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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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Thank you to Commissioner Vilma Leake for inviting me to her Town Hall last week! It was a great chance to meet some of my new constituents from West of South Boulevard, where my new District 88 reaches all the way to the Catawba River. 

Disaster Preparation at Home and in Raleigh

The past few weeks have seen two massive ‘unprecedented’ hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, spread devastation across the Southeast and Caribbean. My thoughts and prayers are with all of the first responders and communities on the Gulf Coast, throughout Florida and Georgia, and especially on the islands in the Caribbean that were nearly wiped out by Irma. 

These storms, and the fact that North Carolina is still recovering from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, remind us that our corner of heaven may enjoy Mother Nature’s finest work, but her temper is fierce. We all need to take steps to make sure that our families, our homes, and our state are prepared for future ‘unprecedented’ storms.

I’m not suggesting you rent a backhoe and start digging up your backyard for a bomb shelter, but everyone should take some basic steps so they’ll be prepared in case of emergency. First, you should take time to consider your specific situation and make a plan. Second, you should make a basic kit of supplies that will last you (and your pets) for at least three days without running water or electricity. Finally, the most important thing to do in any type of disaster, natural or otherwise, is to remain alert at all times for warnings and communication about the situation. Visit https://readync.org for more information and a helpful list of emergency kit items.  

Turning from what each of us should do to what I hope all of us can do together, I’m afraid to say I’m more confident in your ability to get your emergency kit together than I am that the current House and Senate leadership will address these issues. From my perspective, these ever larger hurricanes and rain events that cause localized flooding around the state are a call to action. We must reconsider our development practices along our streams and waterways and on the coast, or we will continue to suffer ever larger floods and bills for beach ‘renourishment.’ 
Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean Basin.
One of the most powerful development policy tools we have to prevent inland flooding are riparian barriers, which create a buffer zone between development and waterways. These undeveloped zones are proven to soak up rainwater runoff, preventing it from entering the waterway and raising the water level. In ‘normal’ weather, these barriers create a natural filter for the runoff, improving water quality, but in a flood event, they serve to soak up water that would otherwise cause damage downstream.This year, I fought against multiple attempts to weaken the riparian barrier laws in North Carolina, but exceptions were added that allow developers to push right up to the water’s edge in some instances. We were able to stop a much more extreme bill that tried to eliminate all of the riparian barriers along the Catawba River, so our advocacy for responsible development policies met with some success. 

I wasn’t in Raleigh at the time, but I’m still floored by the 2015 bill that essentially made it illegal to consider scientific projections for sea level rise beyond 2045. Our state is currently spending tens of millions of dollars a year for infrastructure on the coast, but we’ve actually made it illegal for the engineers who build and maintain that infrastructure to plan based on the broadly accepted scientific consensus of where the ocean will be in 50 years. 

We cannot control the weather, but we can all take steps that will mitigate the cost of the damage that extreme weather will cause in the future. The decisions we make today are shaping the world our grandchildren inherit, so we need to consider the consequences of our actions with clear eyes. Chances are, you were just as spooked as I was by those early Irma storm tracks and took the time to get your home and your family prepared for the storm. I hope the leadership in Raleigh will wake up to the fact that these big storms are like that early storm track. They’re warning us that we need to take steps now to make our waterways and our coast more resilient to these huge and costly weather events.   

Please stay tuned to my official Twitter (@BelkRep) feed for updates and announcements.
Communities throughout Eastern NC are still in need of volunteers and donations to help in the recovery from the floods of Hurricane Matthew 

Hurricane Recovery

With two massive hurricanes hitting in 2017, and budget cutting on the agenda in Washington, North Carolina may struggle to get funding to complete the recovery from Hurricane Matthew. It’s getting more difficult to draw attention to the continued needs of the people recovering from Matthew as the news cycle moves on to more recent storms.

If you have the time, there are still some great volunteer opportunities listed on the NCVOAD Volunteer site. If swinging a hammer is not your cup of tea, the NC Disaster Recovery Fund is still taking donations and giving out recovery grants to people who are unable to get FEMA assistance due to a lack of funds.

If you are moved to send help to the people digging themselves out from Harvey and Irma, the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster site is a great resource to learn about and donate to all the organizations that are active in the recovery process. I would suggest using a site like Charity Navigator or GiveWell to research your choice of charity if you’re not familiar with one already. I’ve also heard that the Houston Diaper Bank is a great local organization in that city.
Governor Cooper was in Charlotte to hand out school supplies and meet with teachers about their ongoing instructional funding needs. Rep. Autry took this group selfie with Sen. Waddell, and Rep. Beasley.

Teacher Retention &
the Opportunity Culture Model

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of joining a number of my colleagues, local and state School Board members, and local officials at Shamrock Gardens Elementary for a presentation and discussion about the Opportunity Culture model they have been implementing at schools throughout CMS. 

