Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella Retiring

Dr. Tom Forcella is retiring from his position as superintendent of the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools District.

The announcement came on Tuesday afternoon.

Forcella has worked in school districts across the country for 42 years and has been with CHCCS since 2011.

“My five years in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have been extremely rewarding,” Forcella said in a release. “I am thankful for the opportunity to work with our amazing students, as well as the staff, parents and agencies that make this community remarkable.”

CHCCS Board of Education chair James Barrett also released a statement following the news of Forcella’s retirement:

“While sad to lose him at this critical time, I am grateful for Dr. Forcella’s five years of service to this district. His efforts to improve quality of instruction will make a lasting impact for the benefit of all our students. These efforts are cultural shifts in our district that will live beyond his tenure and continue to help our students succeed.”

James Barrett spoke Tuesday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Forcella’s retirement is effective August 1.

The next meeting of the Board of Education is at seven o’clock next Thursday, June 2.

Culbreth Middle School Teacher Named District Teacher of the Year

Culbreth Middle School teacher Jessie Grinnell has been named the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School District Teacher of the Year.

The award was announced at the Annual Recognition Reception on Friday at Carrboro High School.

Grinnell teaches eighth-grade English Language Arts at Culbreth.

As part of the award, Grinnell received a $1,000 check from the Bank of North Carolina as well as gifts from area businesses.

You can see the full list of recipients honored at the ceremony here.

Speak Out For Teacher Pay

If improving teacher pay in our district matters to you, this Thursday presents an important opportunity to speak up.

Most parents and students in the district have had a taste of how low teacher pay and a high cost of living have affected our schools. Like the high school math class that went through five teachers this year. The AP English teacher who left just before the AP exam. The great elementary school teacher headed to Wake County. And multiple special education classrooms, with some of our most fragile students, going without teachers all year, staffed only by substitutes as the district struggles to fill positions.

Everybody is fully aware of the problem. The school board had to begin recruiting teachers in April by promising competitive salaries and increases to retain our teachers, knowing that funding to cover that higher pay had not yet been committed by the county.

State legislators show little interest in truly addressing education funding issues.  When the state budget finally comes out later this summer, there’ll likely be a minimal raise for teachers, but that will solve almost nothing.

Wake County isn’t waiting around on the state to save it: Wake commissioners have committed to increasing teacher salaries to the national average within the next five years.  Now it’s Orange County’s turn to decide what the future of public education in our county will be.

Right now, the budget proposal presented by the county manager would leave our district at least $4 million short. For context, that equates to a $200,000 cut per school for every school in the district plus the central office.

If that $4 million gap doesn’t close, we will continue to lose teachers. The commissioners don’t have an easy job here, but they consistently give county employees raises. And last year they gave themselves a 20 percent raise. Don’t our teachers deserve similar respect?

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Council consistently supports the full funding by the Orange County Commissioners of our district’s annual budget request. Come share your thoughts on the budget proposal  Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. If you agree with supporting full funding of the school districts’ budget requests, we encourage you to “wear red for ed” and come out to show your support. Our teachers and students need you to speak up for them.


— Kate Underhill
President: Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Council

Mary Whatley and Hayden Vick: Hometown Heroes

Mary Whatley and Hayden Vick are Friday’s Hometown Heroes.  They are both UNC students who volunteer with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Mary Whatley helps ESL students at Carrboro High School.  She works with a lot of people who are new to the United States.  She specifically helps the students during their math period.

Hayden Vick volunteers with first and third graders at Estes Hills Elementary School.  He helps with math and spelling.  He is also a male role model for the young children.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is always looking for volunteers.  CHCCS volunteer coordinator George Ann McCay says she actively recruits UNC students to help out in the schools every year.  Find out how you can help.

You can nominate your own Hometown Hero.  WCHL has honored local members of our community everyday since 2002.

Fed: Schools Must Allow Transgender Students to Use Facilities Matching Gender Identity

Public schools across the country “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity” in order to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments.

