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Orange, CHCCS Districts Ready for New School Year

The new school year begins Monday, and top administrators of Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County Schools say they’re excited about new initiatives.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Dr.Tom Forcella spoke to WCHL about a convocation with school staff that was held on Thursday.

“We spoke to all staff about our direction for this year,” he said. “People are very excited. We’re in the second year of our long-range plan. We have some new initiatives that I think will make a big difference in the school system.”

There are no new schools opening this year, and Forcella said that does make things a little easier.

Last year, Northside Elementary opened for the first time, as well as the Frank Porter Graham Dual Language Magnet School in the district.

“It was a little bit more that we had on our plate last year,” he said.

Forcella also reminds local drivers to be start being mindful again about kids waiting for buses in the morning, and getting dropped off in the afternoon.

“I just urge everyone to be careful and to really watch themselves as they’re traveling on the road,” he said.

Interim Deputy Superintendent of Orange County Schools Dr. Pam Jones sent this message to WCHL on Friday:

“There will be excitement and anticipation in the air on Monday morning as traditional classrooms reopen for over 7,500 Orange County students,” she wrote. “As always student safety will be of utmost concern. We ask each driver to honor our students and teachers as they embark on the new year by being particularly watchful when approaching a yellow bus and driving through school zones.”


Supply Store Benefits CHCCS Teachers

School’s almost back in session, and teachers are getting ready – which, in many cases, means paying out of pocket for essential school supplies.

Many teachers – here and nationwide – say they spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each year for supplies, without which their classes couldn’t run.

But this week, some teachers in the CHCCS district will get a bit of a break – thanks to the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club, which has operated a “Teacher Supply Store” every year since 2008. This year, 440 teachers will receive a $75 voucher to shop in the store – open for two days this Wednesday and Thursday – for supplies ranging from pens and pencils to facial tissues.

Daniel Corley of the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club spoke to WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the Tuesday afternoon news.

The Teacher Supply Store is open Wednesday from 2-6 pm and Thursday from 2-5 pm at the American Legion Hut in Chapel Hill. CHCCS superintendent Tom Forcella will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday at 2:00.


CHCCS Faces $900k Budget Gap And Loss of 22 TAs

With the new state spending plan in place, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are facing a nearly one million dollar budget gap.

The $911,000 shortfall means the school board will consider a plan to cut four and a half gifted education specialist positions at the elementary level and transfer some custodial staff to contract work.

Because of state budget cuts, the district could lose 22 teaching assistants. Legislators shifted the $800,000 that would have paid those assistants to fund classroom teaching positions in an effort to lower class size.

While school systems have some ability to shift that money back to TAs, Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators say the state has put limitations on the exchange that don’t make it feasible for the district. School officials plan to reallocate teaching assistants in grades 4 and 5 and hire more teachers instead.

While the state budget provides more money for most teachers, veteran educators and other school employees are not likely to see much of pay raise. In response, CHCCS administrators are asking for $2.5 million to make sure all public school employees get at least a three percent raise.

This newest version of the local budget was released on Tuesday and no final decisions have yet been made.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board will meet at 7 o’clock at the Lincoln Center on Thursday to vote on the 2014-2015 budget proposal. You can read the full agenda here.



CHCCS Still Working On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board members gather Thursday night to vote on the upcoming year’s budget.

The district’s website projected posting the budget proposal late last week, but due to the delay by the North Carolina Legislature on its budget decisions, the district pushed the release date to Monday. However, the proposal, which has one hour of the nearly four-hour meeting set aside for it, wasn’t posted to the district’s website until Tuesday morning.

Many concerns swirled around the General Assembly’s budget as teaching assistants were in danger of losing their jobs. Last year, in response to state budget cuts, CHCCS hired new teaching assistants on one-year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. School officials said the district ran out of the reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they waited to see what, if anything, the state would do to help pay for teaching assistants.

With the passage of the $21.1 billion state budget, teaching assistants should be safe. However, some teachers aren’t happy with the final numbers.

Though some called the new budget “historic” for putting $282 million towards education, some educators themselves have criticized the new teacher pay plan.

That’s because longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.

This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost. Those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18-percent increase.


Local Teachers Lukewarm On New Pay Plan

With the start of the school year looming, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Human Resources department is racing to fill teaching positions. Local administrators had been forced to put some hiring decisions on hold over the summer while state lawmakers haggled over a new spending plan.

Though the recently approved budget agreement provides more certainty, Teacher Recruitment Coordinator Mary Gunderson says there’s still a sense of unease among educators.

“The big piece that I see that’s different than in years past is just this sense of worry about the future of teaching in North Carolina, worry over how competitive North Carolina will be with other states,” says Gunderson.

The district has hired more than 130 teachers in the past two weeks, and while that number is about average for the district, she says she’s seen more teachers declining job offers than before, and some of those who have already accepted job offers have changed their minds.

“We have had more than usual in terms of candidates declining offers, and I think that’s symptomatic of what’s happening at the state level with dissatisfaction with what’s happening with teaching salaries,” says Gunderson. “To date, I’ve had 23 candidates decline offers, and then, unfortunately, I’ve had another 12 candidates accept an offer and then a few weeks or even a few months later change their minds and take another offer.”

