Common Core standards set for new school year

Like most of the nation’s states, North Carolina will put into practice for the 2012-2013 school year the Common Core State Standards for public schools. The Common Core was coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and input from teachers, administrators, college professors, and representatives from student groups including students with disabilities, English learning students, and civil rights groups was considered in the creation of the standards. Public feedback included 10,000 responses.

Gov. Beverly Perdue announced N.C.’s State Board of Education adoption of the Common Core in June of 2010. She was meeting with the U.S. Department of Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, when she made the announcement.
“North Carolina has always been a leader in education reform and this is yet another example of how the leadership in this state remains committed to putting our children first,” said Perdue in a press release.
The Common Core’s key points are in English language arts, including reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and media and technology, and in mathematics. The standards in each subject and in each grade are geared to ensure graduating high school students are “able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs.”
Students will be expected to: read diverse texts, classic and contemporary, fiction and non-fiction; write logical arguments with sound reasoning; communicate at the individual and group levels; analyze and use media; apply mathematics to the real world; use mathematics and statistics in decision making.
The Common Core was not created on the national level. It is a state-led initiative, though federal funding is available. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers has stated they intend to remain state-led.
“This is the first time that states have led an effort to create a common set of learning standards for our students,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson in a press release. “North Carolina’s own essential standards are well aligned with the math and English Common Core, and we look forward to the benefits for our students. We are excited about the opportunities the Common Core offers us to share professional development and best practices with our partner states.”

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Students gearing up for annual tax-free weekend

The Sales and Use Tax Division of the N.C. Department of Revenue has announced the dates and regulations for this year’s back-to-school tax-free weekend.  The tax holiday is Friday, August 3 through Sunday, August 5.  The Department of Revenue first held this tax-free weekend in August 2002.

Parents and students from pre-school to college will be filling retail stores for their school needs.  Young children rely on crayons, almost everyone needs number two pencils, and college students will spend as little as they can get away with on textbooks.

Retailers are required to comply with the non-taxation.  They are not permitted to charge tax and tell customers to request a tax refund through the state.  If tax is charged during the tax-free weekend, customers should obtain a refund through the retailer.  Retailer coupons apply discounts before determining the price eligibility of items, whereas manufactures’ coupons will not deduct savings from the original price to make an item tax-free.

To qualify, clothing items must be priced at $100 or less per item; sports and recreational equipment must be $50 or less per item; computers must be $3,500 or less per item; computer supplies must be $250 or less per item; school supplies must be $100 or less per item; school instructional materials must be $300 or less per item.

Computers include a central processing unit, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers. Purchases of a single monitor, keyboard, mouse, or speakers without the CPU will be taxed.  Tablets are considered computers but eReaders are not, and are therefore taxed.  Rented items, like textbooks, will also be taxed.

The University Area’s local textbook store, Gray’s College Bookstore, prepares for this weekend each year with advertising and additional sales.

“It’s a great opportunity to save that extra eight percent.  Pretty much everything in the store is tax-free,” said Jeremy Slone, Gray’s retail manager.  “We actively tell people about it.  We couple a sale with it to increase the savings to the students.”

Below is a complete list of non-taxable items provided by the Sales and Use Tax Division:

Clothing:

  • Aprons, household and shop
  • Athletic supporters
  • Baby receiving blankets
  • Bandannas
  • Bathing suits and caps; beach capes and coats
  • Belts and suspenders
  • Boots; overshoes
  • Coats, jackets, capes, and wraps
  • Costumes (does not include costume masks sold separately)
  • Diapers (children and adults, including disposables)
  • Earmuffs
  • Gloves and mittens for general use
  • Hats and caps
  • Hosiery
  • Scarves
  • Formal wear (does not include rentals)
  • Garters and garter belts; girdles; leotards and tights; panty hose; socks; stockings and footlets; underwear
  • Insoles for shoes
  • Jogging suits
  • Lab coats
  • Neckties
  • Rainwear
  • Rubber pants
  • Sandals; shoes and shoelaces; slippers; sneakers; steel-toed shoes
  • Uniforms (athletic and nonathletic uniforms when purchased for nonbusiness use)
  • Wedding apparel (does not include rentals)

Sport or recreational equipment:

  • Ballet and tap shoes
  • Cleated or spiked athletic shoes Gloves (baseball, bowling, boxing, hockey, golf, and other sports)
  • Goggles
  • Hand and elbow guards
  • Helmets (bicycle, skating, baseball, and other sports)
  • Life preservers and vests
  • Mouth guards
  • Roller and ice skates
  • Shin guards
  • Shoulder pads
  • Ski boots
  • Waders, wetsuits, and fins

Computers and computer supplies:

  • Computer storage media, including diskettes and compact disks
  • Handheld electronic schedulers, except devices that are cellular phones
  • Personal digital assistants, except devices that are cellular phones
  • Computer printers
  • Printer supplies for computers, including printer paper and printer ink

School supplies:

  • Binders
  • Blackboard chalk
  • Book bags
  • Calculators
  • Cellophane tape
  • Clay and glazes
  • Compasses
  • Composition books
  • Crayons
  • Erasers
  • Folders (expandable, pocket, plastic, and manila)
  • Glue, paste, and paste sticks
  • Highlighters
  • Index card boxes
  • Index cards
  • Legal pads
  • Lunch boxes
  • Markers
  • Notebooks
  • Paintbrushes for artwork
  • Paints (acrylic, tempora, and oil)
  • Paper (loose leaf ruled notebook paper, copy paper, graph paper, tracing paper, manila paper, colored paper, poster board, and construction paper)
  • Pencil boxes and other school supply boxes
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Pencils (includes pencil leads)
  • Pens (includes pen refills)
  • Protractors
  • Rulers
  • Scissors
  • Sketch and drawing pads
  • Watercolors
  • Writing tablets

School instructional materials:

  • Reference books
  • Reference maps and globes
  • Textbooks
  • Workbooks
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Democracy in action: the neighborhood Aqua meeting

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Aqua North Carolina customers met with politicians last Friday to voice their concerns about the private water company’s practices.  Sharon Decker, homeowner association president for Ashe Plantation, located on 218, hosted the meeting at the Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation clubhouse.