That is what the United States Department of Justice is telling local school districts across the country in a notice sent out on Friday.

The letter comes after the DOJ and the state of North Carolina have filed dueling lawsuits over the state’s controversial House Bill 2, which requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom and changing facility that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity. The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also issued a ruling recently that a local school board in Virginia violated Title IX protections by forcing a transgender male student to use the female restroom and changing facility. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Thursday that the Obama administration would not withhold federal funding from North Carolina until a resolution was reached in court regarding HB2.

The notice to school districts says schools are obligated to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities “even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”

The notice also says:

“The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity.”

The letter adds “there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.”

School staff and contractors “will use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity,” according to the letter.

Schools will also be required to allow transgender students to access sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams that are consistent with the student’s gender identity.

The letter also stipulates steps that must be taken in record keeping to ensure the student’s privacy under FERPA laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement following the letter’s publication with a quote from the plaintiff in the 4th Circuit lawsuit Gavin Grimm.

“I am so happy that with this new guidance, transgender students across the country have a new tool to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect at school. This guidance would have made a big difference in my life, and I’m happy that kids will be free to use the bathroom that reflects who they are.”

Governor Pat McCrory said the “federally mandated edicts” changes “generations of gender etiquette and privacy norms which parents, children and employees have expected in the most personal and private setting of their everyday lives.” McCrory admitted in his statement “States and local governments cannot have a myriad of different laws which cause confusion and inconsistent application.” But he added, “However, the executive branch of the federal government does not have the authority to be the final arbiter.”

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said in a release, “We disagree with the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act] and Title IX.”

Moore went on to say:

“This morning, parents all across the country are waking up to find that the Obama Administration has sent every public school a letter requiring the schools to allow boys and girls to share locker rooms and restrooms. This is no longer a North Carolina issue, this is a national issue. We all have to wonder what other threats to common sense norms may come before the sun sets on the Obama Administration.”

North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest released a statement saying North Carolina public schools are bound to the law in the state – HB2 – rather than “the President’s non-binding directive.” He added, “It should be rejected as a matter of principle and policy.”

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools superintendent Tom Forcella released the following statement regarding the letter:

“We find ourselves in a unique situation in which our Federal government has issued one order, and our State government has issued an opposite order. Our school district will do whatever is necessary to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory learning environment for all students.”

If schools are found to be out of compliance with these standards going forward, it will be interpreted as a violation of Title IX regulations, according to the letter, and the school may be subject to a loss of federal funding.

See the full letter from the DOJ here.

County Manager Presents Orange County Budget Recommendations

Orange County took the first steps toward getting a budget approved for the coming fiscal year as manager Bonnie Hammersley presented her recommendations to the Board of Commissioners Thursday night.

Commissioner Mia Burroughs encouraged the public to remember that this budget is currently a work-in-progress and nothing is finalized yet.

“I’d encourage advocates who might be around listening to remember that this is an offering,” she said. “We’re going to build on it, and I really, really appreciate that tone.”

Hammersley said the budget she presented will not raise county taxes, but the size of the budget will increase from last fiscal year due to an increase in population.

It will be approved ahead of the upcoming bond referendum in the fall, which if passed, would be the largest in county history.

“It is not included in this because it would not impact fiscal year ’16-’17,” Hammersley said. “But that is a consideration going forward on the tax rate.”

One of the big issues as the county moves forward is the funding for both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts.

While always an important issue, this year both districts have asked for a funding increase to raise teacher pay, CHCCS has already to committed to paying $4.5 million, regardless of what the commissioners decide.

Orange County Schools is asking for an additional $1.7 million for teacher pay.

“It’s not what they asked for,” Burroughs said. “And that is fine. That is fine for an offering. We’ll be working on it.”

Hammersley’s recommendation will give the CHCCS an additional $1.7 million dollars, while Orange County Schools gets $975,000.

