CHCCS Responds to Parent Concerns Over Bus Issues

The first few days of the new academic year have not been without stumbles for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools.

Power went out at Estes Hills Elementary on Monday, forcing the school to send students home at 11 o’clock the morning of the first day of school. The power outage was not the fault of the school district but was an issue with Duke Energy.

Parents were also sharing concerns on social media over buses not picking up their children on time, or at all in some cases.

The continued concern over buses on Tuesday drew a response from the CHCCS interim superintendent Dr. Jim Causby. Causby sent an e-mail and voicemail to parents with students in the district apologizing for the busing problem that “greatly exceeds years past.”

The CHCCS transportation website says there were “significant changes this year in an effort to make student transportation safer, more reliable, and provide a higher level of service.” But these changes resulted in many of the bus runs, stop locations and stop times to be altered from previous years.

As the bus issues began to pile up on Monday, parents also grew angry over the lack of communication from the district.

Causby said in his Tuesday correspondence that “the heavy volume of parent questions and concerns being called into our Transportation Office quickly filled up all voicemail boxes and resulted in frustration on the part of both parents and Transportation staff.”

Causby said that the district has now asked the technology team to increase the number of incoming phone lines. The district is also working to bring additional staff from Lincoln Center administrative offices to assist in manning the phones, according to Causby.

Causby said he would be sending another update within the next 24 hours.

Read the full e-mail from Causby below:

Dear CHCCS Families,
Another exciting school year opened yesterday. I have been out visiting schools and principals, and from all indications our students and teachers are off to a great start. However, I feel a need to update you on a few areas that did not go as planned.
First, we woke up on Monday to learn that Estes Hills Elementary had no power. I understand this school had electrical issues last year. Fortunately, yesterday’s power outage was not the fault of our school infrastructure. It was entirely on the shoulders of Duke Energy. We worked with them throughout the day and they got it fixed later in the afternoon. However, we did make the decision to send home the students at 11 a.m., primarily due to the lack of air conditioning. I am pleased to report that today has been a great day at Estes Hills. Classrooms are cool and students are learning.
The second big issue, and it is one that impacted almost as many people, is our transportation errors. While there are always problems on the first few days of school, the number of problems we have experienced this year greatly exceeds years past. There are a variety of reasons for this, but they all came together to create a perfect storm this year. Additionally, the heavy volume of parent questions and concerns being called into our Transportation Office quickly filled up all voicemail boxes and resulted in frustration on the part of both parents and Transportation staff.
To that end, we have asked our technology team to restructure the phone system to increase the number of incoming lines, and we are bringing in staff from Lincoln Center and schools to assist with manning these phones in an effort to increase our capacity to provide live assistance as needed. Now, of course, our Transportation leaders are working to resolve the bus route issues, and that is the bottom line goal. But in the meantime, we want you to know that we are working to get every route straightened out and to provide a greater level of customer service in the meantime.
Thank you for your continued understanding and support. I will call you again within the next 24 hours with another update. I hope you enjoy the remainder of your day.
Jim Causby
Interim Superintendent

CHCCS Board of Education Continues Search for Superintendent with a Public Forum

The search for a new superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education continues tonight at a meeting held at Chapel Hill High School at 7 p.m.

This process has been in the works for the past few months following previous Superintendent Tom Forcella’s retirement announcement in May.

The board and the community have discussed many requirements they would like the next superintendent to agree with as they move forward with many potential changes in the school district, such as the Equality Draft Plan and racial inequality concerns voiced at the board’s meeting in June.

“I want [the superintendent] to be able to look into any of the racial disparities that we have so far within our system,” said Joyce Powell, mother of both a graduate and current student in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. “I know the board has worked hard on putting forward some other implementations to help, but I think we can do a little bit better…every child matters, and to me, this is what this is all about.”

The board has since discussed the concerns and plan to set expectations regarding this matter for the new superintendent.  Other concerns that may or may not have been brought up at previous meetings are welcomed at tonight’s meeting.

The Board encourages public comment from all community members in hopes it will lead the board to a well thought-out candidate that is approved by everyone involved.

All parents and community members are also asked to complete a survey online for the board to present at the next North Carolina Board Association meeting on September 15.

Staff of CHCCS will be asked to complete a separate survey for the local board to present to the state.

The meeting held tonight will only be discussing the matter of finding a new superintendent; all other matters will be discussed at their next meeting held on Thursday, September 1.

Click the link to fill-out the survey.

CHCCS Eliminates 23 Positions In The School District

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has eliminated 23 full-time positions as a part of its 2016-2017 fiscal budget.

The cuts were made in response to the Orange County Board of Commissioners not granting the full request from the Board of Education to increase county funding for schools.

“The board made the tough decision in April, not knowing what our local budget would be, to change our supplement schedule and that has had a tremendous, tremendous effect on our ability to get staff in place for the start of the school year,” said assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese.

