CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro educators are rejecting the changes to teacher tenure mandated by the General Assembly, and they want school board members to do the same.
Deborah Gerhardt was one of 40 parents and teachers who came out to Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting to demand the board condemn the state-mandated changes to teacher tenure.
“I am basically here to plead with you to stand behind the parents and the teachers in this district and help us to voice how horrible we think this law is and how insulting it is to our teachers,” Gerhardt told the school board.
Wearing red to show support for education, the crowd asked the district’s elected leaders to take a firm stand against the new state law that will do away with career status for teachers, instead offering four year contracts and a $500 bonus to 25 percent of teachers while the rest get year-to-year contracts.
In an effort to sidestep the competitive aspect of the new law while still complying with the mandate, Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators offered qualified teachers the option of volunteering for the new contracts instead of being ranked by school officials.
Human Resources Director Arasi Adkins said this opt-in policy would prevent teachers from feeling like they were vying against their peers for job security and extra pay. Superintendent Tom Forcella agreed, noting district teachers help craft the policy.
“Our opt-in model, I think, makes a statement in and of itself that we don’t agree with this particular law and the whole concept of merit pay.” said Forcella. “
But teachers throughout the district have resoundingly rejected the proposal. Adkins said of the 800 educators eligible to opt in, only 10 decided to do so.
Instead, the parents and teachers at the meeting said they want the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system to join the growing number of school districts that are protesting the loss of teacher tenure.
The Guilford County and Durham County school boards have each voted to join a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the changes from being implemented, while the Wake County school board adopted a three-page resolution asking the legislature to repeal the new law.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members said they stand behind the districts teachers, but worry that joining the lawsuit could have unintended consequences, as the legislature could choose to appoint new board members if the district did not comply with state law.
“Unfortunately, in this state, the legislature holds all the power,” said board member Mike Kelley. “The local governments, including school boards, have none that isn’t granted to them by the legislature, and the legislature can take that away at any time.”
Kelley and other board members urged the audience to focus on voter outreach to change the make-up of the General Assembly.
School board members also indicated they would consider a resolution condemning the new state law while still offering four-year contracts to the handful of teachers who opt in. The board could consider that measure at its next meeting on March 20.
CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board approved a 10-year spending plan on Thursday totaling $16.8 million, but members acknowledged the Capital Investment Plan does not include an estimated $87 million in unfunded needs, including $45 million worth of basic repairs to the district’s 10 oldest schools.
William Mullin, Executive Director of School Facilities, told the board that $45 million would bring the aging schools up to current safety and accessibility standards, but would not increase student capacity.
Without modifying existing schools to add room for more students, administrators estimate the district will need a new elementary and middle school by 2020, at a projected cost of $80 million.
Mullin told commissioners the district is receiving about $800,000 annually from the quarter cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011. Half of that is earmarked for technology needs, the rest for repairing older schools. While that will add up approximately $8.8 million by 2024, Mullin said it is not nearly enough to address the district’s needs.
The school board will discuss aging facilities and school capacity at its planning retreat on Tuesday. Administrators will present the capital plan to the Board of County Commissioners later this month.
CHAPEL HILL – In a press release Tuesday evening, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board member Mia Burroughs confirmed she’ll be running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Burroughs will run for the Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by Alice Gordon, who’s stepping down at the end of her term. That seat represents District 1, which essentially covers Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Burroughs is the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for that seat.
Burroughs is in her second term on the school board, where she’s served as both chair and vice-chair.
The filing period begins next week for those interested in running for local and state office. Burroughs says she’ll officially file on Tuesday, February 11.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/burroughs-run-bocc/
CARRBORO- Lisa Gangarosa is the mother of a ninth grader at PACE Academy. She says her family was shocked to hear the Carrboro-based charter school might have to close its doors this summer.
“Of course it is creating a lot of anxiety,” says Gangarosa. “Since my daughter’s only in the ninth grade, she’s very worried about where she would go next year if PACE is not open.”
PACE Academy opened in 2004 to serve high school students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems who have not succeeded at traditional schools. More than half the 169 enrolled have been identified as special needs students.
