For CHCCS Board, It’s Dasi, Samuels, Streater, Heinrich

There are going to be three new faces on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board after Tuesday’s election.

Newcomers Rani Dasi, Margaret Samuels and Pat Heinrich were all elected to the CHCCS Board on Tuesday, along with incumbent Annetta Streater.

Full results here.

Rani Dasi was easily the top vote-getter with 6,989 votes – more than any other candidate in any race in Orange County this year. More than half of Orange County voters cast ballots for Dasi, even with seven other candidates in the race.

Margaret Samuels and Annetta Streater took second and third, respectively; Samuels won 5,618 votes and Streater won 5,369.

Samuels spoke with WCHL following her election:


The real race, though, was for the fourth and final spot, which came down to the wire between newcomers Pat Heinrich and Theresa Watson. In the end, Heinrich took the final spot with 4,445 votes – beating Watson by only 208, less than six tenths of a percentage point.

Streater spoke with WCHL following her re-election:


Former Carrboro Alderman Joal Hall Broun came in just behind in sixth, followed by incumbent David Saussy (who was running for the first time after being appointed to the board less than a year ago). Newcomer Gregg Gerdau finished a distant eighth.

With the district facing a number of major challenges, the new school board will have to hit the ground running with very little overall experience. That was going to be a challenge no matter what the outcome on Tuesday, though – as two of the longest-tenured board members, Mike Kelley and Jamezetta Bedford, elected not to run for reelection this year.

Meet Pittsboro, CHCCS Candidates In Forums Thursday

Election Day is approaching! Come learn about the candidates at a pair of forums on Thursday, September 24, both hosted by the League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham, and Chatham Counties.

The first is for Pittsboro voters: the LWV is hosting a forum for Pittsboro mayoral and town council candidates from 6-8 pm in the auditorium of the Agriculture Building at 65 East Chatham Street. (You’l be able to register to vote at the forum too.)

The second is for Chapel Hill/Carrboro voters: a forum for CHCCS school board candidates from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

LWV Voter Services chair Krishna Mondal joined Aaron Keck on WCHL Monday to discuss the two forums.


For more information on the two forums or on the League of Women Voters, visit

Races Heat Up For CHCCS, H’boro Town Board

We’re almost through the filing period for local elections – and on Wednesday, four new candidates added their hats to the ring.

Incumbent David Saussy and challenger Pat Heinrich are now officially in the race for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School board. Saussy is running for his first full term; he was appointed to the Board last December to fill the seat left vacant by Mia Burroughs when she got elected to the Board of County Commissioners.

Saussy and Heinrich join incumbent Annetta Streater and challengers Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, and Margaret Samuels in what is now a six-person race for four open seats on the board. Two other incumbents, Jamezetta Bedford and Mike Kelley, haven’t announced their intentions yet. (Bedford, though, has previously indicated that she was not planning to run again.)

And the race for Hillsborough Board of Commissioners also heated up Wednesday with two more candidates: incumbent commissioner Brian Lowen and challenger Ashley DeSena.

DeSena currently works as operations coordinator for the Pope Center for Higher Education, but she spent nearly five years as program coordinator at the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough from 2010 until this February. She also serves as vice chair of Hillsborough’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Also in the race for Hillsborough town commissioner: incumbent Evelyn Lloyd and challenger Mark Bell.

See the full list of candidates who have filed to date.

The filing period ends on Friday at noon.

Schwartz, Samuels Throw Their Hats In The Ring

There’s another candidate in the race for Chapel Hill Town Council: David Alan Schwartz filed to run for office on Monday.

Schwartz has been recently active with the group Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, or CHALT. He’s the sixth candidate to file to run for Town Council – joining Michael Parker, Paul Neebe, Nancy Oates, Jessica Anderson, and incumbent Lee Storrow.

There are four seats up for election on the Council this year – one of which is vacant, following Matt Czajkowski’s departure earlier this year. In addition to Storrow, the other two incumbents are Donna Bell and Jim Ward; they haven’t announced their intentions publicly yet.

Elsewhere, there are now four candidates in the race for a seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board.

The terms of Mike Kelley, Jamezetta Bedford, Annetta Streater and David Saussy expire this fall. To date, Streater is the only incumbent who’s filed to run for re-election.