In order to remain competitive in the job market, the Board of Education chose to raise the supplemental income of teachers in the district.

The board made this increase official before county commissioners approved the fiscal budget, meaning that no matter what the commissioners chose to do, CHCCS would have to pay the increase.

Between this and mandatory raises from the state, the district needed $4.2 million to balance the budget.

The county commissioners gave an additional $2.7 million, leaving the district $1.5 million short.

“We’ve had to make reductions of more than $10 million over the past several years,” LoFrese said. “That left us with few options besides positions.”

Of the 23 full-time positions eliminated, 11 are elementary level media assistants, two are middle school gifted specialists, four are middle school physical education teachers, three are high school clerical positions, two are central office administrative positions and one is a central office staff member.

“We’ve done the best we can but utilizing parks, utilizing libraries, healthy living, that all comes from and is helped by the schools,” said board member Margaret Samuels. “Cutting that just seems counter-intuitive to what, as a Chapel Hill resident and an Orange County resident, we want to see in the people that live here.”

The PE teachers will keep their job for the upcoming school year, but unless there are changes to the 2017-2018 budget, will be let go when the year is over.

The district will also reduce utilities and school supply spending to help make up the $1.5 million deficit.

“Unfortunately we have to make a hard decision here,” said board member Pat Heinrich. “We definitely have a lot of trust that we have to regain with our employees about the decision that we’re making here today.”

Tom Forcella Attends His Final Meeting As Superintendent

Last week Tom Forcella participated in his last Board of Education meeting as Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools superintendent.

Chairman James Barrett and the rest of the board thanked Forcella for his five years of service in the district.

“I know that (Forcella) didn’t want a big public to-do,” Barrett said. “But we wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all that you’ve done.”

Forcella has been a part of the district since 2011 and has overseen major projects such as the creation of Project Advance and the bond referendum scheduled for November.

“I want to thank the board members for giving me the flexibility to do what we needed to do,” Forcella said. “I’ve had a great administrative team and a great group of principals on board.”

As a parting gift, current and former board members chipped in to give Forcella a picture of landscape in Chapel Hill to help him remember his time in the area.

“The board members, we don’t work with (Focella) every day, but (his) style and what (he) does for our kids impacts us a lot,” Barrett said.

He will officially retire at the end of the month.

Dr. Jim Causby will take over as interim superintendent while the district looks for a permanent replacement.

CHCCS Names Interim Superintendent

Dr. Jim Causby was unanimously named Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools interim superintendent in a meeting held Wednesday night.

Causby has 27 years of experience as a superintendent, retiring from Johnston County Schools.

“We’ve asked him to continue the great work the district has underway,” said Board of Education chairman James Barrett. “As well as coach our staff, and even the board, as we move ahead after the district’s loss of two key leaders.”

Causby will replace the retiring Tom Forcella, who was hired in 2011.

The school is also losing assistant superintendent Magda Parvey.

In what will be a turbulent time for the system, with an upcoming bond for schools on the November ballot and the implementation of Project Advance, board member Pat Heinrich said Causby’s previous experience as an interim superintendent in Hickory set him apart.

“I think we all got a warm and fuzzy about Dr. Causby’s experience,” he said. “He was able to share some of his experience and frankly, at least for myself, it’s pretty enlightening the difference between interim and permanent.”

Causby said one of his first tasks once he takes over will be to shake hands with every district employee in the first 30 days. He said he doesn’t foresee making any major changes to the district.

“It will not be my job to that,” he said. “My role will be to keep the things going the board thinks is important and make sure every child is getting the very best education they can while I’m here.”

Applications for Forcella’s permanent replacement will open September 1.

Causby will take over when Forcella retires July 31.

He will make Forcella’s $208,000 annual salary, along with a travel and living allowance.

CHCCS Receives Draft Of Racial Equity Plan

After over a year of research and work, CHCCS director of equity leadership Sheldon Lanier presented a draft of the district’s Equity Plan, designed to end racial inequity in schools, to the Board of Education Thursday night.

“We will be continuously updating this plan, as it should be a living, breathing document,” Lanier said. “I thought it was very important that any equity work, that there was actually a framework and a foundation in terms of the direction.”

The plan has four stated goals: to create an inclusive culture, to eliminate the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers, creating a fair punishment system and recruiting racially sensitive personnel.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has long struggled with the issue of racial equality and last year received a report on how disciplinary actions disproportionately impact minority students.

Members of the community spoke before Lanier’s presentation and expressed their frustration with the plan.

“The updated equity plan just doesn’t seem comprehensive,” said Kenyana Clark. “Although 18 months have passed and my kids just can’t afford to continue to slip through the cracks.”

Some parents were upset that no dates were assigned in the plan as deadlines for future action.