This is an innovative program that recognizes two of the biggest issues with teacher retention is that the most successful teachers either leave the education profession in search of higher pay and opportunity for advancement, or they move into an administrative role in the school system for the same reasons. Either way, future students are deprived of a good teacher who has proven success in the classroom. 

The new model creates teams of teachers with tiers of mentor or leader teachers, thereby creating opportunities for advancement and professional growth, while keeping successful teachers in classrooms. The model gives these senior teachers the time to create projects and lessons that can then be shared with multiple classes of students, spreading the impact of the most successful teachers to their peers and as many students as possible. 

For the past two years, CMS has been implementing its Success by Design program, based on the new model, at 31 schools throughout the district. So far, the experiment has shown tremendous success bringing low performing schools up to the average or better performance for CMS schools. You can see the information they prepared for us, including some statistics HERE.

Too often, the debate in education over accountability focuses on Teachers vs. Student Achievement. This model flips that paradigm on its head by using accountability to identify gifted teachers and empower them to help other teachers succeed. This offers a professional track for successful teachers, and on the job mentoring and supervision for teachers who need help. More than anything, I was impressed by the cooperative relationship the teaching teams and administrators at Shamrock Elementary bring to educating their students. 

It’s up to us in the legislature to give the school systems the salary and budget flexibility they need to implement similar programs tailored to the needs of their local schools. I was encouraged that a number of my Republican colleagues from the Education Committee were at the presentation. Members of the Education Appropriations Committee appeared to agree the model was a reasonable use of funds and a great example of how local districts can use budget flexibility to achieve success.
Principal Sarah Reeves of Shamrock Gardens Elementary explains the Success by Design program to me and Rep. Pat Hurley.

Your Legislature and Your Government

The NC General Assembly web site is a powerful tool for accessing the bills going through the legislature and holding your representatives accountable. The home page has links to the live audio from both the House and Senate chambers, as well as the official calendars for both chambers. There’s also a great ‘quick lookup’ function on the top right for bills from the current biennium or contact info for members of the House or Senate.

There are a whole other set of more powerful search tools that can be found in the ‘Legislation/Bills’ section of the site. HERE, you can search for words or phrases from the text of any legislation, and that tool also allows you to search through bills from previous bienniums as well. 

When legislation is moving fast, or we’re not sure what might appear on the next day’s calendar,  my favorite tools is Bills with House Action by Day (or Bills with Senate Action by Day), because any time a bill is removed from a committee or passed by a committee to be put on the calendar, it’s noted here before you see it anywhere else. 

Finally, each of the committees has its own separate section of the web site where they keep relevant public information and links to the live audio of committee meetings if it’s available. The main Committee page allows you to look them up by name or see what committees each legislator is assigned. 

Equifax Data Breach: Attorney General Josh Stein’s office has put up a page on their website with information about the breach and steps you can take to find out if your information was potentially stolen.     
 
Charlotte 311 is your connection to city services, including Animal Control, Street Maintenance, Bulky Trash Pick-up, Parking Enforcement, and all other non-police related matters. Dial 311 or visit their website to fill out a form and have your issue addressed as soon as possible.        
 
Don’t forget! Visit NCCash.com today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office.

Did You Know? You can request free mulch from the city’s yard waste recycling program! Fill out THIS FORM on the Landscape Management website to request your delivery.

My office is here to help you navigate any issues you may have with state services. Please call myself or my legislative assistant, Ralph Belk, at 919-733-5607 or email me at mary.belk@ncleg.net with any questions or concerns
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In the News

Vi Lyles stuns Roberts, faces Kenny Smith for Charlotte mayor
Charlotte Observer

City Council incumbents Kinsey, Fallon lose re-election bids
Charlotte Observer

Real estate industry blocks sea-level warnings that could crimp profits on coastal properties
Charlotte Observer

Federal repeal and Medicaid cuts shift burdens to states
Charlotte Post

Under Pressure, North Carolina Draws New Voting Maps
NPR

NC GOP remap headed to US court
Charlotte Post
 
North Carolina legislators await judicial approval on redrawn district maps
Associated Press
 
North Carolinians have waited long enough for fair districts (Susan Ladd column)
Greensboro News & Record
 
What Gerrymandering Looks Like (Or, How to Guarantee GOP Dominance in a Purple State)
Indy Weekly

Some principals face big pay cuts. What does that mean for your kid’s school?
News & Observer

Schools Weigh Merit-Based Principal Pay, Other State Budget Effects
Southern Pines Pilot
 
New Principal Pay Plan Could Result in Steep Salary Reductions for Veteran Principals
NC Public School Forum
 
FAQs on New Principal Pay Plan
NC Department of Public Instruction

Convention Center remake would include ‘picture frame outlook’ over Stonewall Street 
Charlotte Observer

Irma's stint in NC results in power outages for thousands
Spectrum News

Irma bring flooding to SC, closes more than 80 roads
Spectrum News
 
District 88 Map
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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