Funding Gap in CHCCS Board Plans for New Construction

CHCCS assistant superintendent for support services Todd LoFrese talked about ideas to fill a funding gap for the new construction at Lincoln Center and Chapel Hill High School at the school board meeting last Thursday.

The board authorized a budget of almost $1.4 million for both projects at a previous meeting but have since exhausted the budget they had received from the county.

Since the board is waiting to see if Orange County voters will approve a record $120 million school bond in November, LoFrese said there aren’t many options.

“We have two options. One would be to stop the design work until the bond passes. The other would be to authorize additional funding to continue the work,” LoFrese said.

LoFrese said he would rather front the money with the district’s fund balance and get reimbursed once the bond is approved in November.

To continue the designs the board would have to allocate approximately $350,000 each month until November.

LoFrese said he spoke with the county manager and financial staff about the reimbursement idea and they agreed the plan could be feasible.

LoFrese said this plan would be similar to design work that was done for Northside Elementary School, although the reimbursement funds ended up not being needed due to timing of the approval for that bond.

“At that time, I think there was about an eight-or-nine-month window that we needed and both the board and the county adopted a reimbursement resolution that allowed us to get started on design work on Northside Elementary, and receive reimbursement from the county,” Lofrese said.

The major concern with this idea is the possibility of the bond not being approved, but the board did not seem concerned toward that issue at the meeting.

The board supported Lofrese’s idea to move forward with creating an official plan for this funding and bringing it to the next meeting for an official vote from the board.

The next meeting for the CHCCS Board will be held on Thursday, September 29.

CHCCS Board of Education Continues Search for Superintendent with a Public Forum

The search for a new superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education continues tonight at a meeting held at Chapel Hill High School at 7 p.m.

This process has been in the works for the past few months following previous Superintendent Tom Forcella’s retirement announcement in May.

The board and the community have discussed many requirements they would like the next superintendent to agree with as they move forward with many potential changes in the school district, such as the Equality Draft Plan and racial inequality concerns voiced at the board’s meeting in June.

“I want [the superintendent] to be able to look into any of the racial disparities that we have so far within our system,” said Joyce Powell, mother of both a graduate and current student in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. “I know the board has worked hard on putting forward some other implementations to help, but I think we can do a little bit better…every child matters, and to me, this is what this is all about.”

The board has since discussed the concerns and plan to set expectations regarding this matter for the new superintendent.  Other concerns that may or may not have been brought up at previous meetings are welcomed at tonight’s meeting.

The Board encourages public comment from all community members in hopes it will lead the board to a well thought-out candidate that is approved by everyone involved.

All parents and community members are also asked to complete a survey online for the board to present at the next North Carolina Board Association meeting on September 15.

Staff of CHCCS will be asked to complete a separate survey for the local board to present to the state.

The meeting held tonight will only be discussing the matter of finding a new superintendent; all other matters will be discussed at their next meeting held on Thursday, September 1.

Click the link to fill-out the survey.

Jewish Families Call For CHCCS To Stop Saturday School

We all have memories of sledding and snowball fights on the days we were fortunate enough to have school canceled as a child, but for some students, the snow day is a little more complicated.

“In the Jewish faith, the Sabbath or Shabbat, begins at sunset on Friday and continues to Saturday evening,” Rabbi Jennifer Feldman said. Shabbat is essential to the rhythm of Jewish life. School on the Sabbath forces Jewish students to choose between their religious commitments and their secular education.”

Feldman, along with other members of the community, spoke in front of the CHCCS Board of Education, to discuss the dilemma that Jewish parents go through when schools have to hold classes on Saturdays to make up for days canceled by snow.

“Our students should not have to choose between Jewish observance and academic progress,” she said. “Jewish students and their families should not be forced to choose between communal celebration and public education. Jewish teachers should not have to choose between their job and their religion.”

So far, the school system has not had to hold class on Saturday this academic year, but did so twice in 2015. Feldman and Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf asked the board to create working groups to help come up with possible solutions.

“Because of the pressing time issue we feel and immediate task force to look specifically at the 2016-2017 calendar is imperative,” Weinberg-Wolf said. “In addition, were requesting that the board or administration convene an ongoing working group to look at the calendar for the district as a whole.”

Board member Andrew Davidson said he was in favor of the working groups and wanted to get community involvement as well.

“Our community has demonstrated an understanding of the challenges we face, rather than asking us to shoehorn an unworkable no Saturday school policy,” he said. “I think they recognize the challenges we recognize which is it’s going to take more than just a simple policy. It’s going to take some work and some community input.”

The issue becomes more complicated due to a law passed in 2012 that creates hard start and end dates for North Carolina public schools. They are not allowed to hold classes after the Friday closest to June 11.

Orange County School Board Fills 1 Vacancy Announces Another

Members of the Orange County Board of Education voted on Monday to appoint Dr. Millicent Rainey to fill the seat on the board left vacant when Lawrence Sanders resigned.

