the group.
Costume Design:
• Only fire-retardant materials should be used for costumes.
• Costumes should be loose so warm clothes can be worn underneath.
• Costumes should not be so long that they are a tripping hazard.
• Make sure that shoes fit well to prevent trips and falls.
• If children are allowed out after dark, outfits should be made with light colored materials. Strips of retro-reflective tape should be used to make children visible.

Face Design:
• Do not use masks as they can obstruct a child’s vision. Use facial make-up instead.
• When buying special Halloween makeup, check for packages containing ingredients that are labeled “Made with U.S. Approved Color Additives,” “Laboratory Tested,” “Meets Federal Standards for Cosmetics,” or “Non-Toxic.” Follow manufacturer’s instruction for application.
• If masks are worn, they should have nose and mouth openings and large eye holes.

• Knives, swords, and other accessories should be made from cardboard or flexible materials. Do not allow children to carry sharp objects.
• Bags or sacks carried by youngsters should be light-colored or trimmed with retro-reflective tape if children are allowed out after dark.
• Carrying flashlights with fresh batteries will help children see better and be seen more clearly.

While Trick-or-Treating:
• Walk; do not run, from house to house. Do not cross yards and lawns where unseen objects or the uneven terrain can present tripping hazards.
• Walk on sidewalks, not in the street.
• Walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic, if there are no sidewalks.

• Give children an early meal before going out.
• Insist that treats be brought home for inspection before anything is eaten.
• Wash fruit and slice it into small pieces.
• Throw away any candy that is unwrapped or partially wrapped or has a strange odor, color, or texture.

• Keep candles and Jack O’ Lanterns away from landings and doorsteps where costumes could brush against the flame.
• Remove obstacles from lawns, steps, and porches when expecting trick-or-treaters.
• Keep candles and Jack O’ Lanterns away from curtains, decorations, and other combustibles that could catch fire.
• Do not leave your house unattended.

“Halloween is a fun time in Haywood County,” Sheriff Christopher concluded, “but let’s make it a safe time as well. The major dangers lawns where unseen objects or the uneven terrain can present tripping hazards.
• Walk on sidewalks, not in the street.
• Walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic, if there are no sidewalks.

• Give children an early meal before going out.
• Insist that treats be brought home for inspection before anything is eaten.
• Wash fruit and slice it into small pieces.
• Throw away any candy that is unwrapped or partially wrapped or has a strange odor, color, or texture.

• Keep candles and Jack O’ Lanterns away from landings and doorsteps where costumes could brush against the flame.
• Remove obstacles from lawns, steps, and porches when expecting trick-or-treaters.
• Keep candles and Jack O’ Lanterns away from curtains, decorations, and other combustibles that could catch fire.
• Do not leave your house unattended.

“Halloween is a fun time in Haywood County,” Sheriff Christopher concluded, “but let’s make it a safe time as well. The major dangers are not from witches or spirits but rather from falls and pedestrian/car crashes. “

Same-Sex Marriages in North Carolina Could Be Underway in Days: “Not if But When”

Attorney Annika Brock and her partner Elaine Potter of Asheville were married last year in Vermont, but say they are looking forward to having their marriage recognized by their home state. Photo courtesy: Annika Brock.

Attorney Annika Brock and her partner Elaine Potter of Asheville were married last year in Vermont, but say they are looking forward to having their marriage recognized by their home state. Photo courtesy: Annika Brock.

Legally recognized same-sex marriages could happen in North Carolina in a matter of days. That’s the opinion of groups such as the ACLU and Equality NC after Monday’s announcement by the US Supreme Court that it would not review appeals court rulings in seven states regarding same-sex marriage bans. The decision means that all of those rulings stand, and the states in their jurisdiction, including North Carolina, must comply with the law and recognize the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

Chris Sgro with Equality NCsays he expects things to move fast after Monday’s announcement, “It’s at this point inevitable that this will be the law of the land, so it’s not a question of if but when, and even that when is going to be pretty much fast-tracked.”

Sgro says the federal judge in North Carolina has asked for briefing materials within 10 days, but is bound by the decision of the Fourth Circuit. The judge then would have to issue a written order declaring unconstitutional the amendment North Carolina voters passed in 2012 defining marriage in the state as being between one man and one woman.

