Close Contacts Of ECH Student Who Died Being Monitored

The Orange County Health Department worked closely with East Chapel Hill High School and the school district shortly after finding out a 14-year-old student at East contracted meningococcal disease and later died.

“We have given prophylactic antibiotics to 14 contacts at this point,” said Orange County Health Department Director Colleen Bridger as she addressed the media Thursday morning. “Typically it’s going to be close family members that are the most exposed.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella joined Dr. Bridger and said the student left school Tuesday after telling the school nurse he felt ill.

“The nurse advised the family to seek medical attention,” Dr. Frocella said. “He thought maybe he just wasn’t feeling well. The nurse contacted the parents and advised them to seek medical attention, and the family did go see either their doctor or a clinic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of meningococcal disease include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), and an altered mental status (confusion). It is spread through the transmission of respiratory and throat secretions like saliva.

“Meningococcal disease is a generic term that encompasses the different types of illnesses that you can get if you are infected with the bacteria,” Dr. Bridger said. “You’re most commonly, probably, familiar with meningitis, which is when the bacteria gets into the spinal fluid and the brain of the infected individual; that would be meningitis. We believe we are dealing with a blood infection in this particular case, which is why we’ll be referring to it a little bit more generically.”

Dr. Bridger said it’s impossible to trace where the student picked up the bacteria.

She said the disease is most commonly seen in adolescents.

“I think 10-15 percent of people who are infected with a meningococcal disease will die,” Dr. Bridger says. “Another up to 50-percent will suffer life-long consequences of the disease if they do recover. So it’s a very, very serious disease. The good news is it’s very, very hard to get.”

Anyone experiencing symptoms should contact the Orange County Health Department or your personal physician immediately.

For more information about how East Chapel Hill is handling the situation at the school, click here.

Burroughs Still Has Schools In Mind Looking For BoCC Seat

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board member Mia Burroughs is hopeful to make a move to the County Commissioners, and she says she’s not going to stop working for schools if she gets there.

“I think that a little bit less than half of the county’s budget goes to our public schools—both the Orange County school district as well as Chapel Hill-Carrboro,” Burroughs says. “I really think it’s important to have someone on the commission who has really close experience with how those are spent.”

She says she also wants to make sure the budget benefits from diversity in the tax base.

***Listen to the Full Interview***

“Steel Magnolias” Opens Thursday At CHHS

This weekend, the Chapel Hill High School auditorium transforms itself into Truvy’s beauty parlor as the curtain rises on Chapel Hill High’s production of “Steel Magnolias,” opening Thursday night at 7:30.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with director Thomas Drago about the show: his inspiration for choosing it, how they turned the large auditorium into a small black box-style theater, and how the cast and crew worked through a rehearsal schedule that got interrupted by a week of snowy weather.

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“Steel Magnolias” runs Thursday through Saturday, February 6-8, with shows at 7:30 each night. Tickets are $10 ($5 for students), sold at the door.

Coincidentally, there are two productions of “Steel Magnolias” in Orange County this month: the Orange Community Players are also producing the play. Their show opens next weekend at the Orange County Senior Center in Hillsborough.

Burroughs To Run For BOCC

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.

Click here for her campaign website.

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.

Parking, Water, Beer, Business, And Education!

ORANGE COUNTY – Chapel Hill is adding a new parking lot downtown: on Monday, February 3, the town is opening the Courtyard parking lot, located at 115 South Roberson Street near the west end of Franklin. Town staff say there will be 53 spaces available at the new lot. (There are about 1200 available parking spaces in all in downtown Chapel Hill.)


Earth Policy Institute founder and president Lester Brown will be on campus Tuesday, February 4, lecturing on the future of agriculture in a world of dwindling water.

The lecture is entitled “Peak Water: What Happens to Our Food Supply When the Wells Go Dry?” It begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Global Education Center. It’s free and open to the public.


Starting in April, ARCA will begin assembling CM18 cash recyclers at its manufacturing facility in Mebane, transfering operations from Italy. The move will make the Mebane facility the only one in the U.S. to produce cash recyclers, used by banks and credit unions to speed its balancing and inventory functions.


Twelve Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School teachers have recently earned National Board Certification: Melissa Nicholson-Clark and Samantha Howard of Morris Grove Elementary; Susan Azzu, Agnes Bernasconi, and Ashley Laver of Rashkis Elementary; Christine Cohn of Estes Hills Elementary; Jennifer Pedersen of Northside Elementary; Lisa Myles of McDougle Elementary; Miles Chappell of Phillips Middle; Beth Kinney of McDougle Middle; Holly Loranger of Chapel Hill High; and Jenny Marie Smith of East Chapel Hill High. Congratulations to all twelve!

North Carolina leads the nation in the number of teachers certified by the National Board.

Another recognition for UNC: the Princeton Review has ranked UNC-Chapel Hill as the number-one public university in the nation on its 2014 list of America’s “Best Value Colleges.”

UNC has long been recognized as a national leader in preserving affordability and accessibility while simultaneously providing a high-quality education and maintaining high graduation rates.

NC State also made the Princeton Review’s list, as the number-four public university in the nation. Williams College in Massachusetts ranked first among private universities.


Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are participating in North Carolina’s first official pilot test with school buses filled with propane autogas, an alternative fuel designed to lower gas costs while also reducing toxic emissions.

The North Carolina Propane Gas Association is promoting the new technology in conjunction with Triangle Clean Cities Coalition and Triangle Air Awareness. They say propane autogas can reduce emissions by 80 percent compared to diesel fuel.

Other districts participating in the pilot program include Union, Brunswick, and Nash-Rocky Mount.


Carolina Brewery is celebrating its 19th birthday with events beginning on Wednesday, February 5 and running through Saturday the 8th–including the debut of a new “Anniversary Ale” and a pint glass giveaway on Friday the 7th.

Visit for a full schedule of events.

Orange County’s Biggest Hidden Issue: Part II

A couple months ago, I asked: “What is Orange County’s biggest hidden issue?” What is the biggest issue in Orange County that ISN’T being talked about, in any way, in any news outlet?

There are a lot, obviously. Even in a county as per-capita prosperous as this one, there’s bound to be room for improvement in numerous areas—and as for “not being talked about,” well, I’ve already used this space to drone on about the limited resources available to modern-day media. Enough with that.

But of all the un-discussed issues in Orange County, what’s the biggest? What’s the most pressing?

Many of you responded.

Is it the old-boy network? Twitter user @W0CG0 wrote: “Quite simply, (it’s) the attempt by older residents to limit activities and access of those under the age of 50.”

Is it overpriced housing? “The subtle effect of the anti-development, anti-growth zealots is to keep housing prices inflated due to lack of supply. A good example is the Estes Road plan. People want less development to keep up home prices. The road needs to be widened.”

Or—related—is it the lack of workforce housing? “We can build a homeless shelter, but god forbid we build apartments or town homes for police, teachers & firefighters.”

(That’s all @W0CG0, by the way.)

Mark Marcoplos suggested home rule, or rather the lack thereof — the extent to which state law restrains local governments from doing much of anything without permission from the General Assembly. “I consider this to be the biggest obstacle to progressive policy that we face,” he wrote. This has come up recently in a variety of issues — most notably Chapel Hill’s attempt to ban cell phone use while driving or to update its towing ordinance — but Marcoplos said it’s more wide-ranging than you think. “It’s an unnecessary shackling of local governance.”

And another responder (who chose to remain anonymous) pointed to “administrative cover-ups (and) misappropriations in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” as well as an unequal distribution of resources from one school to another — both of which, the responder says, contribute to “poor working conditions (and) teacher dissatisfaction.”

But easily the most common responses revolved around the prevalence of poverty in Orange County — notwithstanding our status as North Carolina’s wealthiest.

“Poverty and children going hungry,” wrote Rachel Hawkins. “No excuse for it.”

Vicki Vars Boyer agreed: “Too many of our kids are on free/reduced lunch” — another stat that’s unequally distributed from school to school, incidentally — “and in need of backpacks of food to take home so they can get through the weekend.”

And it’s not just backpacks. “At Chapel Hill High this week they are running a granola bar drive,” wrote Kathy Kaufman (in November). “(T)he school social worker needs a ready supply to give to kids who don’t have lunch money and may not have had breakfast either. There are other ways hungry kids are quietly helped in the school as well.”

Ricky Spero took the issue beyond the schools. “With the recent drop in SNAP benefits, I’m curious to learn where we have food security issues in our community,” he wrote. “As a national issue, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about how our family could help, but as a local issue, it’s an area where we could pitch in.”