Dr. Rainey will hold the seat until July 1, 2016, according to a release. At that point, the winner of the March 15 primary will take office.

The release says Dr. Rainey retired after working in school system and was a member of the Community Visioning and Engagement Committee.

Board Chair Donna Coffey said in the release:

“Dr. Rainey, an Orange County native and graduate of Orange County Schools, has a longstanding dedication to all children. Her passion for public education will allow her to be a tremendous asset to the Board of Education as we move forward in our commitment of making Orange County Schools the first choice for families, teachers and staff.”

The board has also formally begun accepting applications to fill the seat left vacant by Dr. Debbie Piscitelli.

By law, to be eligible to serve as a member of the Orange County Board of Education, an applicant must have resided within the Orange County School System administrative unit for 30 days prior to the appointment, must be 21 years of age and must not be a felon or otherwise constitutionally disqualified.

All candidates interested are asked to submit a letter of interest and resume to, Dr. Todd Wirt, Superintendent Orange County Schools, 200 East King Street, Hillsborough, NC, 27278.

Applications must be in by five o’clock the evening of January 29.

Michelle Brownstein Resigns From CHCCS Board of Education

Dr. Michelle Brownstein, who has been a member of the CHCCS Board of Education since 2009, announced her resignation Monday morning.

Michelle Brownstein

Michelle Brownstein

“I highly value the time I participated as a member of this board and thank the voters for their support in the past two elections,” Brownstein said in her resignation letter, which was sent December 28, 2015. “It has been an honor to serve the public in this manner.”

The Board of Education is next scheduled to meet on January 21 and they will discuss the process to appoint Brownstein’s replacement.

“Speaking on behalf of the board, we appreciate Brownstein’s service and concerns for, as noted in her letter, the quality of education for all the district’s students, especially those who are struggling,” chairman James Barrett said.

Three new board members voted to name James Barrett board chair in early December, outvoting Brownstein and the two other senior members.

At the December meeting, Brownstein had a warning for the new members before the vote for chair. “I want to caution us to avoid tearing down something of value until we are certain we have something of value to replace it with,” she said.

Brownstein also pointed out, at the December meeting, that the board found itself in uncharted waters.

“The seven of us find ourselves in an unprecedented situation,” she said. “The chair seat is vacant, due to retirement, and three of us have just been sworn in and are working very hard to successfully jump on this moving bus.

“The other four completely empathize with this situation. Turns out we also are on a steep learning curve, because we’re trying to figure out what it takes to be a good board with three new board members. And a functional board.”

A link to a full copy of Brownstein’s resignation letter can be found here.

You can submit any comments or concerns by emailing the board at

James Barrett Elected Chair of Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Board

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System Board of Education has selected new leadership.

Three new members were elected to the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Board on November 3, and they have already made their presence felt.

The three newly-elected board members – Rani Dasi, Pat Heinrich and Margaret Samuels – joined together and elected James Barrett as the new chair of the Board of Education.

The three new members, along with Barrett, outnumbered the other three board members who supported Andrew Davidson for chair. Davidson has served as vice chair for the past year under chair Mike Kelley, who chose to not seek re-election.

Board member Michelle Brownstein said at the board meeting last Thursday that this board found itself in unchartered waters.

“The seven of us find ourselves in an unprecedented situation,” she said. “The chair seat is vacant, due to retirement, and three of us have just been sworn in and are working very hard to successfully jump on this moving bus.

“The other four completely empathize with this situation. Turns out we also are on a steep learning curve, because we’re trying to figure out what it takes to be a good board with three new board members. And a functional board.”

Brownstein, who has served as board chair in the past, spoke in favor of Davidson for chair following his tenure as vice chair, saying he is most prepared for the role.

“The closest thing we have is an opportunity to apprentice as vice chair,” she said. “During that year, there is a mentoring that occurs between the chair and the vice chair and that is priceless.

“Just as none of us realizes what truly is involved in being an effective school board member until we actually spend time serving as one, no one knows what it really means to be an effective board chair until you actually serve as one.”

Brownstein warned of the ramifications of heading in a different direction.

“I want to caution us to avoid tearing down something of value until we are certain we have something of value to replace it with,” she said. “I’m referring specifically to determining our chair.

“First, serving as board chair is very difficult. I’m speaking from personal experience, something no one else who is sitting here can do.”

There was no further discussion following Brownstein’s comments before calling for a vote.

Davidson, Brownstein and Annetta Streater – the only incumbent re-elected to the board – voted for Davidson as chair but were outvoted.

Following the election of the chair, Streater, who has served on the board since 2006, was unanimously elected as vice chair.

Board of Education Chair ‘Distressed’ by Expedition School

With the opening of the new charter school, The Expedition School, in Hillsborough, one particular member of the Board of Education is voicing his concern.

Stephen H. Halkiotis, currently serving as the Chair for the Board of Education, says that though he wishes The Expedition School well as it begins its first days, he is certainly unsettled by the growing number of charter schools in North Carolina and the issues that it creates.