Lanier said he would add deadlines as the plan became more concrete.

“I’m not going to rush my race and I don’t think my race is to be rushed,” Lanier said. “If we’re going to do something to target black and brown students, then I want to make sure that it is done correctly and it is rock solid and it is tight.”

He said he wanted to get more community involvement and that anyone with ideas who wanted to reach out to him should do so.

“I will tell you right now,” Lanier said. “The only S on my chest stands for Sheldon. It does not stand for Superman, I don’t know everything and there is point where you have to rely on those that may know more than you do.

After Lanier’s presentation, both board members and community members praised his effort, saying it was step in the right direction.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella Retiring

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

The announcement came on Tuesday afternoon.

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

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

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

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

James Barrett spoke Tuesday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Forcella’s retirement is effective August 1.

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

Board Of Commissioners Set To Talk County Budget

The Orange County Board of Commissioners will receive the county manager’s recommendation for the 2016-2017 fiscal year budget in their meeting Thursday night.

The budget will address a number of topics including school funding and public transit.

Both Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have asked for more money to increase teacher pay.

CHCCS has already approved an increase that will cost the district $4.5 million. It did so before knowing the outcome of the budget and will still have to pay that money whether or not the commissioners allocate funds to pay for it.

County manager Bonnie Hammersly is preparing the budget ahead of a November bond referendum, which will be the largest in county history if approved.

The $125 million bond will go to pay for necessary health and safety upgrades to school buildings in the county and $5 million is put aside for affordable housing.

The county commissioners will hold public hearings on the budget May 12 and 19. They will have a work session with the school districts May 26.

“Color The Hill” – And Yourself – For A Cause (Or Three)

On Saturday, May 21, you’re invited to head to Finley Fields for the fourth annual Color the Hill Fun Run – billed as the most “colorful” run in town.

Beginning at 9:30 a.m., “Color the Hill” is a 4K run – or jog, or skip, or casual stroll – along the route used by UNC’s cross country team. Along the way, you’ll pass through five “color stations” where volunteers will shower you with non-toxic colored powder. (Don’t worry, it washes off.) At the finish line, there’s a party featuring music, food trucks and giveaways – and every runner gets their own packet of colored powder, so you can shower each other with color as well.

It’s all to benefit three terrific local causes: the SKJAJA Fund, the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ Academy of Information Technology (AOIT), which is based at Chapel Hill High.

The AOIT is a three-year program for students to learn technical skills and apply them in practice: students collaborate on technology-based projects, not only in computer classes but also in fields like English. (Last year’s AOIT class made a documentary about the “Bedford Boys,” a group of WWII vets from Bedford, Virginia, who fought at Omaha Beach on D-Day. The project included a field trip to Bedford, to the National D-Day Memorial.)

Laura Malinchock is a committee member for Color the Hill and a mother of two AOIT students; she joined Aaron Keck on WCHL to discuss Color the Hill, along with AOIT student David Hadar, a junior at Chapel Hill HS.


The Be Loud! Sophie Foundation was founded in honor of Sophie Steiner, who died of cancer in 2013 at the age of 15; its mission is to raise money to support adolescent and young adult cancer patients. (There are existing programs that support kids with cancer, but those programs often miss adolescents and young adults.) Be Loud! Sophie has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars since its founding just a few years ago – enough for UNC Hospitals to hire an adolescent and young-adult program director (Lauren Lux) for the first time ever.

Annabel Steiner, Leah Steiner, and Mia Colloredo-Mansfeld joined Aaron Keck on WCHL to discuss the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation.


If you’d like to register for “Color the Hill,” you can get more info and sign up online at Registration is $36 for anyone 11 and up, or $16 for kids 5-10 with a paying adult. (Kids under 5 can run for free with a paying adult.)

Carrboro High School Students Get A “Sense Of Place”

Chapel Hill and Carrboro pride themselves on being progressive, forward-thinking cities – but they also have a rich history as well.

This year, a group of students at Carrboro High School got to experience that history firsthand – and now, they’re exhibiting the artwork they’ve created to celebrate it.

Melissa Barry is an Exceptional Child teacher at Carrboro High. All year long, she’s been taking her students to historic sites around town – a dozen in all, from Carr Mill Mall to the Morehead Planetarium – so they could hear about our community and see historical artifacts. From those visits, the students created writings and works of art about the special places in our community, as well as the special places in their own lives.

Now, those works of art are on display at one of Chapel Hill’s most historic places, the Horace Williams House on East Rosemary Street.

Melissa Barry and six of her students joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week.


The “Sense of Place” exhibit, with works of art created by the Carrboro High students, will be on display at the Horace Williams House from May 1-27, with an opening reception Sunday, May 1, from 2-4 pm. (The house itself is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10-4.) Everyone’s invited to come take a look.