But it wasn’t all bad news as the county looked to relieve some funding pressure by covering all costs related to the systems’ health and safety contracts.

“The county contribution currently is $1.9 million and the schools contribute $1.4 million,” Hammersley said. “I’m recommending in this budget that the county pick up the remaining $1.4 million.”

This would represent a $1.2 million appropriation for CHCCS and around $250,000 for Orange County Schools.

The commissioners will hold public hearings on the budget May 12 and 19. May 26 they will meet with representatives from the school systems for a work session.

Jeff Nash: Hometown Hero

Jeff Nash is Tuesday’s Hometown Hero.

Jeff is the executive director of community relations with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.  You may see him at special events like last week’s “Teachers First Breakfast.”

He is always singing the praises of teachers, students, and staff members at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.  That’s exactly what he did at the Teachers First Breakfast.  But, we decided to change it up and sing his praises.

You can nominate your own Hometown Hero.  WCHL has honored local members of our community everyday since 2002.

Merging Orange County School Districts Not ‘Worth the Squeeze’

While our community works to find a way to provide housing options to every family that would like to live Orange County, former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt brought up an idea during the WCHL Community Forum that has been volleyed about in our community before as a potential solution.

Kleinschmidt said that merging the Chapel Hill – Carrboro and Orange County School Districts would alleviate some of the pressure on housing “at least between northern and southern Orange.”

Kleinschmidt said he thought that the benefits of merging the school districts would go beyond helping to provide more affordable housing.

“I think that would have enormous impact not only on housing prices,” Kleinschmidt said, “but I also believe it would have an impact on our ability to address the achievement gap.”

When speaking, Kleinschmidt cited former Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey, who brought up the idea in the early-2000s.

Current Commissioner and former Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School board member Mia Burroughs said she would support that idea, under certain circumstances.

“I would feel very strongly that we should merge if I felt that we had a severely disadvantaged school district among the two,” Burroughs said. “But I don’t think we’re there.”

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Superintendent Tom Forcella said that, while the school districts remain separate, there has been an increased level of collaboration between the two.

“I think the gains we would get, maybe, out of merging or consolidating, I think a lot of those things can be addressed if we really get creative and think about the things that we can share and do together.”

Orange County School Board chair Donna Coffey said a study was commissioned in 2001 that said merging the districts would raise the cost to Orange County residents as a whole.

“The study revealed that it would not save dollars and cents if you will,” Coffey said. “Because in order to merge the districts, state statute says you have to lift the per-pupil spending to the higher of the two districts that you merge.”

Coffey said the study said that would result in a “significant” tax increase, adding “at that time it was 18 to 20 cents, I believe.”

“Moses Carey was cited in the earlier conversation as being the one who brought this up,” Coffey said. “And I will quote Moses saying, ‘the juice’ at that point ‘did not appear to be worth the squeeze.’”

Former Educator and Chapel Hill Alderman R.D. Smith Passes Away

Former Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen member and local educator R.D. Smith has passed away.

Smith served as a teacher and assistant principal in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System for more than 30 years, in addition to his more than 20 years of service on the municipal board.

Smith Middle School is named in honor of R.D. and his wife Euzelle.

Smith recently turned 98 years old and was honored as a Hometown Hero.

The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the R. D. Smith fund c/o the Chapel Hill – Carrboro Public School Foundation, P.O. Box 877, Carrboro, NC, 27510.

Services will be held at two o’clock on Saturday, April 9, at First Baptist Church

George Ann McKay: Hometown Hero

George Ann McKay is Wednesday’s Hometown Hero.

She is a volunteer specialist with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Volunteers assist students for one to two hours a week.  You can be an ESL (English as a Second Language) volunteer where you help students learn Engligh.  There is also a program called School Reading Partners where you can support reading instruction.

Learn more about how you can volunteer at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

You can nominate your own Hometown Hero.  WCHL has honored local members of our community everyday since 2002.