The challengers are Rani Dasi, Theresa Watson, and now Margaret Samuels. Samuels is president of OE Enterprises, which provides job training services for people with disabilities.

Dasi is a business analysis manager at Lord Corporation, as well as a board member for The Walking Classroom.

Theresa Watson has worked for years as a youth mentor. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in May 2014.

See the full list of candidates in Orange County.

The filing period continues through Friday for those seeking office on the Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Board of Aldermen, Hillsborough Town Board and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board.

CHCCS Takes a Pass on Proposed Obey Creek School Site

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is saying “thanks, but no thanks” to a proposed school site offered by Obey Creek developers.

The proposed Obey Creek site was marked as a potential school location several years ago on Chapel Hill’s land use plan.

Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, noted that in April 2014, the Board of Education approved a resolution for the Town Council to recognize that potential site, and to include that as party of negotiations with developers.

Later, the Council asked CHCCS if the school site offered by developers should be reserved.

The Board of Education has now come to a decision regarding Obey Creek.

“At a recent board meeting, the board passed a resolution thanking the Town Council for honoring that process,” said LoFrese. “The next was to communicate that we weren’t in reserving a school site. There are some challenges with the proposed area that was offered to the district as a school site.”

One of those development challenges, said LoFrese, is that the school would be difficult to access.

“There’d be an extensive bridge that would need to be constructed to cross over the creek,” said LoFrese.

In the final part of the resolution, the Board of Educations expressed that the Chapel Hill- Carrboro school system has other facility needs to address.

“We would be open to looking at other potential locations for where a school could be built,” said LoFrese. “We didn’t specify that it would be in the area that is currently proposed for development by Obey Creek. And the board also communicated that we have 10 older school facilities that have a lot of financial need.”

LoFrese said that it’s too early to estimate the impact the development will have on the school system, without a hard number of residential units to consider.

Right now, however, there are some spot-crowding problems that could be fixed, he said.

“Smith Middle School rises to the top of the list in my mind,” said LoFrese. “We had to close the school this year to new enrollment, even if you lived in the Smith zone. So we have some families who are being transported to either McDougle or Phillips, or Culbreth.”

LoFrese said there is still some breathing room at the elementary and high school levels. The next projected need for a middle school is in 2023.

In the meantime, said LoFrese, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system would like to expand older schools, while performing long-needed renovations.

That, he said, would further put off the need for new schools. He added that it could also create the equivalent of an entire new elementary school.

CHCCS Looks To Revamp Teacher Pay Plan

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools officials want to move away from longevity bonuses for teachers to a pay scale that rewards professional development. While that might mean more money for some educators, it could come at a cost to others.

“Some will be very upset, yet I think it’s the best thing to do, in the long-term, for teachers, so that you don’t have to go be an assistant principal in order to make more money,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Jamezetta Bedford, speaking at a board meeting last week.

Last year the North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget that requires school systems to submit a plan for differentiated teacher pay. But CHCCS officials say they want to make sure the pay plan the district adopts will support the progress of all teachers, not just the top performers.

Board Chair Mike Kelley said the plan under consideration now meets that goal.

“A possible alternative that the state legislature could impose on us might look very ugly, but this to me seems like its homegrown- it comes from our professionals and it’s been developed and thought out in a way which is very careful, deliberative and not reactionary,” said Kelley.

A committee of teachers, staffers and advisors from UNC’s School of Education recently sat down to evaluate options for reconfiguring teacher pay.

They came up with a plan in which teachers would earn points for participating in professional development and get credit for rising student test scores. These points would then translate to salary increases.

But this could mean those teachers who don’t invest in professional development might lose out on potential pay raises, as longevity bonuses would no longer be guaranteed.

Still, given that many teachers have seen their compensation levels frozen for years, Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese said the new plan might be better than the status quo.

“Their current reality is they’ve been standstill for six, seven years, and now the new model that the state has in terms of the salary schedule shows that raises come every five years,” LoFrese told the board. “So we’re trying to change that and we think this is a positive step in that direction.”

Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board last week the full financial details are not yet available, but administrators want to make sure it doesn’t cost the district more, or cause those currently employed as teachers to lose ground. Board Chair Kelley warned it might be tough to do both.

“Unless there’s new money for salaries- and that would probably have to come from the state in some fashion, because it is probably not likely going to come from the district- then there may have to be some redistribution of the funds that are available,” said Kelley.

The school board will discuss the plan further at the district’s planning retreat in February. Administrators will present a final proposal to the board in March.

Search is On for Burroughs’ Replacement on Board of Education

The Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools System is taking applications to replace outgoing member Mia Burroughs, who was elected Tuesday to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Board of Education Chair Jamezetta Bedford began Thursday’s meeting at Town Hall by congratulating Burroughs on her election to the Board of Commissioners.

She added that the Board of Education has accepted Burroughs’ resignation, effective Nov. 30. Burroughs’ opponent in the race, Gary Kahn, also congratulated her during public comments.

Now begins the process of finding her replacement.

According to a North Carolina statute and CHCCS policy, the remaining members of a board must appoint a new member when there is a vacancy caused by resignation, death or other reasons.

The appointed person serves until the next board election.

A timeline for the selection process has been proposed, and it begins with advertising the position – on the CHCCS website, in a press release, in PTA newsletters, and among school improvement teams and community groups such as El Centro.

An information session for applicants will be held at 4:30 p.m. at Lincoln Center on Nov. 17. The board seems to be anticipating a big response, enough to raise concerns that the brevity of the meetings may not allow members to learn as much as they’d like to know about applicants.

“It’s really hard to get to know someone, even on a superficial level, when you’re across the room from them, asking these stilted questions,” said Board Member Mike Kelley.

Bedford assured everyone that additional insight would be provided by “a set of eight, in-depth questions for them to respond to, that we will have in advance to read, too.”

The deadline for submitting applications, to be delivered to the superintendent’s office at Lincoln Center, is Nov. 19.

Interviews will be held at Lincoln Center at 6 p.m. on Nov. 24.

Board of Education Member Michelle Brownstein said she hopes there can be some flexibility in the timeline, in case a small handful of finalists happens to present a tough choice.

“You have to do it publicly,” said Brownstein, “where you’re saying we’re actually going to delay doing anything, because we need to have more information, just like you might have to do for a superintendent search, or whatever.”

According to the timeline, Burrough’s replacement will be selected at the 7 p.m. Board of Education Meeting on Dec. 4 at Lincoln Center, and sworn in on Dec. 18.

The state constitution requires the appointee to be an eligible voter and resident in the district. He or she may not be otherwise employed by the board.

According to an agenda abstract for Thursday’s meeting, the school system is looking for someone with either professional or volunteer experience in education, preferably in the district.

Community volunteer work, knowledge of local school issues and flexibility to attend meetings are also considered important.

Convicted felons are ineligible, unless their rights of citizenship are fully restored. Applicants must also be upfront about potential financial conflicts of interest.

Environmental Measures Help Schools Save Money

The new sustainability coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools told the Board of Education on Thursday night how his environmental efforts are saving the school system more than $100,000 this year.

Sustainability Coordinator Dan Schnitzer said he analyzes three elements every time he starts a program or collaborates on a program – academic impact, environmental impact, and financial impact.

Schnitzer said he’s implemented measures to make schools more cost-efficient, including “literally rolling up sleeves and getting into some dumpsters.”

At the Board of Education meeting, Schnitzer said cost-cutting measures include reducing the number of dumpsters and frequency of dumpster pickups. “It’s one of those areas where no one complains and so we assume it’s not a problem,” said Schnitzer. “But we can probably do better, and we’ve been able to do that.”

Schnitzer also cut costs by upgrading from incandescent bulbs to more energy and cost-efficient LED bulbs. He said that all together these efforts resulted in $128,000 in savings.

He’s the first person to hold the job of sustainability coordinator, which is funded through a permanent utility budget reallocation. Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said the savings from Schnitzer’s work exceeded his salary.

Shnitzer supported a composting program at Phillips Middle School. It was started by a group of students who call themselves the “Trash Terminators.” Now, students all across the school system compost their food scraps after lunch.

Superintendent Tom Forcella talked about eating lunch at Phillips last year.