And George Cianciolo added that solving the problem would require more than just dealing with immediate food security issues. “As in many other areas of the country, the disparity in income levels continues to widen here with no easy solutions in sight,” he said, so “(m)ore jobs paying living wages are desperately needed.”

Poverty is something we’ve discussed on WCHL and on, but there are many facets of the issue that have gone unexamined — and even as it gets reported, that old notion still lingers that poverty’s not really an issue here.

So as promised, I’ll be writing more about poverty in the months to come. Thanks to everyone for their contributions.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools faces $3.3 million shortfall

CHAPEL HILL –  A budget shortfall for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools could force superintendents and Orange County Commissioners to make tough decisions over the next few months.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese praises Commissioners for preventing layoffs, while managing to keep property taxes at the same level for five years.

However, some of that magic was made possible by tapping money in the school system’s fund balance, which is now depleted. The fund balance supported $2.2 million of paid positions.

LoFrese says that money represents about 32 teachers’ jobs, or 65 teacher’s assistants jobs.

“That’s a lot of positions that provide important services to students,” he says.

***Listen to the full interview between Todd LoFrese and WCHL’s Aaron Keck***

On top of that, the school system must factor in rising health insurance costs. And LoFrese says that about $1 million is earmarked for possible staff salary increases.

“It’s not enough, considering what they’ve been going though for that past five years,” he says. “But a three-percent salary increase puts pressure on the local budget.”

LoFrese says all of that brings the local budget shortfall to $3.3 million.

He won’t rule out cuts to staff and services, but LoFrese says he’d rather not see that happen. He’s especially concerned about teacher’s assistants.

“The reason I’m concerned about that is because there continues to be pressure at the state level,” LoFrese says. “The state made a permanent cut to teacher assistants last year of a certain dollar amount. They’re increasing that this year.”

The 2013 cuts amounted to $120 million and the elimination of 3,850 teacher’s assistants jobs, according to an August report in The News and Observer.

LoFrese says that Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools watches the General Assembly closely; tries to anticipate its moves; and then plans accordingly.

The possibility of a statewide teachers’ raise would be included as a place holder in a budget presented to Orange County Commissioners this year.

Talks with Commissioners begin in February. A Superintendent’s recommended budget will be published sometime in early March, followed by the School Board submitting its recommended budget to the county a few weeks later. LoFrese says the final budget should be completed at the end of June.

Meanwhile, he suggests that concerned parents advocate their positions at the state level.

“This is a statewide issue,” LoFrese says, “and advocacy at the state level where these decisions that are being made that impact us – I think that’s key one right now.”

Push For Teacher Raises Takes Hold In NC

STATEWIDE – With teachers in North Carolina among the lowest paid in the nation, a grassroots effort is taking shape to persuade state legislators to raise teacher salaries.

“If (teachers) can go elsewhere and get higher pay, better benefits, and a feeling of better respect for the profession, they’re going to do that,” says UNC-Greensboro education professor Wayne Journell. He’s one of many North Carolinians who, just in the last two weeks, have begun to raise their voices publicly in support of higher teacher pay.

That issue, of course, has been a controversial one for months. Last year, as North Carolina dropped to 46th in the nation in teacher salaries, the General Assembly voted to cut salary bonuses for teachers who earned master’s degrees—while simultaneously reducing funding for teaching assistants and eliminating teacher tenure.

Critics argued then that those moves would drive good teachers out of the state. In fact Chapel Hill-Carrboro assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese said in August that the process had already begun.

“We lost a great math teacher to Kentucky,” LoFrese said then. “That teacher’s making $10,000 more in Kentucky than they would have made here on the North Carolina salary schedule.”

And it wasn’t only the established teachers who were leaving. At UNC-G, Journell says his students were beginning to look elsewhere too.

“And they said, ‘Why–given what’s going on in the state–why should I consider staying in North Carolina to teach?’” Journell says. “And honestly, I couldn’t give them a good answer.”

Journell says that’s why he picked up his pen—and wrote an open letter to Governor Pat McCrory last week urging him to take action to raise teacher pay.

Read Journell’s letter here, via

And Journell wasn’t the only one.

On January 4, former Governor Jim Hunt wrote an editorial in the News and Observer challenging the General Assembly to raise teacher pay in North Carolina to the national average. Hunt says he himself led the charge to do just that during his tenure as governor—with bipartisan support. And while the effort was costly—$240 million per year—Hunt says it also paid off: between 1999 and 2001, as teacher salaries were increasing by 7.5 percent per year, he says student test scores were also rising faster than in any other state.