Attorney Annika Brock of Asheville got married to her partner of 9 years last year in Vermont, but Monday’s announcement is welcome news for her, “First of all, I can’t wait for the first couple to apply for a marriage license in North Carolina, but I think for us, it’s a matter of North Carolina recognizing our marriage.”

Brock says there is still progress to be made before same-sex couples have equal protection under the law, “We still have a long way to go in a lot of different ways. There are still so many things that it’s going to take a while, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, they won’t recognize my spouse, even though we’re married in another state.”

Some in the legal community say there’s still a chance the U-S Supreme Court will have to weigh in on the issue if federal courts disagree, but for now the state’s same-sex couples stand to have their marriages recognized by state law.

NCDOT Encourages Public to Comment on Proposed Strategic Transportation Corridors

The N.C. Department of Transportation invites the public to share their thoughts on a proposed network of multimodal transportation corridors that will form the backbone of the state’s transportation system.

The proposed Strategic Transportation Corridors move most of North Carolina’s people and goods, and connect critical centers of economic activity and international air and sea ports to support interstate commerce. A study launched by NCDOT more than a year ago has mapped out these high-priority corridors, based on three main factors, which include:

Providing essential connections to national transportation networks critical to interstate commerce and national defense;
Allowing significant inter-regional movements of people and goods across the state; and
Supporting economic development and efficiency of transport logistics.

NCDOT is launching a 60-day public comment period on Friday, Oct. 3, during which citizens are urged to review the results of the study and share their feedback. The STC policy and map showing the corridors is available online. Comments may be submitted by emailing Kerry Morrow, Statewide Plan Engineer, at kmorrow@ncdot.gov or by calling the NCDOT customer service line, 1-877-DOT-4YOU, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The comment period will close Tuesday, Dec. 2.

October is Bullying Awareness & Prevention Month

Bullying is widespread and perhaps the most underreported safety problem on American school campuses. Contrary to popular belief, bullying occurs more often at school than on the way to and from there. Once thought of as simply a rite of passage or relatively harmless behavior that helps build young people’s character, bullying is now known to have long-lasting harmful effects, for both the victim and the bully. Bullying is often mistakenly viewed as a narrow range of antisocial behavior confined to elementary school recess yards. In the United States, awareness of the problem is growing, especially with reports that in two-thirds of the recent school shootings (for which the shooter was still alive to report), the attackers had previously been bullied.

The N.C. Center for Safer Schools this week kicked off a special month long effort to shine the spotlight on the issue of bullying, after Gov. Pat McCrory proclaimed October Bullying Awareness and Prevention Month in North Carolina.

Bullying impacts students across the state; recent research shows that in North Carolina, 20 percent of high school students report being bullied in the past 12 months. Nearly 60 percent of N.C. high school students have witnessed bullying in their schools during the same time period. Additionally, bullying via social media or other electronic means – or cyber bullying – is also present. In 2013, 13 percent of N.C. high school students reported being the victims of some form of electronic bullying over the past 12 months.

One part of the Center’s work to help communities prevent bullying is a Bullying Prevention Train-the-Presenter Training. This training – available for school administrators, teachers and community leaders – is aimed at preparing people from across the state to return to their communities to share strategies on ways to prevent and identify bullying, and to give them resources to use when bullying is present.

Find bullying prevention materials and links to other resources on the N.C. Center for Safer School’s website, www.centerforsaferschools.org. You can follow the N.C. Center for Safer School’s Bullying Awareness and Prevention Month social media campaign, on Twitter @NCSaferSchools (#BullyFreeNC)

Jackson County Announces Recipients for Grassroots Grants

The Jackson County Arts Council announces its grant recipients for the
2014-15 Grassroots Grants. The arts council is a Designated County
Partner of the North Carolina Arts Council, from which the Grassroots grants
are funded. The JCAC received $12, 254 from the North Carolina Arts Council
and $9,201.00 from Jackson County. They also receive funding from
membership donations and fundraising efforts. Contributions to the Jackson
County Arts Council can be sent to 310 Keener St. Sylva, NC 28779.

