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Morning Roundup: School superintendents vent about budget cuts

State budget cuts have damaged the quality of education offered in public schools across North Carolina, school superintendents said during a five-hour gathering Tuesday, where they shared stories and sounded alarms about financial woes that have worsened during the past three years. Read more here.

Other headlines:

--The Council of State takes action to close Dix Hospital. More here.

--The UNC system continues its push to remove university workers from the state personnel act. Read an interview with President Tom Ross here.

--Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will chair the Democratic National Convention, took his first look at Charlotte’s convention venues Tuesday, and took the chance to reach out to the city’s Hispanic community. Read Jim Morrill's story here.

State looks to outsource prison mental healthcare

A major private prison operator that has faced lawsuits over inmate and employee treatment in other states is negotiating with North Carolina officials to run the state's mental health treatment for people accused of serious crimes. 

GEO Care has a proposal in to the state Department of Health and Human Services to run forensic treatment services, which are now housed at Dorothea Dix in Raleigh and Central Regional Hospital in Butner. Forensic treatment is for people charged with serious crimes, including murder, rape or assault, who were found not guilty for reasons of insanity or who cannot be tried because they don't understand the charges against them.

J. Luckey Welsh Jr., head of state-operated health care facilities, told legislators last week that the department is evaluating the single proposal it received. Welsh did not identify the company, but The Business Journal in Greensboro reported this week that Florida-based GEO Care wants to renovate a former nursing home in High Point for a 90-bed hospital, and proposes to employ a 185-person staff. Read more here.

Symphony aggressively raising cash

PLEDGE DRIVE IN D-MAJOR: The struggling N.C. Symphony has begun its new season with an unusual fundraising drive to secure private donations to be eligible for additional state money. One patron bid $10,000 for a private recital by famed violinist Joshua Bell. (N&O)

PATIENTS BEGIN MOVING: Opposition to the safety of the new Central Regional Hospital in Butner is easing and a judge has allowed the first patients to move to the facility, which is eventually intended to replace Raleigh's Dorthea Dix Hospital. Dix will remain open with at least 100 mental patients for the foreseeable future. (N&O)

IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME: North Carolina aggressively courted Dell, but the company dumped the state Wednesday, announcing it was planning to walk away from a $150 million manufacturing facility and turning out nearly 1,000 workers. Maybe the state can find a rebound company. (N&O)

Dix to stay open, sign of failed reform

After working for nearly a decade to close Dorothea Dix Hospital, state mental health administrators now intend to keep a sizable number of staff and patients at the aging Raleigh facility for years.

Lanier Cansler, secretary for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said this week that he plans to move about half of Dix's more than 200 patients to Central Regional Hospital in Butner when it opens fully in October.

But he said Dix will remain open as a stand-alone psychiatric hospital, with its own director and administrative staff. It will no longer serve as a satellite campus for the new Butner facility.

State legislators affirmed that decision earlier this month when they approved a state budget that restored $6 million in funding for operations at Dix for the next year. That move came as legislators made $155 million in spending cuts for other mental health programs in the 2010 budget.

The move to continue operating Dix as a state mental hospital will hamper efforts to turn the more than 300 acres between downtown Raleigh and N.C. State University into a major park operated by the City of Raleigh or a nonprofit foundation.

It also offers evidence that the sweeping 2001 mental health reform plan has failed. A centerpiece of that effort, which was passed by the legislature and carried out by the administration of former Gov. Mike Easley, was a plan to reduce the need for beds at mental hospitals. Instead, there would be more private, community-based treatment. (N&O)

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