Gunderson says this makes it particularly hard to hire teachers in high-need areas like math, science and exceptional education.

“In some of the high needs area, as we move farther into the calendar, those pools have much smaller numbers of teaching candidates who are available for positions, so as we move later into the summer, fewer and fewer of those candidates are available and seeking positions.”

Gunderson says many of those seeking employment elsewhere are looking at other school systems, private schools, charter schools, or new professions altogether.

North Carolina’s low teacher pay has been a political hot button in recent weeks, as the exact percentage of proposed pay raises was one of the major sticking points between lawmakers trying to reconcile the House and Senate budget plans.

Ultimately, the General Assembly settled on a new pay scale for teachers that offers an average seven percent raise. However the actual amount varies widely depending on experience. New teachers will see a seven percent increase, and those with five years experience will see as much as 18 percent. But veteran teachers could see as little as one percent. Some say the plan to cap salaries at $50,000 and do away with longevity bonuses shows a lack of respect for those with decades of classroom experience.

“I just spoke with a candidate this morning who has 28 years experience and she says ‘You know, it’s just sad for someone in my position that my experience is not valued in the current state salary system,’ and that’s really a true statement,” says Gunderson. “When the pay scale raises are dramatically different -this year the range is huge, all the way from one percent to 18 percent- it really is hard to separate that from a sense of value when you’re one of the people who just gets the one percent raise.”

Some hiring decisions are still up in the air as the final local school budget has yet to be approved. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools board meets next week to hash out the details. Board members are expected to pass a budget on Thursday.


NCGA Budget Impasse Leaves Local TA’s In Limbo

As state lawmakers wrangle over a budget agreement, nearly 100 teaching assistants in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system are in limbo, waiting to find out if they’ll still have jobs when school starts.

Arasi Adkins is the Human Resources Director for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. She says 79 local teaching assistant positions will remain unfilled until state budget negotiations are complete.

“Their livelihood is hanging in the balance,” says Adkins. “They’re waiting to be re-hired. We’re kind of holding on, so this is extremely difficult for them [and] it’s extremely difficult for us in terms of staffing. It’s been a very challenging summer.”

Last year, in response to state budget cuts, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools hired new teaching assistants on one year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. Now, school officials say the district has run out of reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they’re waiting to see what, if anything, the state will do to help pay for teaching assistants.

“Because there’s such a huge variance in the House version of the budget and the Senate version of the budget, it really is difficult to do anything other that wait,” says Adkins.

Negotiations between the state House and Senate are stalled as legislators debate competing spending plans. The House version calls for a five or six percent raise for teachers while the Senate wants to push that up to 11 percent, but pay for those raises by cutting teaching assistants.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board is waiting until July 17 to adopt its local budget for next year. In anticipation of further cuts to state funding the board has identified two levels of potential budget cuts.

The first tier would bring the budget in line with the House plan. It would require $850,000 worth of cuts, including the loss of 4.5 gifted education specialist positions.

Depending on the final budget, a second round of cuts could be necessary. That would mean 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.

But some worry that a third round of cuts might be needed if something similar to the Senate budget is passed. If that happens, school officials acknowledge teaching assistant positions will be on the chopping block.

“We have identified two different tiers worth of cuts that don’t involve teaching assistant reductions at all, so that’s what we’re really hoping for. Beyond that we really haven’t discussed the number of teaching assistant positions that would be cut if we have to go to that,” says Adkins

State lawmakers on Friday canceled a planned negotiation session, prompting speculation that the General Assembly could walk away without a new spending plan. The state is currently operating on a two-year budget passed in 2013, so the lack of a deal wouldn’t cause a government shutdown, but Adkins says the uncertainty affects what the district can offer to entice new hires.

Most disheartening, she says, is the recent discussion in the Senate questioning the benefits of teaching assistants in the classroom.

“I mean, it’s July. If they wanted to bring up research about the value of teaching assistants, I really believe they should have spent more time last year visiting classrooms, talking to teachers, talking to their constituents about the value of teaching assistants,” says Adkins.”I’d really argue that anybody who questions the value of a teacher assistant should be required to do substitute teaching in an elementary classroom.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meets on Thursday to discuss the budget, but whether or not the board will have a budget to approve remains to be seen. In the meantime, many local teaching assistants have no choice but to wait and see.


CHCCS Board of Education Meets to Talk About Cuts

The Chapel-Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meets Tuesday night for a work session to discuss possible budget cuts, at a time when local governments are uncertain about what the state legislature has in store.

Without a guiding budget consensus between the House and Senate in Raleigh, the Chapel Hill Carrboro Board of Education is moving forward with a plan to balance the budget with more than $850,000 in cuts, while bracing for an additional $1 million in reductions.

Those proposed cuts and their priority levels will be discussed at the meeting.

The initial list includes reducing gifted specialists by 4.5 full-time personnel. And the local driver education subsidy would be cut by $40,000.

First on the list of the next round of cuts, in order of priority, would be to eliminate the service learning coordinator and program. Next, custodial positions would be cut by 7.5 full-time positions.