Grassroots Grants are awarded to local non-profit agencies in Jackson County
who produce programs of arts, culture or historic merit and who demonstrate
financial and administrative stability. The purpose of Grassroots Grants is
to recognize and support exemplary forms of artistic expression, both
contemporary and traditional, in the visual arts, the performing arts,
literature, media arts and the folk arts.

This year’s Grassroots Grant recipients are:

Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild
WNC Pottery Festival
Catch the Spirit of Appalachia
Western Carolina Community Chorus
Western Carolina Civic Orchestra
Farmers Market Family Art Days
WCU Youth Art Spring Display
Dillsboro Merchants Association – ColorFest Town of Sylva 125 Founders Day
Celebration Junior Appalachian Musicians Smoky Mountain High School Jackson
County Library for Copper Workshop Jackson County Schools Cullowhee Mountain
Arts Jackson County Visual Arts Association

Congratulations to these organizations!

Want to Make Six Figures? Brush Up on Your Tech Skills

How can you boost your bottom line in 2015? A report released this week indicates the answer for some could be a career change. Technology careers are paying big dividends compared with other job sectors. The report from human resources consulting firm Robert Half International projects almost a six-percent increase in starting salaries in the technology field.

The company’s senior executive director, Paul McDonald, says salary growth is also predicted in traditional fields such as accounting and marketing, where technology is involved, “Technology truly is running its course through all functional roles today. You need technology as a foundational, functional understanding, in order to be successful in any one of these specialty areas.”

According to the report, among the top positions to watch are mobile applications developer, data architect and chief security officer. All three have starting salaries that top $100,000 dollars a year.

McDonald points out that many careers in the technology sector don’t necessarily require four-year degrees, and can be secured with additional training that could be done at night or online, “If you find yourself unemployed, it’s really a good investment to go back and go to a trade school, go to a junior college to retrain yourself, to make yourself marketable in these very hot areas.”

McDonald adds that companies are making employee retention a high priority, since turnover is particularly challenging for high-tech positions. He says many businesses are offering flexible work hours to accommodate a work-life balance for skilled workers who are the right fit.

US Forest Service Next Round of Plan Revision Meetings Announced

The U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina today unveiled the schedule for the next round of meetings held as part of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests management plan revision. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

Each of the six meetings will be held from 4:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Every meeting will have the same agenda and present the same information, and provide opportunity for public review and comment.

During each meeting, Forest Service employees will share information about the proposed Forest Plan, including potential management areas and desired conditions. The meeting will open with a presentation on significant issues, management areas, and the development of plan components. The Forest Service planning team will share some proposed desired condition statements and information about watersheds and recreation settings during an open poster session.

Berger, Tillis Respond to 4th Circuit Ruling

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) issued the following joint statement Wednesday in response to a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:

“We are pleased the court upheld the lion’s share of commonsense reforms that bring North Carolina in line with a majority of other states, including the implementation of a popular voter ID requirement supported by nearly three quarters of North Carolinians.

“However, we share the concern of Judge Diana Gribbon Motz – the panel’s senior judge – that rewriting reasonable rules requiring people to vote in their own precinct and register in advance will strain our voting system, confuse voters and disrupt our general election that is only a month away. We intend to appeal this decision as quickly as possible to the Supreme Court.”

North Carolina’s election reform law guarantees at least the same number of overall hours for early voting as in previous elections unless a bipartisan group of election officials chooses to modify those hours – in sharp contrast to several other states, including New York and Michigan, that do not allow early voting at all.

According to the State Board of Elections, the 2014 general election will have more early voting locations across North Carolina than in any prior off-year election and nearly 70 percent more evening hours for early voting than in 2010, the most recent non-presidential general election.

The law allows time to verify voter information by repealing same-day registration, ensuring accuracy and bringing North Carolina in line with 30 other states that do not have same-day registration.

It also requires voters to cast ballots in their own precinct, ensuring their votes are counted for every race, not just statewide races. If out-of-precinct ballots are allowed, votes for local races could be invalidated.

Grenades at Lake Glenville

Glenville residents in Jackson County received a surprise when three grenades were found near the spillway and dam this week.

The grenades have been safely detonated with no damage or injuries. Water levels at the lake were lowered over the past few weeks which led to the discovery of the grenades.

Major Shannon H. Queen with the sheriff’s office is urging visitors to this area to be cautious and if they see any suspicious items to contact 911 immediately and stay away from the items found.

NC Wildlife, Jackson County Emergency Management and the NCSBI  are assisting in the investigation.

Judge Rules in Favor of NC Wildlife Sanctuary

gr-41979-1-1After a five year fight, a North Carolina wildlife sanctuary has won the right to return to its home and also recover more than 200-thousand dollars in damages from the town it calls home. For more than 11 years, Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary rescued and rehabilitated wild animals in Beech Mountain. The center also became a tourist attraction, until the Town Council voted to change some town rules, a move that placed Genesis in violation of its 30 year lease.

Susan Halliburton, a spokesperson for Genesis, says despite the court victory, the sanctuary continues to be in a tough spot,  “We can go back on the land, we still have the lease. How it’s going to play out with working? Obviously, they don’t want us there. They want the property back, is what they want.”

Calls to attorneys representing Beech Mountain were not returned. Though challenged by town leadership, the lease was ruled valid by a judge last year. Beech Mountain is expected to appeal the jury’s unanimous decision in Watauga County Superior Court.

Halliburton says rebuilding isn’t as simple as one might assume, and adds that it includes rebuilding their staff and volunteer base,  “We were forced to tear down the habitats – and we’re not just talking cages here. We’re talking foundations; double-wiring that bears can’t get in to animals or the birds.”

Genesis leased a little less than an acre on Buckeye Lake in 1999 for a dollar, with the agreement of the Town Council.

Operation Medicine Drop Collected over 7 million doses

The State Bureau of Investigation reported that nearly 7.4 million doses of expired or unused medicine pills were collected across the state during Operation Medicine Drop Sept. 27.

The pills and medications are being destroyed at an Environmental Protection Agency-approved incinerator.

The State Bureau of Investigation co-sponsored the pill take-back event along with Safe Kids North Carolina, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and state and local law enforcement agencies.

In addition to providing drop-off locations at its eight troop locations, the State Highway Patrol provided vehicles to transport the medication.  The DEA paid to have the medications destroyed.

This year, Cary Police Department lead the state with approximately 947,000 dosage units collected, topping Durham’s collection last year of 773,500 dosage units.

Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning, according to Safe Kids, a non-profit organization that helps parents and caregivers prevent childhood injuries. Environmental experts say that flushing medicines down the toilet contaminates water supplies and hurts aquatic life.

According to DEA, medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to misuse and abuse, and a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

Conservative Group Faces Felony Probe for Mailers

The State Board of Elections is investigating the national conservative group Americans for Prosperity to determine whether it committed a felony after the North Carolina Democratic Party filed a formal complaint on Monday. This comes after American for Prosperity sent thousands of mailers to citizens across the state including incorrect voting and registration information.

Josh Lawson with the Board of Elections says they met with an AFP representative early Monday morning, and discovered in some cases the mailer went out multiple times to the same person,”We know it went everywhere, and unfortunately we have people complaining of third and fourth warnings. People are still going to be getting these through this week.”

It is against the law in North Carolina to intentionally mislead people about voter registration and discourage them from voting. Americans for Prosperity has sent out incorrect and some would say “suspicious” mailers in other states. So far, the organization, which receives funding from the Koch brothers, says the incorrect information is a mistake.


Bob Phillips with Common Cause North Carolina joins others in questioning the intent behind the mailer, “That’s very sloppy and lazy, and one wonders about the intent behind it, particularly with whom the mailers are going to.”

Americans for Prosperity says the intent behind the mailers was to educate voters. Earlier this year AFP sent mailers with incorrect information to voters in West Virginia, and last year the organization sent letters to Virginia voters claiming the recipients hadn’t registered to vote and that they would “tell their neighbors.”

Lawson says the state has asked AFP to take immediate action to correct the misinformation, “We met with the deputy general counsel of Americans for Prosperity and requested of him that they explore options on trying to ensure that the folks that received wrong information receive correct information, so he said that he would carry that message back, and we’re hoping that we’ll get a good answer.”

October 10th is the deadline to register to vote in North Carolina, because of last year’s voting law. Unlike in prior years, out-of-precinct voting is not permitted, and there is limited acceptance of provisional ballots. Voters are not required to come to the polls in this election with a photo ID.

Study Says NC Law Enforcement Support Changing Syringe Laws

A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports on North Carolina law enforcement attitudes toward syringe decriminalization, or removing syringes from the list of prohibited drug paraphernalia. The study analyzed the responses of 350 North Carolina law enforcement officers to a confidential, anonymous survey regarding their experience with needle-stick injury, perceived risk of HIV and hepatitis C risk, and opinions on whether the state should consider syringe decriminalization as a tool to reduce needle-related injury among law enforcement.

 82% of respondents reported that they were very concerned about contracting HIV on the job and 3.8% reported ever receiving a job-related needle-stick injury. These injuries typically occur when an officer conducts a search and is accidentally pierced by a syringe, which may be contaminated with HIV or viral hepatitis. A study of law enforcement officers in Connecticut revealed that decriminalizing syringes can lower needle-stick injury to officers by 66% because it removes a suspect’s fear of syringe possession and increases the likelihood that they will tell officers they have syringes before being searched.

 The majority of officers in the North Carolina study reported positive views regarding syringe decriminalization, with approximately 63% agreeing that it would be “good for the community” and 60% agreeing that it would be “good for law enforcement.”

 The study’s lead author, Corey Davis, JD, MSPH, an attorney with the Network for Public Health Law says, “Syringe decriminalization is good policy. Since law enforcement opinion carries a lot of weight in the legislature, this study suggests that it’s good politics as well.”

 The study emerges after the passage of a new law in North Carolina that partially decriminalized syringes. The law, which went into effect in December 2013, states that a person cannot be charged with the possession of a syringe or other sharp object if he or she declares the object to law enforcement prior to a search.

“I would rather every addict come out and admit to having a needle than for one person not to tell the truth and have one of our officers get stuck,” says Sgt David Rose of the Winston Salem Police Department.

Take a Hike: 23 North Carolina Conservation Projects Funded in 2014

If you don’t own a piece of beautiful real estate in North Carolina, sometimes the only way to enjoy the state’s natural beauty is by hiking in one of the state parks or in conservation lands. This year, through the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, 23 land conservation projects will be funded, including land on Snake Mountain in Watauga County.

Eric Heigl with the Blue Ridge Conservancy says his organization counts on the state funding, “The Clean Water Management Act Trust Fund grants are one of the bigger grant opportunities to acquire lands that we have here in North Carolina and they will make or break certain projects.”

Projects receiving funding this year include the French Broad River, Chimney Rock State Park, Bentonville Battlefield Historic site and others. The grants are funded by the state, and the fund’s budget is set annually by the General Assembly. In its most recent budget, lawmakers increased funding to $14.1 million dollars, but during this last grant cycle, the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund received requests totaling $56 million dollars.

Bryan Gossage, director of the fund, says his job is about making the most of the resources allocated, and recognizing the hard work of state’s 24 land conservation groups, “There are always limited resources, and so there are always tough decisions to make. I just appreciate so much the hard work the trustees do, they’re volunteers.”

Will Morgan of The Nature Conservancy applied for funding, but he was not successful this year, “There was a lot of really great projects that didn’t receive funding because there just wasn’t enough money to go around.”

The grant money also funds projects that improve water quality. This year that includes more than $3 million dollars for stream restoration and for storm-water projects.

New Data Names North Carolina the Worst State for Teachers

medium International World Teachers Day  is coming up on Oct. 5 and the personal finance website WalletHub analyzed data along with 18 categories to conclude that among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, North Carolina ranks as the worst state for teachers.

The metrics it looked at included looks at states’ median starting salaries, unemployment rates and teacher job openings, among other factors.




Here is where North Carolina ranked in several categories:

Average starting salary, 41,

Median annual salary, 47,

Unemployment rate, 38,

Ten-year change in teacher salary, 51,

Pupil-to-teacher ratio, 32,

Public school spending per student, 48,

Teachers’ wage disparity, 43, and

Safest schools, 40.

North Carolina teachers are finally getting a raise, but not necessarily under the terms they wanted.

Under a budget deal signed into law Aug. 7 by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, the raises will average 7 percent. But they are concurrent with a radical revamping of the state salary schedule and the specter of new differentiated-pay plans.

