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.

Hundreds Call On BoCC To Spend More On Schools

The Southern Human Services Center was awash in a sea of crimson Thursday night as more than 300 parents and teachers wearing red for education turned out to the budget public hearing to ask Orange County Commissioners to fully fund both school systems.

“We’re tired of seeing our kids’ education become a political chew toy. We’re tired of teachers not making a living wage,” said Jeff Hall, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Council. “We’re tired of hearing that next year is the year we do something, next year we’ll raise revenue or cut costs, next year we’ll fix old or overcrowded schools. There isn’t ‘next year.’ We’re insisting, we’re demanding, frankly, we’re begging you to fully fund our schools.”

Hall was one of forty speakers who addressed the board before a standing-room-only crowd. Outside the boardroom, the building was filled to capacity, with supporters standing shoulder to shoulder lining the hallways. Still more waited on the lawn after the fire marshal was forced to turn them away.

The county manager’s proposed $195 million dollar budget for 2014-2015 does include more money for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools than last year, but the plan falls short of what each district requested.

The Orange County school board requested an additional $2.9 million dollars next year, while the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board asked for an additional $3.9 million.

Under the county’s current budget plan, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could lose 22 teaching assistants. Kim Talikoff is a fourth grade teacher at Estes Hills Elementary. She told commissioners teaching assistants are vital to the success of her students.

“I will not be able to compensate for what I am about to lose if we don’t act now to fully fund TAs,” said Talikoff. “So I ask you please, provide the funding we need to make our shared objectives possible. Please put TAs in every classroom.”

The recently released state Senate budget proposal also has education supporters on edge, as funding for teaching assistants would be cut in half, resulting in the loss of 57 teaching assistants in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system. Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told commissioners the Senate plan would more than double the district’s budget gap.

“In the current scenario, we would need to make reductions of over six million dollars to balance our budget,” said LoFrese. “We felt that it was important for commissioners to know this, and know that both school districts will be under a tremendous amount of pressure. We reiterate our request for your strong continued support and increased funding.”

To increase school funding, commissioners have the option of raising the countywide property tax rate, raising the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district tax, or dipping into the county’s fund balance. The manager’s plan already calls for $8.5 million worth of fund balance money to balance the budget.

Board Chair Barry Jacobs reminded the crowd that Orange County elected officials have long supported public education. He thanked the parents, teachers and students in the audience for their advocacy.

“Unlike the North Carolina Legislature, we actually want to hear from the public,” said Jacobs, to much applause.

The board will discuss the budget at a work session on Thursday, June 5. The final budget is scheduled to be adopted June 17.

Amy Rickard Receives Highest Honors

Morris Grove Elementary’s Amy Rickard has been selected as North Carolina’s National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

The NAESP places prestigious honors on one elementary principal from each state and awards them with a two-day recognition ceremony in October of 2014 in Washington, D.C.

As last year’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Principal of the Year, Rickard has administrated Morris Grove from its opening day in 2007. Rickard and her staff have boosted the school to some of the highest EOG test scores in the state.

School district superintendent Tom Forcella calls Rickard a “superstar.”

“She is a tremendous school leader who is consistently focused on the success of her students and staff,” Forcella said.

Rickard has also been recognized as the 2014 Wells Fargo Regional Principal of the Year for the Piedmont-Triad/Central Region of North Carolina.