This December, the state’s Charter School Advisory Board recommended to the North Carolina Board of Education that PACE not have its charter renewed, which would force the school to close at the end of this school year. The CSAB report cited testing noncompliance, fiscal irregularities and low academic performance.
Joel Medley directs the state’s Office of Charter Schools. In a letter regarding the advisory board’s recommendation, he writes:
“These members heard the concerns and thoroughly interviewed representatives from PACE Academy. Based upon the responses provided by the PACE representatives, they unanimously recommended that this school not receive a renewal; and a unanimous recommendation is a rather strong statement.”
Medley says representatives from his office met with PACE administrators four times in 2012, but school officials were not responsive to the department’s concerns.
However PACE Principal Rhonda Franklin, in a letter to the State Board of Education, calls the renewal process “fundamentally unfair.”
She argues the school should not be faulted for its 51% graduation rate because many students struggle with autism, mental health issues and learning disabilities. She said it s not uncommon for students to attend PACE for five or six years to master basic life skills.
“By looking only at PACE’s graduation rate, without considering its mission, the concentration of special needs students and their practice of keeping students in school until they are prepared to leave, transforms one of PACE’s strengths into a weakness. It is tantamount to measuring a square peg with a round hole.”
In response to questions about student enrollment and the school’s financial stability, Franklin writes:
“Once PACE was notified of problems in any area, the school worked diligently to correct the deficiencies. There is no evidence of a “history of non-compliance.’”
Since the advisory board’s recommendation was made public, local leaders have been rallying in support of PACE Academy.
Last month, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella agreed to write a letter to the state Board of Education in support of PACE Academy.
In his letter, Forcella praised PACE for working with students facing learning and behavioral challenges, and promised greater collaboration between the public school system and the charter in the future.
Board Chair Jamezetta Bedford noted PACE has had problems in the past, but nonetheless, she agreed the board should support a school offering some an alternative path to graduation.
“These are kids who really need a different program and who need support,” said Bedford. “These are kids who have already failed in our high schools; they have already chosen to go to another school. Not all have failed, but many of them have, so anything we can do to help kids graduate, let’s do it.”
Carrboro Aldermen voted unanimously last week to support PACE Academy in its bid to stay open beyond this school year. Randee Haven O’Donnell stressed this support only extends to PACE, not to the recent push to expand charter schools statewide.
“It’s really important for folks in the community to know we’re not supporting charter schools in general, we’re supporting PACE Academy in its continuance,” said Haven-O’Donnell.
State House Representative Graig Meyer also added his name to the list of local leaders who support PACE. He says in his work with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School system he’s seen that PACE offers a good fit for students who don’t always thrive in the public school environment.
The State Board of Education will vote in February to decide if PACE Academy stays open.
In the meantime, the Gangarosa family and others are left pondering their options.
“My daughter really enjoys going there and I feel like staff really does go the extra mile to help struggling students,” says Gangarosa. “We’re just taking one step at a time. We haven’t really thought about what our alternatives for next year are.”
You can find more about the renewal process for PACE Academy here.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/local-leaders-rally-keep-pace-academy-open/
CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board voted 6-1 Thursday to expand the Mandarin dual language program at Glenwood Elementary and keep access to the program open to all students in the district via a lottery system.
Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs said the value of dual language education extends beyond the local community.
“I consider it a gift to the country, frankly, to have bilingual and multilingual children, particularly in Mandarin,” said Burroughs.
The vote means 76 families at Glenwood will need to be redistricted to alleviate overcrowding due to growth in the dual language program and increased enrollment in the school’s attendance zone.
More than 100 parents turned out Thursday night to ask the school board to put to rest the recent uncertainty about the future of the Mandarin program, but parents differed widely on what they saw as the best solution.
Those with students in the program touted the merit of dual language education. Pam Caswell told the school board the program has changed the way her son approaches learning.
“There is a rumor that it serves only the 156 most high-achieving students, and I am here to tell you different,” said Caswell. “My son did not enter Glenwood above average. He has become high-achieving because of the daily effort we put into his studies.”
