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N.C. Per Pupil Spending Schools Performance

This map shows the local, state, federal and total per-pupil spending for every school district in North Carolina and the percentage of low-performing schools in that district. I made it to accompany an investigation I did for Our Chatham about impact fees.

The map operates on a scale from red to blue, with the red districts having the highest percentage of low performing schools and the blue districts having the lowest.

In the bottom left corner there is a magnifying glass to put in your address, so you can see how much your school district spends per pupil, where the money is coming from and the percentage of low performing schools in your district. 

Component data provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Census Bureau. 

For how I did the analysis head over to my page here.


Chatham County Rural Broadband

This map shows the internet service provider for every Census Block in Chatham County and the download and upload speeds they offer. In the bottom left corner there is an option to put in your address to search for the provider that covers your area. 

I made this map for a story on internet speeds, which was published in Our Chatham. Component data comes from the Chatham County GIS Department, the FCC and the Census Bureau. 


After the Flood

A group of around 20 students, staff and leaders with UNC-Chapel Hill’s chapter of Wesley Campus Ministry traveled to Fayetteville, North Carolina to assist in disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

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State drunken driving program makes over 600 arrests Halloween…

The ghouls, ghosts and goblins were not the only scary thing out on Halloween weekend.

N.C. Police and Highway Patrol arrested 605 people during the Halloween weekend for driving while impaired, a slight increase from last year when 601 people were arrested.

557 of this year’s DWI arrests were alcohol related and 48 were drug related. Police made 53 arrests in Wake County, 42 in Guilford County and 27 in Forsyth County.

The arrests were made by police departments participating in the Governor’s Highway Safety Program’s Halloween BOO-ze It Lose It campaign to reduce drunken driving and educate the public about its risks.

Don Nail, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said the program was a response to the number of fatalities and crashes occurring in the state over Halloween weekend.

“Nationally, (Halloween) is known to be a weekend when folks tend to go out and drink a little bit more and, unfortunately, sometimes get behind the wheel impaired,” he said. “So two, we let anyone who might (drive while impaired) know that there will be an extra emphasis from the enforcement perspective to back up our educational efforts.”

LaRonda Scott, national senior manager of field fundraising for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said they support McCrory’s efforts to crack down on drunken driving during the Halloween weekend.

“(McCrory) has been a big supporter of eliminating substance-impaired driving … ,” she said. “For the communities, they can feel confident that officers are out there making sure that we are safe, our families are safe.”

Nail said the program was more successful this year because of greater involvement from law enforcement.

He said 65 percent of state Sheriff’s Departments and 75 to 80 percent of other state law enforcement agencies participated in the program.

“We are very encouraged that we had more law enforcement agencies engaged and out there on the lookout for folks that might be impaired,” He said. “We were also encouraged by the fact the number of DWIs wasn’t a lot higher, even though we had a lot more enforcement going on.”

Nail said he encourages anyone who intends to drink to have a plan to get home.

“I would really encourage everyone not just during Halloween or Christmas, New Year’s, any of these holidays to plan ahead,” he said. “If they are going to be drinking, make sure they are not behind the wheel.”


Affordable Care Act rates increase in 2017

Customers on Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Affordable Care Act plans might see a hike in their insurance premiums next year.

The insurer plans to increase the rates for Affordable Care Act plans by an average of 24.3 percent in 2017. This follows a May filing in which Blue Cross Blue Shield estimated the plans would increase by an average of 18.8 percent.

Brian Tajlili, director of actuarial and pricing services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C., said in a statement the rate increase is due to rising costs of medical care.

 “On average, ACA customers tend to require more medical services than most other customers, and have more chronic conditions that are costly to treat,” he said.

Tajlili said the lack of young, healthy people enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans fails to balance out the price of higher-cost customers.

The statement also said about 72 percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. customers with ACA plans will pay either less or the same for their insurance due to the act’s federal subsidy program.

The rate increase follows insurer Aetna’s decision to suspend their 2017 ACA plans in North Carolina. Tajlili said Blue Cross Blue Shield, as the only insurer in North Carolina, estimates they will enroll 260,000 people who were dropped by other insurers.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Gary Claxton, vice president for the foundation, said in a statement released in May insurers had been warning of cost pressures increasing and therefore health plan rate increases might be higher in 2017 than the previous year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has also faced problems related to its customer handling. The insurer is currently under investigation by the N.C. Department of Insurance due to a large volume of complaints about insurer issues.

“I’m going to hold Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina accountable for fixing its problems and doing right by consumers,” Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said in a statement released in February.

Presidential candidates have used rate increases to show the ACA needs to be fixed.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a rally in Fletcher, N.C. Friday “Obamacare” is failing and he would repeal and replace it. In a statement on his website, he said he would provide block grant Medicaid to the states for health care.

Hillary Clinton said in a statement on her website she would defend the ACA as president, and would attempt to bring down co-pays and deductible costs by reducing costs of health care.

Tajlili said the current plan is not viable in the long term on the current path.

“We must continue to seek improvements to the ACA to make it more sustainable.”


Law to limit public access to body camera footage

Starting Saturday, members of the public will have to obtain a court order to access North Carolina police body and dash camera footage.
House Bill 972 amends public records to not include body camera footage making them inaccessible by public request.

Under the new law, police departments can choose to reveal footage of incidents at their discretion upon request from the individual in the recording or their representative.

Any member of the public, a video subject or their representative whose request was denied will be required to obtain a court order from a judge in order to access the footage.

HB972’s implementation comes after recent protests in Charlotte concerning the shooting of Keith Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Police did not release body camera footage until four days after the incident.

Jeff Welty, associate professor at the UNC School of Government, said under current law, police camera recordings are considered public records, and the new law will be unique.

“One aspect of our law that’s going to be unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order,” he said.

Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in a statement Wednesday the law is problematic because it lacks transparency and sets back relations between the police and the community.

“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in — and even then, they could still be denied,” she said. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest … without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville and Greenville and people across the state.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law on July 11, said in a statement HB972 is designed to protect law enforcement and increase transparency.
“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” Gov. McCrory said in a statement.

Ford Porter, campaign spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, said in a statement the new law does not do enough to foster transparency.

“Attorney General Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement, but that the law signed by Gov. McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” he said. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect.”


Cyberattack prompts questions about election security

Cybersecurity has become an increasingly important concern in the 2016 election due to a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee over the summer and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has even questioned whether the election could be rigged.

 “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump said in a speech in Ohio on Aug. 1.

Jacob Smith, a UNC Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, said if the election were to be rigged it would most likely be by an outside actor.

“Outside actors are a much greater concern,” Smith said. “Russia is the concern, especially after the DNC hack.”

Recently, Russian-backed hackers used various digital methods to infiltrate the DNC network system. Michael Reiter, a professor in the UNC Department of Computer Science, said there are many methods of hacking, including keylogging malware to record typed information, backdoors to allow access to a system and denial of service attacks which deny service to the original user.

“I think there’s no doubt that Russia and Putin prefer Donald Trump in the election,” Smith said. “I think they probably feel that Donald Trump would be less tough on them — also displeasure with Clinton as Secretary of State and to the extent to which in term of the ways she dealt with Russia — they feel that they will get a more fair hearing from Donald Trump.”

Reiter said there are a wide variety of cyber threats that could affect voting and the election including physical methods. Individuals could threaten voting machines not connected to the internet by gaining physical proximity to the voting facility, he said.

“It’s very difficult to scale that kind of attack,” Reiter said. “If I really wanted to influence the election I would have to change a lot of these machines presumably or I would have to manipulate the computers where the votes are collected — some central database or something like that.”

Hillary Clinton has a technology platform on her website which outlines her positions on cybersecurity. The platform said Clinton would support expanded investment in cybersecurity technologies.

“Cybersecurity is essential to our economic and national security, and it will only become increasingly important as more commercial, consumer and government devices are networked,” the platform said.

Donald Trump does not have an official platform which outlines his stance on information security or personal privacy.

Yadavan Varatharajah, a network engineer for Cisco, said it is generally dangerous for the public not to care about cybersecurity.

“I think cybersecurity is something that people shouldn’t just be carefree about,” he said. “With every network you have you should be making sure it’s secure.”

Cybersecurity is a big issue due to people not having properly secured networks, Varatharajah said.

“You are not going to be able to stop (hackers),” he said. “It’s like stopping a robber. You’re not going to stop them from stealing.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Carrboro Town Hall lies in wait for renovation funding

In the past 60 years, buildings have come and gone in Carrboro. New technology has been developed. The population has increased by a factor of 11.

But in that time, the town hall has stood waiting for the same change and development that occurred all around it.

Now, when the building is finally scheduled to be renovated, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen are having second thoughts.

At the February 21 Board of Alderman meeting, town leaders failed to approve a new capital improvements plan, which would fund the $6.2 million needed for renovations to the town hall.

Town leaders expressed concerns about the overall cost of the plan, which they say is significantly higher due to the addition of town infrastructure for the first time this fiscal year.

“It’s is not a surprise because we’ve asked for those things,” Alderman Bethany Chaney said. “But it does give you pause when you realize how much things cost and it’s hard to make choices when we have so many priorities and demands.”

The town hall, which sits at 301 W. Main Street, has been rendered partially unusable due to a failure to meet certain property codes. Chaney said the closure of part of the building means the town staff no longer have adequate space. Chaney also said the current boardroom is too small to accommodate all the people who attend some of the town’s larger public hearings.

The town hall renovations were proposed in this year’s capital improvement plan. The plan lays out what the town needs to spend from the current fiscal year until fiscal year 2021-2022.

The plan also recommends funding an additional $14.3 million in office space above the planned southern branch of Orange County library at 203 S. Greensboro Street. Town manager David Andrews said town leaders are still deliberating about how much additional space they will need.

“(The library) can be built up to as high as five stories per the zoning so we are looking at building some office spaces on top of the library, and going up another two, or three or four floors depending on what our needs are and what we can afford,” Andrews said.

This year’s plan calls for roughly $51 million total in capital spending, $9.7 million of which have already been appropriated. Last year’s plan only requested $49.3 million.

Alderman Jacquelyn Gist said she was alarmed by the cost increase.

“With some of these numbers—well I haven’t been that scared since Trump’s last speech,” Gist said in the meeting.

Gist also expressed concern with the possibility of the town having to raise taxes on residents to fund the capital improvement plan.

Chaney believes that it is likely town residents will see tax increases in the coming years, regardless of whether the town funds the improvement projects.

“The inflationary cost is increasing at a rate that the growth of our current tax base so whether or not we move forward on the projects I’m afraid that we are going to see tax increases in the next two to three years,” Chaney said.

The projects also faced funding challenges, Chaney said, because public buildings don’t generate property taxes, so they can’t be paid for sustainably without other revenue streams.

“When you are trying to build a building you want to have somebody paying for it, through the property taxes or otherwise,” Chaney said.

In previous meetings, Alderman Randee-Haven O’Donnell also expressed concerns about a drop in funding from the state and federal governments, which could affect the town’s ability to fund projects in the capital improvement plan.

“We do not know what tomorrow will bring and where our economy is going,” Alderman Randee-Haven O’Donnell said. “When you overlay that uncertainty on top of basic questions about county funding not to mention North Carolina and the legislature you really have to be careful.”

While the aldermen debate the costs, the town hall still stands on W. Main Street waiting to be fixed.

“All those projects are vital projects. Whether they could be delayed a year, or two or, three—every time we delay a project the costs increase and that’s just increasing the bottom line.” Chaney said.

“It’s just not adequate. Frankly, it’s a little shameful.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Carrboro leaders stand up for women’s rights

After teaching for 39 years, Randee Haven-O’Donnell knows there are some things that can make geology, ecology or water chemistry wait for a day.

So when Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools sat empty Wednesday because of the “Day Without Women” protest, she held off on the science, instead deciding to discuss sexism with her seventh and eighth grade Durham Academy students.

“For me, my goal is to be front and center with my students and to say to them, as I did (Wednesday), ‘I am here to be with you and talk about this,’” Haven O’Donnell said.

