CHCCS Board Approves 10-Year Plan for School Repair and Maintenance

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools seeks funds from Orange County every year to pay for costly repairs and maintenance. At Thursday’s school board meeting, school officials talked about making difficult choices with finite funds from the county.

“We know we’re pushing back critical needs further and further. You guys remember we had the heat issue at Estes Hills,” said Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese. “We pushed off replacing the boiler 10 years in our plan, and it came back and bit us and we had problems last year at Estes.”

At the meeting, the board approved a capital investment plan that lists major projects, estimated at $15.9 million over the next five years. These costs align with the county’s projected funds for the school district. But the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district may not recieve all the money it wants.

“We’ve had a terrible, terrible last six or seven years,” said School Facilities Director William Mullin. “You’ll remember over the last decade we’ve added three schools, mobile classrooms and additions. We grow and our capital plan is being badly, badly hurt.”

Orange County Commissioners will divide 2015-16 funds between Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in the summer.

Among other projects, in 2015-16 CHCCS officials want a cooling tower replacement, light fixture replacements and classroom upgrades.

CHCCS board members also hope commissioners will put a $125 million bond on the ballot in 2016 to pay for additional expenses. The proposed bond would be the largest in Orange County history and would add an estimated 4.67 cents on the property tax rate.

“We’re making some choices right now in what our priorities are based on the expectation that this is going to happen,” said Board Member Michelle Brownstein on planning for the bond.

The district would like the extra funds to help pay for new buildings and school expansions to meet increases in student enrollment at an estimated cost of $214 million over ten years. The funds would also help pay the estimated $91 million in other maintenance costs over the next ten years.

School Superintendents Talk Over State Budget Cuts to Public Schools

The number of public school students in North Carolina has increased by more than 48,000 since 2007-08, yet the state funding level for public schools has decreased by $100 million. That’s according to last year’s report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

On Tuesday night at North Carolina Central University, a panel of superintendents from four area school districts discussed how changes in the state education budget impact their districts.

Tom Forcella, superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the recent economic recession impacted state education budgets across the country. But, he said, other states have renewed their support for public education.

“There doesn’t seem to be the will on the part of our state leaders to really turn this around,” said Forcella. “I think that if we had that will and that desire, and the people of North Carolina really voiced their concerns, I think we can turn this around.”

In 2012-13, the sources of funding for North Carolina public schools were:

State 62%
Local 26%
Federal 12%

“Orange County provides the highest per pupil appropriations in the state of North Carolina,” said Del Burns, Orange County interim superintendent.

A study from the nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina shows that Orange County leads spending in the state with $4,100 per pupil in 2012-13.

Local chapters of the League of Women Voters sponsored the event, and Wynetta Lee, Dean of the School of Education at NCCU, moderated the discussion with the four superintendents:

Del Burns, Orange County interim superintendent;
Tom Forcella, Chapel Hill-Carrboro superintendent;
Derrick Jordan, Chatham superintendent and
Bert L’Homme, Durham superintendent.

In addition to discussing the state’s role in funding public education, the panel discussed technology in schools and how charter schools are impacting public school funding.

Charter schools are exempt from regulations traditional public schools must follow; charters don’t have to provide transportation or meals for students. Critics say charter schools, which receive public funds, draw resources away from traditional public schools.

“Folks leave us for a reason,” said Burns. “Sometimes they’re running to something. Sometimes they’re running from something. And I don’t believe charter schools will go away. The question of Orange County Schools now is, ‘What would it take for Orange County Schools to be the first choice for families in Orange County?’”

Report: CHCCS Discipline Disproportionately Impacts Minority Students

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, an African American student is five times as likely as a white student to get in-school suspension, five times as likely to get out-of-school suspension, and three times as likely to get sent to the office. That’s according to an official school district report that looks at discipline data over the past two academic years.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member Jamezetta Bedford said we have to be careful in interpreting this data.

“All that shows you is that the risk for ISS (in-school suspension) discipline reaction is five to one,” said Bedford. “You can’t assume the child deserved it and did those actions.” She said some teachers and administrators may discriminate in whom they choose to discipline.

White students make up about half the district’s student population, and black students are 11 percent of the population. According to the report, Latino students, who make up 14 percent of the student population, are also disproportionately disciplined.

Aggression, defiance and disruption rank as the most common infractions among all students. The report says the largest disparities between white students and black students are in vaguely worded infractions, like disrespect.

“Disrespect was one of the hardest things for teachers to define,” said Nancy Kueffer, the school district’s behavior support coordinator. “So we’ve decided that we don’t want that on our office discipline referral form.”