But parents outside the program argued it costs too much and serves too few. Heather Kunmick labeled it an unnecessary expense in a tight budget year.
“When I’m sending in hundreds and hundreds of dollars of supplies because in October teachers are out of copy paper and my daughter’s art class doesn’t have enough pencils or erasers and my child’s kindergarten class doesn’t have glue sticks, how can we continue to pour money into something that serves such a small percentage of the population?” asked Kunmick.
School board members cautioned against singling out any one program for cuts, and reiterated their support for expanding Mandarin dual language instruction, saying expansion of the program will lower per-pupil expenses.
“The reason we expanded it is not only do we think this a really important program, it’s to bring the cost down,” said Burroughs. “We need to make the program load-bearing, to fill those classrooms so there aren’t extra-small classrooms in fourth and fifth grade.”
But the board wrestled with how and where the program should grow. In the long term, the district could open a new dual language magnet that would house the Mandarin program, but for now, any expansion of the program means non-dual language learners will need to be redistricted to make room for new Mandarin students.
Board members also struggled with the purpose of the program, noting that it’s evolved from instruction to help those with limited English to more of an immersion program for English-speaking students. Annetta Streater said it’s not fulfilling its original purpose.
“I am very much disappointed that what was meant to be a support for students who are not native English speakers is no longer that,” said Streater. “So that brings up another concern- are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing to support students who actually do need consistent instruction and intervention to acquire English?”
The board voted 6-1 to redistrict 76 non-dual language families and add a second first grade classroom to the Mandarin program, which will remain at Glenwood for at least the next year.
Though spot-redistricting offers a short-term solution to temporarily ease Glenwood’s overcrowding, there’s no clear consensus on what to do with the Mandarin program in the future. Board members agreed to hire a consultant to examine the long-term options, with an eye toward implementing a solution by 2015.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chccs-school-board-backs-mandarin-dual-language-expansion/
CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill-Carrboro teachers, administrators and school board members aren’t happy about the loss of job protection rules for educators. Nonetheless, school officials are drafting a plan to comply with new state laws that end teacher tenure.
Chuck Hennessee, a Culbreth teacher and president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, addressed the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board last week.
“You all know there are so many inherent things wrong with this law,” said Hennessee. “It’s built on the premise that only 25 percent of our teachers would deserve a contract, when we know that in this district, 94 percent of our teachers are proficient or above. It’s an insult to us as teachers.”
Starting next August, teachers with more than four years of experience can no longer be awarded career status, and those with career status will lose it by 2018. Instead, schools will offer most teachers one-year renewable contracts.
But school districts across the state are also tasked with identifying the top 25 percent of educators and offering them four-year contracts with annual raises of $500.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the school board that unofficial polling among local teachers revealed little interest in the plan. So far, only 77 teachers have indicated they’d accept the four-year contract if offered.
Regardless of how many choose to sign the contracts, the district must make the offer to 200 teachers by next June.
School board member Annetta Streater called the plan “laughable.”
“So all we have to do is offer documentation to some authority that ‘here’s who we offered it to’ and half of them decline, then it’s done?” asked Streater. “What is the point of this?”
Although the contracts come with bonus money, the General Assembly has not allocated funding for those bonuses for future years. The board agreed that the district can’t afford to pick up the tab if state funding falls through.
“I feel strongly that we cannot promise to have this money, so it needs to be contingent on the state funding in the contract,” said Board Chair Jamezetta Bedford.
Administrators and school board members questioned the wisdom of the changes approved by the legislature as part of the budget bill this summer.
Adkins said the state requires the district to use a teacher evaluation tool to assess proficiency, but she and others stressed the evaluation is being misapplied.
“It’s a tool for teacher growth,” said Adkins. “It was never meant to compare teachers to each other.”
Teachers who fail to qualify as proficient are subject to dismissal. Supporters say the new rules will make it easier for school systems to dismiss under-performing teachers, but opponents worry it will drive more educators out-of-state or into other fields.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has already filed a lawsuit challenging the law. East Chapel Hill High School history teacher Brian Link is among the plaintiffs. He says the option of career status for teachers was one of the factors that drew him to move to North Carolina four years ago.
Teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district have until March 1 to put their names in for consideration for a four-year contract. The signing deadline is June 30, 2014.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-loss-teacher-tenure/
CHAPEL HILL- Although it was not on the agenda, Superintendent Tom Forcella took a moment at Thursday’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board meeting to address the controversy surrounding overcrowding at Glenwood Elementary and the fate of the Mandarin Chinese dual language program that operates at that school.
Forcella stressed that no decision has yet been made on how to address overcrowding at Glenwood.
“There hasn’t been a decision made by the board,” said Forcella. “Obviously public input is always welcome, but during the process, sometimes things are said- that doesn‘t mean that’s going to happen.”
***Listen to Forcella’s full statement***
Glenwood Elementary is 90 students over capacity this year, due in part to a move to expand the Mandarin program, but also because of higher-than-predicted enrollment in the school’s attendance zone.
Some suggestions put forward by administrators include spot-redistricting, creating a new dual-language magnet to house the Mandarin program, moving the program to a larger school, or halting the program’s expansion.
Critics say the program serves a small number of students at a high cost to the district. They worry efforts to preserve or expand the program will cause disruption throughout the school system. Forcella said that’s not the case.
“It is our intent to address the issue; the issue is anticipated overcrowding at Glenwood,” said Forcella. “It is not out intent to try to create a major disruption to the entire school district.”
He pointed out that the school board voted last year to expand the Mandarin program earlier than originally planned. Though he called that a show of support for the program, he noted that the district’s budget crisis means every program will be up for review this spring.
“It’s important to note that we are in one of the most difficult budget situations that we have been in for a very, very, long time,” said Forcella.
About thirty parents came out to hear his comments, wearing red to show their support for the Mandarin program. Joe Kennedy is the parent of three dual language students. He said ongoing controversy about the long-term future of the program is unsettling for families and he urged the school board to make their intentions clear.
“Reaffirm, publically, your commitment to our program,” said Kennedy. “I understand that everything has to be up for review, but having been with this program from the beginning, there is a real cost to signals about going back and forth. I mean, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
School officials have a deadline of February 1 to decide. The school board will discuss overcrowding at Glenwood and the future of the Mandarin program at its next meeting on January 16. That meeting will take place at East Chapel Hill High to accommodate what’s likely to be a large crowd.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/forcella-decision-yet-chccs-mandarin-program/
CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board welcomed new and returning members on Thursday, but school officials are already eyeing tough budget challenges ahead.
Newly-elected school board member Andrew Davidson and returning members Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett took just a brief moment to celebrate after taking their oaths of office before the school board sat down to digest some sobering statistics.
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board the district faces a $3.3 million dollar shortfall next year.
“We’re using fund balance this year to balance our local budget,” said LoFrese. “We have used all of our available fund balance and we’ll need to either receive more funds to offset that or we’re going to need to look at reductions.”
This is the third year in a row the district has used reserve funds to balance the budget, but that money will not be available next year. LoFrese stressed that this shortfall comes after years of cumulative budget reductions.
“We think it is important to remind folks that this is not a single-year event. We have been living in tough times for several years,” said LoFrese. “We’ve made $8 million dollars worth of reductions over the last several years.”
Administrators struggled last budget season to make up for cuts to state funding that would have paid for 37 teachers and 25 teaching assistants. In total, state funding to the district was cut by $4.5 million dollars.
In the past five years, the General Assembly only approved a single 1.2 percent pay raise for educators. As a result, North Carolina now ranks 46 in the nation for teacher salaries.
CHCCS Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the board this is affecting the district’s ability to recruit and retain quality teachers.
“The point is we’re going to continue to lose teachers to other states and other fields if North Carolina doesn’t do something to raise teacher pay across the board,” said Adkins.
The turnover rate for teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is now up to 14.47 percent, the highest it’s been in nine years. While more educators are looking to leave the system, student enrollment continues to grow.
“At the elementary level this year, we have 265 seats remaining with respect to SAPFO, 88 at the middle school level and 100 remaining seats at the high school level,” LoFrese told the board.
