School system cancels Civitas-sponsored seminar

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has canceled an education budget seminar co-sponsored by the John W. Pope Civitas Institute slated for Friday, Jan. 14. On Monday night, Superintendent Donald L. Martin sent an e-mail message to school board members with the following subject line: “Cancellation of the Civitas meeting on Friday - Jan. 14th – would the finance committee be available to meet anytime between 10 am and 2 pm?”

Kerry Crutchfield, the former finance director for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, was scheduled to speak at the event. Crutchfield said Martin told him earlier this week the event had been canceled due to lack of interest.

“What [Supt.] Martin told me was that a number of legislators had been invited and they had RSVP’d that they couldn’t come,” Crutchfield said.

Other featured speakers included John Dornan, a former president of the NC Public School Forum and Terry Stoops, director of education studies for the John Locke Foundation. Neither Dornan nor Stoops could be reached for comment on Tuesday. Theo Helm, a spokesman for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said he was not aware the event had been canceled. Neither Helm nor Martin responded to e-mail inquiries from YES! Weekly regarding the reason for the event cancellation on Tuesday afternoon.

School board member Elisabeth Motsinger objected to the school system co-sponsoring a budget seminar with the Civitas Institute, given the partisan nature of Civitas Action — a spinoff of Civitas Institute, which is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit.

According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, Civitas Action, a 501 (c)4 organization, poured $196,272 into the 22 targeted political contests in North Carolina this fall and 72 percent of the $264,890 Civitas Action reportedly raised this election cycle came from Art Pope’s family retail business, Variety Stores. The rest came from Art Pope’s political group, Americans for Prosperity. The group spent nearly $285,000 in the 22 North Carolina races.

Real Jobs NC, which was founded by Art Pope, received notoriety for its attack ads during the 2010 midterm elections. The political action committee pumped nearly $1.5 million into targeted state races. Real Jobs NC received $200,000 from Pope’s Variety Stores, according to the Institute for Southern Studies analysis.

Motsinger said her biggest objection to the school system co-sponsoring the seminar with Civitas is her firm belief that goal of the conservative group runs counter to the mission of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Motsinger said Civitas has long been a proponent of charter schools and school vouchers, which takes funding away from public schools.

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