“It was interesting seeing how the kids were very seamless in knowing where to put stuff,” said Forcella. “But I was really nervous because I was afraid of putting my container in the wrong place.”

OC Commissioners, School Boards Talk Bond Referendum

The Orange County Board of Commissioners met with the two local school boards Tuesday night in Hillsborough to discuss, among other things, moving forward with plans for a 2016 bond referendum.

“We can do things with alternate financing, and we’ve been doing it for a decade now,” said Orange County Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs, near the end Tuesday night’s genial joint meeting between the BoCC and the Boards of Education from Chapel-Hill Carrboro and Orange County.

“But we’re going to go to people, and we’re going to say, ‘Are you with us?’” he continued. “And if they say ‘yes,’ they’ll help us pay for it. That’s about as democratic a way to do it as I know.”

The combined school renovation needs of the two districts make up the bulk of identified projects that could benefit from a bond that may go on the ballot, either in May or November of 2016.

“We have currently, approximately between the county and the school system, about $500 million in projects, you know, that could potentially be on this bond referendum,” said Orange County’s Chief Financial Officer Clarence Grier. “We can’t fully fund all those. Schools alone have $330 million of outstanding deferred maintenance projects – older capital needs projects that need to be addressed.”

At a Commissioners meeting on Sept. 11, 2014, it was decided that the range would be between $100 million to $125 million. Orange County holds a AAA rating, and at current interest rates, Grier calculated the debt service at the lower figure to be 6.1 percent, or 4 cents on the property tax rate.

For $125 million, the debt service would be 4.67 cents on the tax rate.

Grier said borrowing would be staggered in amounts of $40 million, then $35 million, and then a final $35 million, issued biennially over four years.

He said that would make the debt more affordable, and lessen its impact on the budget each year.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese noted that, in his district, 10 school facilities have been identified as potential renovation projects.

LoFrese said that by adding capacity as part of renovations, getting the projects done could actually save some money by delaying school construction.

“If all of our projects were able to move forward, we would be able to pick up 555 seats at the elementary level,” said LoFrese. “That’s nearly an entire elementary school. Chapel Hill High would increase by 105 seats, a total of 660 seats in our school system.”

The total recommended cost for all the projects, said LoFrese, is $160 million. He added that getting all of them done in the next five-to-10 years would delay the cost of building a new elementary school for about 15-to-20 years.

After the meeting, LoFrese told WCHL that one of three schools would likely be prepared for shovel-readiness in 2016 if a bond referendum passed.

“Either Ephesus Elementary School, Seawell Elementary School, or the creation of a pre-K center,” said LoFrese. “Each of those would create a hundred additional seats of student capacity, which would push off the need for Elementary 12 by two years.”

Grier recommended starting the process of educating the public in August 2015, to get the referendum on the ballot in May 2016.

But others at the meeting recommended getting started much sooner, in the process of explaining to voters why taxes may go up again.

School Districts Discuss Cross-District Programs

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school districts are moving toward sharing educational resources across schools.

In other words, students from one district could take courses in another district.

Members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Chapel Hill–Carrboro Board of Education, and Orange County Board of Education discussed the possibility Tuesday night at the Whitted Meeting Facility in Hillsborough.

The two districts have attempted cross-district enrollment in the past but factors like different schedules and travel distances led to low participation.

“I am extremely concerned about . . . equal educational opportunity and access,” said Commissioner Mark Dorosin. He expressed concern over one pubic school offering courses that another public school does not offer. He said schools should make certain courses available over the internet to give students in other schools an opportunity they would not otherwise have.

“I know there’s a multitude of AP courses that are only offered at Chapel Hill High, and that could be made accessible via internet to other students,” said Dorosin.

Members acknowledged that not all courses could be taught remotely. Orange County Board of Education Chair Stephen Halkiotis discussed the agriculture program at Orange County High School.

“There’s a quality group of teachers teaching the program,” he said. “It’s hard to do that online. To get the smell of a barn, to understand weighing a pig, you’ve got to get right in there with your rubber boots where the rubber meets the road or in this case, the rubber meets the pig poop.”

Members from each district agreed to keep the conversation moving forward.