School officials anticipate opening new middle school in five year’s time, but some hope large-scale renovations to older facilities can increase capacity and delay the need for a new school.
The school board will revisit these issues next spring as part of the budget negotiation process. You can read the district’s 2013 Opening of School Report here.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chccs-board-eyes-teacher-turnover-tough-budget-cuts/
CHAPEL HILL- When the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board met together for the first time last night to discuss shared concerns, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for the school board to take a more active role in how the town plans for growth.
“We really need your feedback… to be more engaged in commenting on the impact of growth in our community on how well you’re able to provide your services to it,” said Kleinschmidt.
But long-time school board member Mike Kelley countered that growth is not what the district really needs.
“The best situation for the schools is stability, not to have to build new schools, not to have to redistrict, to move kids from one school from another and change those communities,” said Kelley.
Nonetheless, both council and school board members recognized that the district’s high-performing schools are a significant draw for Chapel Hill, and that school enrollment numbers are likely to continue to grow.
School board member Mia Burroughs has represented the district in the Central West planning process. She told the council the specifics of development aren’t as important to school administrators as the bottom line.
“Within our district, we’re not super-concerned about where the kids are,” said Burroughs. “What we are concerned about is how to do we pay for the schools and the operating costs, and that’s what we want you to be cognizant of, that when there are more kids, there’s a cost.”
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the council the district is already struggling to maintain aging facilities and that the cost of operating new schools continues to rise.
In light of that, Burroughs and others asked the council to examine the economic impact of residential development and consider what can be done to increase the commercial tax base.
At the same time, some are already looking ahead to where the next school will go. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison suggested land-banking potential school sites across the district.
“With the astounding price of land in this district, we really have to pin down that land right now, so that in five or ten years it isn’t simply out of reach,” said Harrison.
This was the first time the two groups have come together to discuss joint planning efforts. The school board and council pledged to continue the collaboration through a series of future meetings and raised the possibility of forming a committee to facilitate communication.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chccs-asks-town-council-to-consider-cost-of-growth/
CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools System is one of the top-achieving districts in North Carolina, yet closing the achievement gap is a urgent issue that has proven hard to solve.
The four candidates competing for three open spots on the CHCCS Board of Education spoke to this problem during WCHL’s Candidate Forum Monday.
Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett are the two incumbent candidates in the race, and the challengers are Ignacio Tzoumas and Andrew Davidson.
**Hear WCHL’s full CHCCS Board Candidate Forum below**
Brownstein, who was elected in 2009 and currently serves as Chair of the Board, said she believes that illiteracy is the one of the main factors contributing to the achievement gap.
“Interventions that we are providing for students also have to be evidence-based and be consistent. We have to look at our instructional time and how we are using those minutes,” Brownstein said. “There are children that need catch-up growth, and those children are the ones who are a part of this achievement gap. We have to follow them vertically as they go through the curriculum K-12.”
Barrett, who was elected to the Board in 2011, said the District needs to focus on improving the quality of instruction.
“We have pockets of really good instruction going on, but I think Dr. Forcella is clearly focused that every teacher, every classroom, has great instruction every day,” Barrett said. “And then the other thing that she [Michelle Brownstein] touched on is growth. Every student should be growing a year, and those that are behind should be growing a year.”
Tzoumas said if he were elected to the Board, he would work toward implementing sound policies as soon as possible.
“I think we’ve gotten to the point where it is rhetoric versus reality,” Tzoumas said. “We want to close that gap and start executing on the ideas as opposed to constantly bringing up the problem that is at hand.”
Davidson said one of the biggest challenges that disadvantaged students face is the “summer gap” in their education.
“Wealthier students show better academic progress during the summer than poorer students do, and that is one of the ways that the district has fallen short,” Davidson said. “And through no fault of their own, I think it is an innovation that we have to take on to focus on summer learning. We need to make that change so that when they get to the third grade, they make the change from learning to read to reading to learn.”
Early voting for the Nov. 5 municipal and Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board elections is underway now.http://chapelboro.com/2013-election-central/2013-election-candidate-forums/boe-on-closing-the-achievement-in-chccs/