CHAPEL HILL- When the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board met together for the first time last night to discuss shared concerns, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for the school board to take a more active role in how the town plans for growth.
“We really need your feedback… to be more engaged in commenting on the impact of growth in our community on how well you’re able to provide your services to it,” said Kleinschmidt.
But long-time school board member Mike Kelley countered that growth is not what the district really needs.
“The best situation for the schools is stability, not to have to build new schools, not to have to redistrict, to move kids from one school from another and change those communities,” said Kelley.
Nonetheless, both council and school board members recognized that the district’s high-performing schools are a significant draw for Chapel Hill, and that school enrollment numbers are likely to continue to grow.
School board member Mia Burroughs has represented the district in the Central West planning process. She told the council the specifics of development aren’t as important to school administrators as the bottom line.
“Within our district, we’re not super-concerned about where the kids are,” said Burroughs. “What we are concerned about is how to do we pay for the schools and the operating costs, and that’s what we want you to be cognizant of, that when there are more kids, there’s a cost.”
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the council the district is already struggling to maintain aging facilities and that the cost of operating new schools continues to rise.
In light of that, Burroughs and others asked the council to examine the economic impact of residential development and consider what can be done to increase the commercial tax base.
At the same time, some are already looking ahead to where the next school will go. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison suggested land-banking potential school sites across the district.
“With the astounding price of land in this district, we really have to pin down that land right now, so that in five or ten years it isn’t simply out of reach,” said Harrison.
This was the first time the two groups have come together to discuss joint planning efforts. The school board and council pledged to continue the collaboration through a series of future meetings and raised the possibility of forming a committee to facilitate communication.