Third on the list: The work year for teacher assistants could be reduced for $150,000 in savings.

Those are just a few of the recommended cuts on the two lists.

The Board plans to adopt a final budget on July 17. There may be additional meetings tacked onto the calendar if the state budget is leaner than anticipated when it comes to education, according to the Superintendent’s office.

The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Center at 750 South Merritt Mill Road in Chapel Hill.


Four New CHCCS Coaches

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools announced the hiring of four new high school coaches on Thursday night.

Among those are former Reidsville High boys’ basketball coach Bill Walton, who will take over for Interim Chapel Hill High School Coach Lason Perkins; and Carrboro High Assistant Football Coach Melvin Griffin, who now takes over the head coach position.

Tim Bennett, Athletic Director at Chapel Hill High, issued a statement that reads, in part:

“We are excited to announce three new coaches, William Walton, Jason Curtis and Greg Cain, to our coaching staff at Chapel Hill High School. Each one brings valuable experience and strong leadership to our athletic program.”

And Carrboro High School Athletic Director April Ross issued this statement about new head football coach Melvin Griffin.

“Coach Griffin has extensive knowledge and experience in football, and we have the utmost respect and confidence in his abilities to lead our program. We are currently seeking qualified assistant coaches to complete our football coaching staff.”

Griffin replaces Jason Tudryn, who left in April to take a job as UNC’s first Director of High School Relations.

New Chapel Hill High Boy’s Basketball Coach Bill Walton resigned as Reidsville High’s head coach back in January, citing health reasons.

In eight-plus seasons, Walton led the Reidsville Rams to a record of 145-72.

His most recent predecessor at Chapel Hill High, Lason Perkins, was named interim coach in the wake of former Athletic Director and Head Coach Tod Morgan’s departure last September. Morgan took a job at C.B. Aycock High School in Pikeville.

Perkins led the Tigers through a 19-8 season, and was an assistant coach under Morgan for four years.

At Thursday night’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education meeting at Lincoln Center, several people from the basketball program at Chapel Hill High came out to voice their disappointment that Perkins would not carry on as head coach. This was just before the new hires were announced.

One of those speakers, team member Jeremy Werden, is the student body president-elect of Chapel Hill High.

“I’ve been in the Chapel Hill High Basketball program for three years,” said Werden. “Throughout these years, the varsity basketball team has encompassed a 69-14 record, as well as being back-to-back-to-back conference champions.

“While our current coach was not the head coach for two of those years, he was still a crucial part of the program. He’s a great tactician, coming up with countless offensive and defensive schemes, created to complement our personnel.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Executive Director for Community Relations Jeff Nash has pointed out that CHCCS hires all coaches for only one season at a time.

The other two new coach hires for Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools are:

Greg Cain, the head softball and baseball coach for Smith Middle School, who will now be the head coach for Chapel Hill High softball, and;

Jason Curtis, the new head coach for men’s and women’s soccer at Chapel Hill High. He’s stepping up from the assistant coaching position there.


On School Funding, BOCC Faces Tough Choices

Tonight at 7:00, the Orange County Board of Commissioners holds a work session (at the Southern Human Services Center) to continue discussing next year’s fiscal budget – including, perhaps most notably, the question of funding for Orange County’s two school districts.

The current proposal (with no property tax increase) includes a $2.9 million combined increase in spending for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – but the two districts face a combined shortfall of around $7 million. Local officials are also watching the budget debate in Raleigh, where legislators are considering at least one proposal that would eliminate funding for teaching assistants in grades 2 and 3 (among other things).

Many local residents have called on county commissioners to raise the county’s property tax rate to fully fund the school districts’ budget requests, but county officials have been reluctant to raise a rate that’s already relatively high (fifth-highest of North Carolina’s 100 counties).

Click here for budget and tax-rate information, from an earlier board meeting agenda.

With all of that (and more) in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck sat down on Tuesday with County Commissioner Penny Rich, who’s also a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district.

Listen to their conversation.



Local Electeds React To State Senate Budget

The North Carolina General Assembly is meeting in “short session” this year – but there’s been no shortness of controversy.

At the center of debate last week was the budget proposal released by State Senate Republicans, which includes more than $400 million for a significant hike in teacher salaries – but that raise comes (among other things) at the expense of massive cuts to teacher assistants in grades 2 and 3.

Already facing a multi-million-dollar shortfall, officials at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools say the Senate’s proposal would likely force the district to make even more cuts than they were initially planning – unless they can persuade County Commissioners to dig even deeper into the pool of local money. (Fully funding the budget requests of both the county’s districts would almost certainly necessitate a tax increase, though, which County Commissioners and county staff have been reluctant to impose.)

Meanwhile – though it hasn’t received as much media attention – local municipalities across the state are also contending with the repeal of a business privilege tax, which the AP reports could cost municipalities a total of $62 million statewide. Governor Pat McCrory signed the repeal on Thursday.

With those and other issues in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member James Barrett to the studio on Thursday, for a pair of conversations about the local impact of recent actions at the NCGA.

Mark Kleinschmidt:

James Barrett: