Socket Wrenches in the Book Bag

Since the 1990s, NASCAR has grown from a sport rooted in the Southeast to an American institution with a fan base second only to the National Football League. Throughout NASCAR’s history, North Carolina has always been among its central locations and the sport has done fine here without government assistance.

Today the sport has its home base in the state, with most of the in its three main divisions (Nextel Cup, Busch Series, Craftsman Truck) setting up shop in the Charlotte region. Industry estimates claim that auto racing contributes $5 billion annually to the state’s economy and creates more than 24,000 jobs, most of them related to engineering, design, and fabrication of the stock cars. Those are jobs that, for the most part, require a higher level of training that that of your typical auto mechanic.

Budget a big victory for Bowles, Easley

When the North Carolina General Assembly approved the final budget for the 2008 fiscal year in July, it was clear that the state’s education sector was a big winner. Lawmakers had approved a state budget that called for $1 billion more education spending than last year.

It’s that kind of spending that makes Gov. Mike Easley and UNC President Erskine Bowles quite happy. Both came away as big beneficiaries, having shepherded their specific spending proposals and persuaded lawmakers to fund their plans. For taxpayers, of course, the spending was more of a mixed bag, and a costly one.

In all, the 2008 budget came in at $20.6 billion. UNC makes up 12 percent of the budget, receiving a $2.6 billion total appropriation. The community college system received just under $1 billion, $938 million. Total education spending, when the K-12 Department of Public Instruction is included, was $11 billion. These figures do not include significant capital expenditures that will be funded by bonds that do not need voter approval.

More teachers, less smoking

Legislators finally placed an end to the eight-month legislative session on Aug. 3 after approving the state budget and pushing through some final pieces of legislation.

In all, more than 500 bills may become law from this session. The final number depends on how many Governor Mike Easley will veto. He has 30 days from the end of the session to decide about the nearly 200 bills still on his desk. Any bill Easley does not act on in that time frame will be automatically enacted into law.

Of those bills, only a handful concern higher education in North Carolina, and those primarily focus on procedural changes to programs currently in existence. A few bills do create new programs or initiatives with the state’s higher education systems.

Things We Could Do Without in the State Budget

On Monday, legislators gave final approval of a $20.7 billion budget for the 2007-08 Fiscal Year. Less than a day later, Gov. Mike Easley signed and sealed the package.

The budget appropriates $2.6 billion to the University of North Carolina system and $938 million for the community colleges.

“We have put reality behind the vision of an affordable, debt-free education from pre-kindergarten to an undergraduate degree at a state university,” Easley said in a statement. “Out of this budget, North Carolina emerges a leader in education on the national scene. History will note the courage and foresight of those who did not just make easy promises, but did the hard work to keep those promises and stand up for the future of our state.”

Among the items included in the budget are some that Gov. Easley and budget writers should be proud of, in my opinion. The budget spends $1.5 million to allow part-time private college students to participate in the legislative tuition grant program and $177,000 to provide additional funding for the Gateway Technology Center on the campus of North Carolina Wesleyan College. It also makes reductions to follow the recommendations of the President’s Advisory Committee on Efficiency and Effectiveness.

House, Senate leaders approve $20.7 billion budget

House and Senate leaders have approved a $20.7 billion budget plan for the 2008 fiscal year. It’s a spending package that includes $2.6 billion for the UNC system and $938 million for community colleges.

UNC’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget was $2.2 billion.

The spending package comes one month into the 2008 fiscal year. Legislators had approved a continuing budget authorization in June after negotiators could not come to an agreement on critical aspects in the budget. Gov. Mike Easley is expected to sign the bill once it arrives at his desk.

Athletics Arms Race

In January, Nick Saban signed an eight-year $32 million contract with the University of Alabama to become its next football coach, making him the highest-paid college coach in the nation.

The signing sent shockwaves across the college athletics landscape. Not only had Alabama signed a premier coach who had led Louisiana State University, a SEC rival, to a share of the national title in 2004, but it sparked criticisms – and fear – that Saban’s hiring would elevate the salaries of already highly-paid coaches to even higher levels. The fear was that it would place severe financial strains on the universities and their athletic departments.

Lloyd Hackley is UNC’s problem solver

Lloyd Hackley is on the job again.

After serving as interim chancellor for a year at N.C. A&T, Hackley was named last week to serve in the same position at Fayetteville State University. This after Chancellor T.J. Bryan resigned under pressure due to concerns about the school’s nursing program and financial condition.

Media reports following Bryan’s resignation indicate that UNC President Erskine Bowles asked for her resignation in a meeting in Chapel Hill.

Is it time for Title IX to end?

My first introduction to writing professionally was as a sports writer for a couple of newspapers in West Virginia. The assignments were simple – go to the games, follow the action, report on what you saw, and occasionally offer commentary and features on the athletes and events.

That’s easy enough given my admiration for sports. I’ve always believed that sports were a great avenue in helping boys and girls to learn about character and to gain self-respect. I recall vividly a number of athletes who attributed part of their maturity to lessons learned on the playing field.

Even with my admiration for sports, I have a hard time justifying the continued support for Title IX, which celebrated its 35th anniversary over the weekend. The law, which was included in the Education Act of 1972, simply states that programs that receive federal support cannot discriminate on the basis of gender. While it did not specifically mention athletics, the language triggered a growth in the number of collegiate athletic opportunities for women.

New A&T Chancellor Has Long Road Ahead

When N.C. A&T Chancellor Stanley Battle was named to the position last November, he said he wanted to make the school among the best in the nation. Little did he know at the time that the goal would begin with a rebuilding process.

Battle takes over a school that is mired in controversy due to a March 2007 internal audit that found more than $2 million in mismanaged funds or funds that were acquired by the school illegally. That includes mismanagement by a vice chancellor of more than $500,000 of the Future Engineering Faculty Fellowship, a federal grant by the U.S. Office of Naval Research to increase the number of doctoral candidates in engineering at historically black colleges and universities. The school could be required to pay some of that money back, and criminal charges are possible.

An editorial roundup

The Duke Lacrosse story is, finally, over.

A week-long disciplinary hearing last week found that Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong violated multiple ethics rules in his prosecution of rape charges against three Duke Lacrosse players last year. Nifong was stripped of his law license Saturday afternoon, but not before Nifong announced his intent to resign from office.

Nifong had sought rape charges against David Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann in connection with a March 2006 house party where an exotic dancer claimed she had been raped. DNA evidence later proved that the three had not raped her, yet Nifong continued with the case, withholding evidence and other information from defense lawyers. In December, Nifong removed himself from the case, handing it over to Attorney General Roy Cooper.