The General Assembly won’t be back in session for months, but Hunt’s editorial reshaped the debate, at least for now. Last week, an organization called Aim Higher NC launched an online petition to urge the GA to raise teacher salaries—and got more than 10,000 signatures in the first 36 hours. A survey from Public Policy Polling indicated that 79 percent of North Carolinians—including 66 percent of Republicans—favored Hunt’s proposal to raise teacher salaries to the national average. Governor McCrory too says he’s committed to raising teacher pay in 2014, though specific details still have to be ironed out.

And in Greensboro, Journell says his open letter got a big response.

“The next day when I opened up my email, I had a bunch of emails to go through,” he says. “I was kind of concerned that some of them would be saying, ‘oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ but all the emails I got were very, very positive.” (No response yet from Governor McCrory though, he says.)

It remains to be seen, of course, whether state legislators will ride the wave. Former Governor Hunt admits that any significant teacher pay raise will be costly—and while there’s bipartisan support for higher teacher salaries, Republicans in particular also remain opposed to any tax hikes.

But Journell says he’s hopeful that the current movement will have an impact in the end—and not just for the benefit of his students.

“You know, I have a kid,” he says. “She just turned one. She’s going to be educated in this state. And I want young, energetic teachers to be in North Carolina…

“I just don’t want us to drive them away.”

CHCCS To Hold Focused Dialogue On Glenwood Elem. Population

CHAPEL HILL – Glenwood Elementary school is already beyond capacity, and next year the school will go beyond its current numbers.

In order to discuss the best plan of attack to mitigate the problem, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district is trying a new style of meeting to discuss the options called a Focused Dialogue.

“It’s very hard to have a conversation with 10,000 elementary school parents,” says the district’s assistant superintendent for support services, Todd LoFrese.. “We’re trying to have a workable group to get representation from the school and to be able to have a conversation around that topic.”

LoFrese says students are going to have to be moved next year. On Monday, district officials, teachers, school administrators, and members of the PTA will meet in small groups to go over the variety of ways to move the students.

“Either spot redistricting or moving the Mandarin Dual-Language program to a larger school, consideration of creating another magnet school, and then there’s a series of other options,” LoFrese says. “But, they all involve moving students. It could be done in phases, it could be done all at once, and so each of those has different pros and cons in terms of how you do it.”

While only a handful of people will be directly commenting on the options Monday, LoFrese says everyone interested will have a chance to get involved.

“We’ll have an electronic way for people to submit feedback and input,” LoFrese says. “There’s also all the other ways that people have been communicating with administration through email or phone calls, to the schools through School Improvement Teams meetings, and then directly to the school board either electronically or by participating in public participation at board meetings.”

Monday’s meeting is being held Monday at 6:00 p.m. at EastChapel HillHigh School. The meeting is open to the public.

CHCCS Superintendent: Plagiarism Accusations Gone Too Far

CHAPEL HILL – Teachers at Chapel Hill High School are accusing the school’s principal of plagiarism in internal communications, but Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools District Superintendent Tom Forcella says many of the resources she used were likely the same a lot of principals and teachers use.

“I know that there are a variety of books that principals have access to with sample letters,” Forcella says.

Forcella says he has reviewed the letters in question. One was compared to a letter Principal Salura Jackson wrote at her former school, Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan; the other was compared to one written by an Arizona high school administrator.

“It sounds very similar to letters I’ve read time and again that probably use the same model that are in a variety of different books that principals can pick up that really, kind of, give you a framework for writing a letter,” Forcella says.

Teachers told the Independent Weekly that they were embarrassed when they found out she did this. However, the works were not published; they were internal communications and she told the Indy she could point out the sources if someone asked.

Forcella says the point that was most puzzling to him was that the article pointed to the fact that Jackson copied letters she wrote while she was at her former school.

“Ms. Jackson was the founding principal of the school that she worked at and the only principal they ever had,” Forcella says. “So, I think if she’s using information or using written material from her prior school, she probably wrote it.”

Forcella says he hopes the school and the district will learn from this matter about how to best handle internal matters.

“If this were a concern by a few staff members, I think it would have been a lot easier to contact the principal directly and just say ‘I’m wondering if this was cited correctly’ or ‘I saw this letter somewhere else’ rather than going to the media and created a story that I think there was a perfect explanation for,” Forcella says.