Tom Forcella Attends His Final Meeting As Superintendent

Last week Tom Forcella participated in his last Board of Education meeting as Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools superintendent.

Chairman James Barrett and the rest of the board thanked Forcella for his five years of service in the district.

“I know that (Forcella) didn’t want a big public to-do,” Barrett said. “But we wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all that you’ve done.”

Forcella has been a part of the district since 2011 and has overseen major projects such as the creation of Project Advance and the bond referendum scheduled for November.

“I want to thank the board members for giving me the flexibility to do what we needed to do,” Forcella said. “I’ve had a great administrative team and a great group of principals on board.”

As a parting gift, current and former board members chipped in to give Forcella a picture of landscape in Chapel Hill to help him remember his time in the area.

“The board members, we don’t work with (Focella) every day, but (his) style and what (he) does for our kids impacts us a lot,” Barrett said.

He will officially retire at the end of the month.

Dr. Jim Causby will take over as interim superintendent while the district looks for a permanent replacement.

School Boards Prepare To Present To County Commissioners

Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will present their 2016-2017 budgets to the Orange County Board of Commissioners in a meeting Tuesday night.

The presentation will be the next formal step for CHCCS, in its attempt to get approval for an additional $4.5 million to its budget for the next school year.

The county commissioners make the final decision on the budgets for the school districts in the county.

The additional money in the CHCCS budget will go towards increasing teacher pay.

In North Carolina, teachers are given a base salary mandated by the state, but individual school districts provide a supplement to that salary.

CHCCS has already approved increase its supplement for new teachers from 12 percent to 16 percent, meaning that no matter what the county commissioners decide, the school system will still have to pay the additional $4.5 million.

Members of the Board of Education said that although the move is risky, it was done to make CHCCS more competitive for recruiting and retaining top teachers.

Wake County increase its teacher supplement to 16 percent last year, which is what prompted CHCCS to change its policy.

Board members said they needed to formally make the change before getting approval from the commissioners because this time of  year is recruiting season for new teachers and they wanted to make sure they made their best offers to potential candidates.

The meeting will start at 7:00 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Building.

Critics Say School Board Selection Process Raises Concerns

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board swore in its new member, David Saussy, on Thursday.

Board members made their selection from a pool of 14 applicants (one dropped out from the original pool of 15) after Mia Burroughs left this board to join the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Mark Dorosin, an Orange County commissioner and civil rights lawyer, expressed disappointment with the way the board made its decision.

“This community purports to have a commitment to transparency and community engagement,” said Dorosin in an interview with WCHL. “And then to make a decision on something so significant without any conversation really is almost disrespectful to the public and certainly to the other candidates that were there in the audience.”

Dorosin wrote an op-ed in the Chapel Hill News criticizing the board’s decision-making process. The board voted in Saussy without publicly discussing which applicant would be the best fit for the job.

“We wouldn’t expect any elected board to make a fundamental policy decision in silence, without any conversation about what any individual member’s position was, why a member was supporting or not supporting one policy over another,” said Dorosin in the interview. “Why would we accept a vote like this in silence? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Mike Kelley, the new board chair, defended the selection process. He said members discussed how they would make a decision, and he said the candidate interviews were done in public.

“The board members could have made comments if they wanted to. There was opportunity to have discussion. They and I chose not to,” said Kelley in an interview after the Thursday meeting. “If someone wants to know, they can always call and talk to me or the other board members. And they may or may not share that because sometimes it’s very difficult when you’re talking about individual people, especially when you’re going to be expressing opinions about why you’re not selecting someone or why you’re selecting someone . . .It can be difficult to make certain statements in public.”

Kelley also said that when board members selected a candidate in previous years, they chose not to comment on the candidates.

Dorosin endorsed candidate Jennifer Marsh.

“He may be the best person for the job, but we have no way of knowing that,” said Dorosin about Saussy. “No one made any case as to why this candidate should have been selected and more importantly why or how the person they chose is going to effectuate the board’s priorities.”

Burroughs’ BoCC Win Leaves Vacant Seat On CHCCS School Board

Now that Mia Burroughs is making the move from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board to Orange County Board of Commissioners, fellow school board members will be looking to fill her vacant seat.

Burroughs won Tuesday’s District 1 race for a seat representing Chapel Hill and Carrboro. She’ll take her new oath of office in December.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members will discuss and approve the process for naming a replacement. The vacant seat will be filled by board appointment on December 4. The new member will serve until the next election in 2015.

The board will also receive the 2014 Opening of School Report, an extensive overview of what the school district looks like this year. Board members and administrators will discuss staffing, new hires, teacher turnover and school capacity.

The school board meets at 7 o’clock at Chapel Hill Town Hall. You can read the full agenda here.

CHCCS Asks State To Drop Class Rank Requirement

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board passed a resolution Thursday asking the North Carolina General Assembly to allow class ranking to be dropped from students’ transcripts.

Jeff Nash, CHCCS Executive Director for Community Relations, says that board members believe class rankings are doing students more harm than good.

“Now that the resolution has passed, we can now pursue some legislators who would be willing to put this into the form of a bill, and I think it will have widespread appeal from school districts around the state,” Nash says.

The resolution asks that the General Assembly allow the districts to decide if class rank will be included on their students’ transcripts, while not forcing them to do away with it.

Currently, the inclusion of class rank in a transcript is mandated by the State, but school officials say pressure to maintain high rankings is causing students undue stress, as universities and colleges are increasingly looking to other measures of academic achievement.

Nash explains that CHCCS assembled a task force last year to focus on reducing student stress.  The group found that class-ranking status was one of the top reasons students became anxious.