Haven-O’Donnell, who also serves on Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen, believes that even though students may have missed a day of school, the value of the message was more important than what students would have learned that day.

“I think having this out for the day in the very short run it’s a way to make a statement about women that’s important for children to realize,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “I would submit to you that the most important aspect of learning goes far beyond was it going to be measured by any given test or assessment on any given day.”

At the March 7 Board of Aldermen meeting, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle was greeted with a spontaneous round of applause after she read a proclamation declaring Wednesday to be “Carrboro Women’s Day.” Lavelle said she declared the holiday in solidarity with International Women’s Day, which was held on the same day.

“I think this is (a holiday) I’m going to continue,” Lavelle said.  “There is a great emphasis on it, I think particularly this year with the spirit of the Women’s March. I just felt like it was really important to kind of state that Carrboro stands behind the principles that founded that day.”

A movement based off of the “Day Without Immigrants” protest encouraged women to take the day off from work, wear red and refrain from spending money to support the cause of women on the holiday. Because of a high number of predicted staff absences, Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools declared an optional teacher workday.

Only three school districts in the country were forced to close because of the protests. The closure garnered national attention and was reported by various news outlets including The New York Times. A statement released by school superintendent Jim Causby said the closure was not because of any personal politics, but rather because of a perceived inability to operate the schools properly with the number of staff members absent.

“While Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools values and supports its female employees, the decision to close schools is not a political statement,”  Causby said. “It is entirely about the safety of students and the district’s inability to operate with a high number of staff absences.”

Haven-O’Donnell said even if the school says they didn’t claim to close for political reasons, it is possible that still support the cause.

“The school district does that because they don’t want to be like a weather-vane—depending on what the political mood is you know flip-flopping one way or the other,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “But I think that the school district does not want to be in crisis either.”

Haven O’Donnell believes that Carrboro is the ideal community to support women’s rights because of their recent history of supporting social justice issues. In January, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools proposed raising their living wage rate from $12.75 to $13.16 per hour—well above the $7.25 state minimum wage.

“This is something that Carrboro does,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “You can see it in life with how we support social justice issues, but even more important than that, (you see it) undergirding the platform that supports women—whether it be wages, salaries, equalization, equity, healthcare.”

Lavelle also said she was open to allowing town employees to take the day of in solidarity with the movement.

“I believe our town employees that want to are able to participate and can take time off to do so,” Lavelle said. “I want people to be able to make a point or have their voices heard.”

Though she believes they understand the issues, Haven-O’Donnell said that she was pessimistic about young people’s support for feminism until the past year’s protests of President Donald Trump.

“When I was in Washington there were million people standing around with me energized to resist,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “This is that extension. It’s not going away. It’s overdue. And I think especially middle schoolers, high schoolers respect people who are trying to fight and people who are strengthening their voice—that’s the way kids are.”

Lavelle said that a new energy has been breathed into the community to stand up for women’s rights and other social issues.

“I’ve seen it everywhere I go. People want to get engaged,” Lavelle said.  “They look to local government for it first to start to try to hear what’s going on to try to shape policy statewide and nationally. There’s absolutely a lot of energy. Speaking especially for our area, our towns—we are always energized, but even more so this year.”

Haven O’Donnell said no matter the age or gender, protest is always appropriate when faced with injustice.

“I think peaceful dissent is always appropriate,” Haven-O’Donnell said.

“Passive resistance is not easy. But it’s effective. And sometimes that’s all we’ve got.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Town of Carrboro preempts legal challenge to N.C. body…

Carrboro’s town attorney thinks body camera video should be seen by community leaders.

And he thinks he just might have a way around a new state law that would prohibit such disclosures.

“The statutes say the council of a city runs, or are the corporate officers of the city and that includes the police department. The statutes say that the manager is essentially the chief executive officer and administrator of all personnel in the city,” Town Attorney Nick Herman said in an interview.  “So if you’ve got the police department doing something on tape arguably under the statutes that would empower the manager to be the administrator of the city and he outta be able to see that tape.”