Residents of Mint Hill, Charlotte, Union County, and Huntersville were present.  John Aneralla and Jeff Tarte came to listen to their concerns and provide information. Katie Hicks from Clean Water for North Carolina also attended.  Decker said the president of Aqua wanted to attend the meeting, but the HOA board decided the focus of Friday’s meeting was talking with the politicians.  The president has been invited to the next meeting of the neighborhoods sometime in September. Continue reading

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Commissioners to discuss saving Bain building

Commissioners raised concerns over the fate of Bain Elementary School’s auditorium at last Thursday’s meeting.  The three present commissioners made a quorum in the absence of Mayor Ted Biggers and Commissioner Mickey Ellington.

An environmental and structural study was done on Bain’s auditorium and found asbestos and lead based paints, as well as significant structural problems.  The Board is interested in saving the building as a piece of Mint Hill’s history, and may find help through the Mint Hill Historical Society and the Department of Cultural Resources.  This issue may generate public interest, and with the absence of the mayor and a commissioner, it was deferred until the next meeting scheduled for August 16. Continue reading

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Angry Aqua customers join forces for action

Photo courtesy of Dale Kast.

Residents of Ashe Plantation are happy to hear that after years of communication with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the Town of Mint Hill their roads will finally be repaired.  The town and state will repair the parts of the neighborhood, located off Hwy. 218, and when the work is completed, the town will maintain the roads.  This does not mark the end of Ashe Plantation’s utility problems, though.

Ashe Plantation’s homeowner association president, Sharon Decker, says residents are being overcharged and disregarded by their water company, Aqua North Carolina.  Her neighborhood isn’t alone.  Aqua services a number of communities in Mecklenburg County, including Farmwood East, Glencroft, Oxford Glen, Rocky Ridge, Belle Meade, Timberlands, and Wyndham.

Decker met with Stan Coleman from Park South Station in Charlotte about the issue.  As an Aqua customer, Coleman has been working toward finding a solution to the problems he has with the company.  He filed a formal complaint two years ago.

Coleman directed answers about Aqua’s ethical practices to Clean Water for North Carolina, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to promote clean, safe water and environments and empowered, just communities for all North Carolinians through community organizing, education, advocacy and technical assistance.”
The organization published a 2011 report called “Privatizing North Carolina’s Water, Undermining Justice.”  The report acknowledges the Park Foundation and the Duke University Stanback Internship Program for supporting the research, investigations, and preparation of the report. Continue reading

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Gift of Adoption helps local family

Last week’s paper reported on the new Gift of Adoption headquarters in Charlotte.

Matthews residents Todd and Cindy Garner know the difference that non-profit groups like Gift of Adoption can make in people’s lives.  The Garner family is comprised of two parents dedicated to creating a family, and their two adopted children, Caleb, 11, and Claire, 9.

The Garner’s adoptions were very different.  They knew Caleb’s birthmother here in N.C., and they adopted him as a baby. Claire was adopted as a six-year-old in the Philippines.  Her adoption cost between $20-25,000 and required months of paperwork and waiting.

They tried to turn in paperwork at the Homeland Security building, but they found out they were not allowed in.  It was due in one week, and they had to mail it.  The paperwork made it on the last day, but was processed a day late.  The Garners contacted their Congressperson, who in turn forced the application through.  The red tape almost delayed them by multiple months and nearly cost them an additional $800.

“Adoption has its own pregnancy, labor, and delivery,” said Cindy.

Claire was born with a cleft palette, and the surgery had some affect on how she forms certain sounds.  She is also learning to speak English, as her native language is Tegalog.  Claire spent the first two years of her life living in a hospital, and the next two years in an orphanage.  The last year she was in the Philippines she lived in a foster home with six other children.  She was six when she joined the Garner family.

“The agency we used for our international adoption was really exceptional.  It was Christian Adoption Services here in Matthews,” said Todd.

“Periodically they have orientation classes for the public and we went to one of those,” said Cindy.  “The adoption agency gave us several website and references to go to if we needed to solicit some help,” and that’s how they found Gift of Adoption, which awarded them $1,500.

“By the time we came down to the end of this adoption – and it was a 13-month long process – you get really weary of the waiting…and dealing with international politics of adoption.  And by this time you’ve already put forth a lot of money.  When Gift of Adoption gave us their check it was a relief because it helped pay for our expenses when our funds were really depleted, and we needed to get to the Philippines to pick her up,” said Cindy.  “We’re just regular people – we’re not wealthy people.”

“For a lot of families I think the hardest part is the money.  Even for people that aren’t looking to adopt themselves they can help other people.  If they think adoption is something they feel strongly about, they can help other people by giving to these organizations like Gift of Adoption,” said Todd.

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