Kueffer said the district needs to update policies and rewrite the code of conduct to clearly define infractions. She said the district should also help teachers think about the function of students’ misbehavior. This can help the teachers see behavior patterns and respond based on those patterns.

Board member Annetta Streater worries that seeing this data could strengthen stereotypes and cause teachers and administrators to racially profile students.

“I am concerned about this information – for it to be shared with some authority figures, administrators or whomever,” said Streater. “It definitely gives an idea based on comparing demographic groups.”

“It can be thought of that way or it can be thought of that the school is not meeting the needs of those students,” said Kueffer in response. “If we don’t have the data there, we can’t have that discussion . . . ‘Well why is that happening there? And why would it be any different for any kid of color?’”

CHCCS Board Selects New Member

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board chose its new member on Thursday from a pool of fourteen applicants. At the meeting in Chapel Hill, board members used an updated two step voting process to make their pick, David Saussy.

“Be it therefore resolved that the board of education approves the appointment of David Saussy as a board member for a one-year term,” said board member Jamezetta Bedford.

“I’m a parent of two children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system,” said Saussy in an interview after the meeting. “Both attend Glenwood Elementary School, a 5th grader and a 3rd grader.”

Saussy holds a PhD in pharmacology and works for GlaxoSmithKline in corporate development. In his application for the position, he wrote that his training as a scientist gives him an understanding of “rigorous data collection and analysis.”

“I will contribute a desire to improve communication with the community, and a desire to ensure that everything is analyzed from every angle possible,” said Saussy in the interview. “I’ve spent a lot of time recently as a member of the Glenwood SIT (School Improvement Team) advocating for Glenwood School as it has gone through challenges with overcrowding and redistricting, and trying to make sure we come up with solutions that are the best solution for the school and . . . the best we can do for the district as a whole.”

The vacancy came because Mia Burroughs left the school board to join the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

The board voted in Mike Kelley to replace Jamezetta Bedford as the chair. And the board chose Andrew Davidson to replace Mia Burroughs as the vice chair.

Also, during the public comment period Mark Dorosin, a civil rights lawyer and Orange County commissioner, urged the board to pass a resolution supporting the rights of undocumented immigrant children. Some North Carolina counties have adopted resolutions discouraging these children from attending public schools. But denying admission to students because of immigration status runs contrary to the state constitution and the U.S. constitution.

Bedford and other members said they want to make it known that this district welcomes immigrant students. The board will continue discussions on how best to communicate this message.

The Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Alderman and the Orange County Board of Commissioners recently passed resolutions supporting the rights of immigrant children.

Northside Elementary Awarded LEED Platinum Certification

Northside Elementary School has received Platinum certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, with the Green Building Certification Institute for the school’s design focused on efficiency and sustainability. It now stands as the first elementary school in North Carolina to be certified LEED Platinum.

Before opening its doors in the fall of 2013, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools worked alongside Moseley Architects to create a school that was capable of supporting 585 students. Where the school now stands was once the grounds of the Orange County Training School, meaning that the site has been a place of education since 1924. A display within the school shows a visual timeline to represent the history of the area, as well as the large case of the original cornerstone of the school.

The design of Northside is built around the concept of sustainability. With this in mind, the design team and the school district cooperated to surpass their own expectations, yet remained on budget and on time for completion.

The school building incorporates signs that describe the sustainability brief descriptions of several sustainable design features utilized at Northside. The signs point to the Building Dashboard, which contains further information about these sustainable features. The teachers of Northside even incorporate these features into customized lesson plans and projects.

The managing principal for the project for Mosely Architects, Jim Copeland, said in a press release that he is proud of what they and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools have accomplished in the formation of Northside Elementary.

For more information about Northside Elementary 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.”

Local Schools In Limbo Awaiting State Budget

Depending of which version of the state budget wins favor in the General Assembly in the coming days, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could be facing between $850,000 and $3 million dollars worth of budget cuts.

The school board held a special meeting on Tuesday to review options for dealing with those cuts. Elected leaders said the focus should be protecting the student experience in the classroom.

“Right now we’re trying to preserve the core education for our kids,” said board member Michelle Brownstein.

All agreed the House plan, which maintains funding for teaching assistants and includes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, is the best case scenario. Still, it would require $850,000 worth of local budget cuts, including the loss of 4.5 gifted education specialist positions.

A second round of cuts could be necessary if the General Assembly adopts a budget similar to the Senate’s spending plan.

That could include eliminating the district’s service learning coordinator, cutting media assistants to part-time, losing three and a half more gifted education positions, and shifting some custodial staff to lower-paid contract work.