Among other provisions, the deal wraps “longevity pay” stipends for veterans into teachers’ base salaries, and directs districts to offer more to teachers working in certain subjects and schools. In all, the raises are worth some $282 million.

It comes amid tense political battles in the Tar Heel State over per-pupil funding and teacher tenure. North Carolina was once viewed as a leader for supporting programs like National Board certification, but enrollments in the state’s teacher-preparation programs have fallen, and some out-of-state districts—including Houston’s—have even been recruiting North Carolina teachers.

Teachers’ salaries, which have been essentially frozen since 2008, have been a particular concern.

Expect to Pay Less at Pumps

Good news for drivers. The cost of a gallon of gasoline could fall below $3 in a majority of states across the U.S. soon. Right now, the average price for regular gasoline is at a seven-month low across the country, and in many states costs are at a yearly low, according to AAA.  Gas prices tend to drop in the fall, but this year prices are being pulled lower than usual due to falling global oil prices.

Prices in nearly 30 states are projected to be less than $3 a gallon. The national average of $3.35 a gallon is a dime cheaper than a year ago today. In Sylva, prices this week are averaging $3.45 according to Gasbuddy.com

NC’s Voting Law Goes to Court Today

With less than two months to go before the November elections, North Carolina’s controversial voting law is being fast-tracked to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Charlotte on Thursday.  The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice are challenging provisions in the law that they say place a burden on citizens as they exercise their right to vote.

Jeremy Collins with the SCSJ  says they consider it a good sign the court wants to take up the law before November, “We’re clearly optimistic. We are enthusiastically preparing for the oral argument, and we’re excited to place our arguments back before the Fourth Circuit.”

Provisions in the law that eliminate one week of early voting, end same-day registration, and restrict out-of-precinct voting are being challenged on constitutional grounds. Both parties are asking the court to place the law on hold until next summer, until further legal analysis can be done. Collins says if the Fourth Circuit agrees, voting laws would be restored to what they were in the 2012 election.

Supporters of North Carolina’s new voting law argue that it’s needed to combat voter fraud, but Collins and the other plaintiffs aren’t buying it, “It seems as though it’s a deliberate attempt to confuse folks and to disenfranchise a considerable population of North Carolinians.”

Collins says requirements in the new law are believed to have a disproportionate impact on minorities, low-income voters and college students. A recent analysis by Democracy North Carolina found that 400 provisional ballots cast in the May primary were not counted, but would have been counted under the 2012 laws.

NC Coal Ash Cleanup Begins: More Work to Be Done

It is the first full week that, by law, North Carolina will clean up four coal ash sites in the state – in Asheville, Eden, Gastonia and Wilmington. While the cleanup is welcome news for those communities, others living near the 10 coal-ash sites not included want the state to do more. Kimberly Brewer of Rowan County is the mother of four, two of whom have birth defects she believes were caused by the coal-ash ponds adjacent to their front yard, from the Buck Steam Power Plant, “It saddens me that our politics don’t really take the health of others seriously. I sit back and wonder how many other families are going to have to go through what I go through?” Brewer has since moved away from the pond and says as a result, her children require fewer doctor visits, went from taking 15 medications to none, and are in better health overall. The Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 took affect after Governor McCrory announced he would take no action on the legislation after it passed, which allowed it to become law. This month, the group Environment North Carolina delivered comments from 40,000 citizens asking the state to do more to clean up all of the coal-ash ponds in the state. David Rogers with the organization says he hopes the governor takes their message to heart, “You know, Governor McCrory has a huge opportunity right now to really lead, and deliver when it comes to protecting North Carolina’s rivers and lakes.” Caroline Armijo grew up near the Belews Creek plant in Stokes County. She says she became concerned in recent years after several family members and friends who also live in the area were diagnosed with cancer. Since then, Armijo says she has been working hard to educate her neighbors, “And people just don’t even know about it. I mean, they’re just sleeping right next to this huge pond – they don’t even know it could flood.” The pond associated with the plant has been designated as “high hazard” for dam failure by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Fracking is also proposed near the Belews Creek plant. Armijo and others say that adds extra risk of disturbing the ground and the coal-ash dam.