“Their points were right on the money, and they did talk about how it discourages collaboration, and it discourages a student’s love of learning,” Nash says. “It makes for a much more competitive environment, which competition is not a bad thing in itself, but students tell us that they won’t take a woodworking class or chorus because it is not an advanced placement or honors class, and the can’t get the extra credits.”

The board believes students are focusing too much on taking accelerated classes only and neglecting electives like theater arts.

“The universities tell us that they want well-rounded students, and we have these wonderful opportunities for them to become these well-rounded students with well-rounded resumes, but they won’t take those classes in this competitive environment,” Nash says.

According to administrators, about half of the nation’s high schools have already done away with class rankings.

CHCCS BoE Contemplating $5K Contribution To Education Advocacy Center

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools face another tough budget cycle for this year and the next, due in part to cuts in funding from the General Assembly. That’s why Board of Education is thinking carefully about contributing $5,000 to a new organization formed by the state School Boards Association, whose agenda some have said could be too political.

At last week’s Board of Education meeting, member Mike Kelley was the first to speak up, in opposition of giving money to the newly-formed N.C. School Boards Association’s Action Center. It was formed as a way to strengthen the local school board’s advocacy efforts.

In a memo to the CHCCS, reps of the Action Center explained that public education and local school board authority was under attack. The memo also clarified that the Action Center will not endorse political candidates or establish a political action committee.

James Barrett said that he didn’t see a problem with more efforts to advocate for education.

“It’s the same work and the same lobbying that we already support with our money,” Barrett said.

The School Boards Association is a 501(c)(3) organization which has limited funds that it can invest “advocacy and grassroots engagement.” The new Action Center was created as a 501(c)(4) and will be able to “generate additional resources for expanded advocacy efforts.”

Kelley said that he agreed with the ideas behind the group, but said it was ultimately the wrong way to use public money to support political agendas.

“We belong to the School Board Association for a variety of reasons, one of which is to have communications with the Legislature,” Kelley said.  “I think that is a reasonable thing to do, but to turn into another direction. It has a political agenda.”

Jamezetta Bedford, Vice-Chair of the CHCCS Board, said that she believed there is no harm in using public dollars for the public purpose of advocating for public education.

“I am a politician. It is my job as a school board member to advocate for children just like PTA’s advocate for children,” Bedford said.

Bedford said that she wanted more clarification concerning the Action Center’s budget and bylaws.

Chair Michelle Brownstein agreed, saying that a public conversation was necessary before any action was taken.

“I’ll just say, I would need a whole lot more information to feel comfortable writing a check that certainly had my name on it as the Chair,” she said.

Brownstein decided to table to donation discussion until after the September 18 District Five School Boards Association meeting.

10 Candidates File As 2013 Election Season Gears Up

HILLSBOROUGH- The filing period for the 2013 municipal elections opened at noon on Friday, but already some familiar faces have come forward to run for office.

Mark Kleinschmidt is seeking his third term as mayor of Chapel Hill. He says he’s seen the town change for the better since the economic crisis of 2008.

“I think during the last few years we were able to come through those times successfully with minimal disruption to services,” says Kleinschmidt. “We’ve come out on the other side now with a much more healthy fiscal perspective and a much more clearly defined set of goals and ambitions for our community.”

Now that the first phase of the town’s new comprehensive plan is complete, Kleinschmidt hopes to focus on the implementation of the community’s vision as detailed in the Chapel Hill 2020 process.

“Its time to now focus in on the needs of smaller segments of our community and what they’re going to be moving forward,” says Kleinschmidt. “Not every block or street in Chapel Hill will require the same kind of treatment.”

Town Council member Sally Greene has also filed to run for re-election. Greene served two terms as a council member before stepping away from public office for a year. In January she returned to the council when she was appointed to fill Penny Rich’s vacant seat.

Educator Maria Palmer and Southern Village resident Gary Kahn also applied for that vacancy. They’re each making another bid for office by putting their names in the hat to run for a council seat.

Kahn says he’s concerned about a number of pending development plans, as well as the town’s budget crunch.

“Basically I think the issues are affordable housing, development, where our budget is going to go in terms of taxes and things,” says Kahn. “I think those are the major concerns right now.”

In Carrboro, Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle has filed to run for mayor. She made her plans known after current mayor Mark Chilton announced he would not be seeking another term.

Lavelle says Carrboro faces the challenge of integrating new development into an already busy downtown.

“Development is always a challenge,” says Lavelle. “It’s a good thing, but it always brings with it accompanying concerns like traffic and parking and the pros and cons of commercial versus residential versus mixed use.”

Looking ahead, Lavelle wants to focus on the question of how to provide affordable housing. A recently convened taskforce has developed a series of recommendations for the board to consider in the future.

“We’re looking at ways to examine our land use ordinance in a way we’re not thinking about that may be able to help up increase our housing stock,” says Lavelle. “Beyond what we do with the Community Home Trust, which is wonderful, maybe looking at other ways we can increase our housing stock.”

Alderwomen Randee Haven-O’Donnell and Jacquelyn Gist also signed on to run for re-election. Haven-O’Donnell was first elected in 2005, while Gist has served on the board since 1989.

James Barrett is the first Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board member to file to run. He was elected to a two-year term in 2011.

Barrett says he’s excited about helping Superintendent Tom Forcella implement his plan for improving the school system.

“It touches on a lot of areas that I think we need to do a better job at; great instruction in every single classroom, better use of technology, better use of data in looking at student growth in particular,” says Barrett. “These are all things that I want to see through to being implemented very well.”

In Hillsborough, Tom Stevens has filed to run for his fifth term as mayor, while newcomer Jenn Weaver is the first to file for a seat on the town board.

The filing period runs through July 19, and many more candidates are expected to enter the race. With a slew of incumbents in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and on the school board who have announced they will not seek re-election, there will be new faces on each board come November.