While all that would trim nearly $1 million dollars, officials acknowledge that’s not enough to account for the shortfall in the Senate’s budget proposal, which calls for an 11 percent pay raise while slashing funding for teaching assistants.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board hiring for 80 teaching assistant positions is on hold until the state’s final budget is approved.

“We’ve been preparing for this for over a year, and so the teaching assistants that were hired all throughout last year were placed on interim contracts, and while we’d like to hire them back, we’re not going to do so until we have clarity,” said LoFrese.

School board officials hope to sign off on the budget July 17, but they say another emergency meeting could be needed if the legislature unveils any last minute surprises.

Chapel Hill Ranked No. 1 Small City for Education has ranked Chapel Hill as the #1 small city in the nation for education.

Executive Director of Community Relations for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Jeff Nash, says that Chapel Hill deserves this recognition because of all the people that make it happen.

“The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are fortunate to be in a very ‘edu-friendly’ community,” says Nash. “Not only the teachers and the school personnel, who do a wonderful job every day working with our children, but it’s also a lot of other groups, including elected officials, like our school board and our county commissioners who are a very big part of the success of the school district. Also, the parents and the community in general always work hard to ensure that we sustain the success of our schools. We’re very fortunate to be in this community, and we look forward to many, many more years of even greater success.”

Nash says he believes that in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community, education comes first.

“The community makes education the top priority,” says Nash. “You see it in the county commissioners to fund the schools at a level higher than many other school districts. You see it in local taxpayers, who are willing to be taxed at a higher rate for the sake of excellent schools. You see it in educators who really want to be here and want to work in our district. You see it in students who have goals, and they work hard to attain those. You see it in parents as they make sure students are prepared and ready for school each day, they come in and volunteer, they help out with school, they support their teachers and principals. So, it’s really a team effort.”

OC Approves 2-Cent Property Tax Hike

Orange County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a $200 million dollar budget that includes a 2-cent property tax rate increase.

The property tax rate for next year will be 87.8 cents per $100 dollars of assessed value, the first increase in five years.

The additional revenue will go to support education, as both school districts are braced for funding cuts from the state that will likely translate to a reduction in teaching assistants.

The chairs of both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school boards came before Commissioners to thank them for the increase.

Orange County Schools Chair Donna Coffey said the additional local money is not a windfall for the district, merely a patch at best.

“There’s still a great bit of uncertainty coming out of Raleigh and the budget hasn’t been finalized,” said Coffey. “At the very least I think we’re going to face more cuts, which will mean a lot less funding from Raleigh.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chair Jamezetta Bedford agreed.

“We don’t know what the state is going to do but it won’t be good,” said Bedford. “Our TA allotment is also the most critical piece that could be cut, well over 50 positions in the State Senate proposed budget. So this increase in taxes really will help us.”

Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs reminded the audience that the two school districts have seen a combined loss of $42 million in state funding in the past five years.

The 2014-2015 county budget goes in to effect July 1. Legislators are still hashing out the final version of the state budget.

Schools, County In Limbo Awaiting NCGA Budget

Local leaders don’t yet know what the final state budget will look like, but they all agree- things are likely to get worse, not better.

“It would be a disaster, I think, to cut $6 million dollars from our budget,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Mike Kelley. “It would just be a completely different community.”

Kelley and other officials from Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools came before Orange County Commissioners on Thursday to detail how state cuts could adversely impact education.

The proposed senate spending plan will take a bigger bite out of local budgets, costing Orange County Schools an extra $2 million and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools an extra $3.6 million on top of the district’s $2.7 million dollar shortfall.

The plan also calls for increasing teacher pay by cutting teaching assistants. County schools would lose 35 positions, city schools would lose 57.

The state House has not yet released its budget proposal, but with legislators promising to wrap up the short session before school ends next week, county leaders say they’re in a position to make last minute changes to the local budget if necessary. Still, they say they can’t possibly afford to undo all the damage school officials are bracing for.

“We can fill holes but we can’t fill craters,” said Board Chair Barry Jacobs. “So I would be surprised if we can address all of the cuts that y’all have just described.”

Looking ahead, Commissioners, including Penny Rich, said it might be time to revisit the county goals for school funding.

“We keep saying this year is different than every other year, but I think this year is the beginning of what it’s going to be like,” said Rich. “So we do need to change the process, because, perhaps we can put a band-aid on it this year, but what happens in year two, three and four?”

County Commissioners will hold two budget work sessions next week before adopting the 2014-2015 budget on June 17.