After two years of deliberation and refinement, the Carrboro Board of Alderman passed a measure 4-1 at the Feb. 28 board meeting which would authorize body camera use by the town police department. Body camera video disclosure is governed by N.C. General Statute 132, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2016.

Under the new law, police body and dash camera recordings are no longer part of the public record and only legal representatives of those in the recordings could request to see the footage from a police department. The police department, however, would not be legally required to allow them to view the footage.  If the footage wasn’t handed over to the representative, they could then request the footage from a superior court judge. For any other person who wants access to the footage, they must request access to it in court from a superior court judge.

The Carrboro resolution was developed in a collaboration between the aldermen, the town police department and attorneys for the town, police department and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Upon request from the ACLU, the town implemented measures in the new policy that places the presumption on disclosing all footage unless the police chief has a legitimate reason not to do so.

The aldermen also authorized four new motions to the policy before it passed on Tuesday night including resolutions striking language that reiterated the general statutes excluding the recordings from the public record and adding language allowing the town to read the new policy in ways that could potentially allow their access to any police tapes.

“My position on that is that we are bound by the statute… we cannot bring a facial challenge to it,” Herman said in the meeting. “There is nothing unlawful about the statute itself, its enactment or what it says. What the fight would be potentially is an interpretation of the reach of the statute—what it means. Some of us believe that the statute must be read in light of other statutes that the manager is empowered to do certain things and empower (the alderman) to do certain things. Viewed that way is disclosure or release may be more expansive than just what’s literally stated in this.”

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government professor Jeff Welty said in a September interview that despite other states passing laws governing body camera footage, North Carolina’s law is unique.

“(Other) states are all over the map,” Welty said. “But one aspect of our law that that’s unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order.”

Alderman Sammy Slade voted against the policy Tuesday night because he said the state law limits one of the original intentions of body cameras.

“I feel that one of the values that video footage has… is for the public to serve to hold accountable not just the police force but (also) the justice system itself,” Slade said in the meeting.

“A superior court judge is accountable to a larger group of people who vote for him than a Board of Aldermen or an elected body is. Other people participating that have other issues or concerns may not feel the accountability that may happen is as direct”

Alderman Bethany Chaney said that despite objections to the state law she supports the new policy.

“I’m very much in support of this policy,” Chaney said. “I think the two years it’s taken to get here has been appropriate.”

Gov. Pat McCrory said when he signed the law on July 11 that statute is designed to increase transparency.

“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” McCrory said.

Gov. Roy Cooper opposed the law in his campaign against McCrory, criticizing it as misleading and not transparent.

“Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement but the law signed by Governor McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect. It’s a shame that (the) Governor insists on attempting to mislead voters instead of taking responsibility for the law he signed.”

Herman said that releasing the tapes to the public could potentially expose the town to legal action.

“My view is the manager needs to know about (an incident) immediately and then the manager outta be able to to come in here and closed session and show you the tape and say ‘We gotta do something about this’ because what your lawyers gonna say is ‘We are gonna get the hell sued out of us,’” Herman said after the meeting.  “Now releasing to the public is sticky wicket. There would be at least legitimate arguments about some safeguard about putting this out in the public domain only because take an ambiguous tape—everybody sees what they want to see.”

Local ACLU attorney Susanna Birdsong, who collaborated on the Carrboro policy, also criticized the law in September after violent protests erupted in Charlotte, N.C. over the shooting death of Keith Lamond Scott.

“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in – and even then, they could still be denied,” Birdsong said in a statement. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest – as we have seen officials do recently in Greensboro, Charlotte and Tulsa, Oklahoma – without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville, and Greenville, and people across the state.”

The Carrboro policy would allow officers to view recordings prior to writing their reports, except in cases of officer involved shootings. In the event of a shooting, the officer would be suspended for two to three days and then would be required to write a statement about the shooting before they could view the tape. The written statement could then be amended thereafter, but the original draft of the statement would be kept.

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton said he supports the new policy, but it will not be the panacea to police-resident relations.

“My two cents—we’ve got a solid policy,” Horton said in the meeting. “I am looking forward to (body worn cameras) but they are not gonna be the end-all solution, the everything that’s gonna answer every question… but I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”