“I am deeply distressed,” says Halkiotis, “that the State of North Carolina and the State Legislature have chosen to continually expand charter schools in this state, but not hold them accountable to the same standards and responsibilities that our public schools have been held accountable for a long, long time.”

Halkiotis says that there are a number of necessary items that are not being addressed properly in charter schools, including transportation, food, and handicap accessibility. By ignoring these regulations, he feels that charter schools are demonstrating dishonesty.

“I think they put a twist on that to pretend that they’re really public, but they’re really not,” says Halkiotis. “Unless I’ve seen the eligibility criteria and fully understand them, I’m not convinced that charter schools are allowing an open door to each and every segment of our society, and that’s the thing that troubles me the most about them.”

When speaking on his position as Chair and how it relates to the functioning of schools like The Expedition School, Halkiotis says that the situation is about much more than himself, but about how North Carolina education is meant to be.

“It’s not about any individual, it’s about the organization,” says Halkiotis. “It’s about the institution of being a school. It’s not about me as Chair, or anybody else on that Board. We’re just seven people elected by the citizenry at large to give the best possible direction to the school system and moving our public school systems forward. That’s what I’m committed to.”

The Expedition School opened its doors yesterday at 10 a.m.

For information on The Expedition School, click here.

CHCCS Board of Education Receives Finance Award

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education has received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. This finance award certificate is considered to be the highest form of recognition for reporting accurate financial information and governmental accounting.

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools System, Todd LoFrese, explains what the award is all about and what it means for the Board of Education.

“The award is recognition for a comprehensive annual financial report, which shows all of the financial information that occurred during the fiscal year,” says LoFrese. “Each year, we produce this report along with an audit, submit that to Government Finance Officers Association, the North Carolina School Board Association, and the State of North Carolina, and it’s reviewed for its accuracy, transparency, and the breadth of the report. They then determine we meet and exceed expectations, and again this year we have.”

LoFrese says that Pittman and her team are deserving of this award as they have proven once again their adept ability to clearly and accurately report their budget.

“For as long as I’ve been here, and before I arrived, Ruby Pittman and her team have annually been receiving recognition for excellence in financial reporting,” says LoFrese. “Once again this year, her department received that recognition, and it’s a testament to their hard work and their focus on making sure our finances and books are in order, and public transparency with our financial reporting.”

CHCCS Not Opposed To Current Form Of Testing

CHAPEL HILL – Gov. Pat McCrory is calling for the North Carolina State Board of Education to re-examine its approach to standardized testing—and local school officials are also weighing in on how much might be too much.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Executive Director of Testing and Program Evaluation Diane Villwock says each school is given a series of standardized tests as required by the federal government.  These include reading, math, and science for third through eighth grade, along with one test for each of those subjects in high school.

“This year for the first time, the state added the Measures of Student Learning,” she says. “That was a large increase in a number of tests. So, for the Chapel Hill district, we went from handling 10,000 exams a year ago to 26,000 this year.”

According to a report from WRAL, 30 new tests were given to public school students in grades four through 12 this past school year, bringing the total number of standardized tests to 194. McCrory says teachers should be given more time to teach, not preparing students for “test after test.”

But Villwock says The Measures of Student Learning, or MSL’s, are being used in place of, not in addition to, comprehensive final exams for high schools.

“For example, with chemistry, they used to have a final exam, and now we’re using a state version rather than a district version,” Villwock says.

Villwock says the increase in the number of tests for students is at the middle school level, where comprehensive final exams previously didn’t exist.

“For them, it felt like much more of an add-on than it felt like at the high school,” she says.

With the new system in place, Villwock says McCrory’s opinion should be taken into consideration, but it’s too early to make any definitive conclusions.

“I don’t disagree that we need to look at this,” he says. “Anytime you do something large and new, it needs deep review. If he’s looking at this in the context of kids being given too many tests, perhaps I believe that at middle school, but I don’t believe it at high school.”

Villwock says she’s concerned with the quality of the MSLs more than the quantity.

“We need to get to where teachers look at those as a good representation of their content,” she says. “I think that part’s really important.”

Although the requirement for testing comes from the federal level, Villwock says the tests are made and reviewed by teachers and curriculum experts.

UNC Answers Feds’ Questions About Sexual Assaults

CHAPEL HILL – Officials with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say they’ve responded to questions from federal education officials about campus response to sexual assault cases.

The school had until Thursday to file its response to questions from the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education. OCR sent a letter in March, saying it would investigate the school after five women filed a complaint in January about how UNC-CH handles sexual assault cases.

The five women alleged violations of Title IX, education’s gender-equity law, in the handling of sexual assault cases. They filed another federal complaint under a law that often deals with the underreporting of on- and off-campus crimes. UNC-CH has denied underreporting crimes.

The OCR has never issued its biggest punishment, withdrawal of federal funding.

Friday, UNC released its response to the OCR. To view that document, click here.