Winter Weather Closings and Delays

CH-Carrboro City Schools To Work With Security Consultant

CHAPEL HILL – It seems like school violence keeps happening more frequently in the United States. In an effort to help keep our local schools and students safer, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has commissioned an outside security consultant to review its policies and procedures.

Despite the increased security put in place in schools nationwide in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, an article released this week by the Associated Press found that there has not been a significant reduction in the number of U.S. school shootings.

“When something happens somewhere else, we are thinking about how we would prevent it, or how could we prevent it? [School safety] is always on your mind, especially with more school shootings happening. It is not even just school-based, they are in community places,” said Jeff Reilly, Coordinator of Student Services for CHCCS and Chair of the Superintendent Safety Council.

The AP’s analysis found that there have been at least 11 school shootings this academic year. There have been about 500 school-associated violent deaths in the past 20 years, not accounting for recent shootings at colleges and universities.

“One of the things that we have talked about doing is having some assessments done of the schools and of the district. That is one of the priorities we have had for the past year,” Reilly said.

This month, safety consultant Michael Dorn, of Safe Havens International, and his team are working with CHCCS to improve its crisis preparedness and campus safety. Reilly said the cost for these services is just under $37,000. The group will produce a preliminary report of its findings in about a month.

Safe Havens International worked with Orange County Schools in 2013

“We are going to a have some analysts come through over the next couple of weeks and walk through each of our schools, review of practices, our emergency operations plans, talk with staff and do a survey of each school,” Reilly said.

These efforts are part of the continued work of Superintendent’s Safety Council, which was created last spring. It is a collaboration across the school system and also with the Chapel Hill Police Department and the Carrboro Police Department.

The Council meets regularly with Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton and Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.

Winter Weather School Delays For 1/23; Updated 10:30 p.m.

* Alamance-Burlington Schools – 3-hour delay

* Orange County Schools- 2-hour delay 

Elementary Schools begin 9:55
Middle Schools begin 10:20
High Schools begin 10:45

* Orange Charter School – 2-hour delay

Person County Schools – 2-hour delay

Tuesday School Delays Due To Cold Temps

NORTH CAROLINA – Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools; Orange County Schools (for students and staff); Chatham County Schools; Wake County Schools; and Alamance-Burlington County Schools will operate on a 2-hour delay on Tuesday, January 7, due to the frigid temperatures moving into the area Monday evening.

St. Thomas More Catholic School in Chapel Hill will operate on a two-hour delay Tuesday as well.

Stay with WCHL for area school closing and delay updates.

Orange County Schools On 2-hour Delay Tuesday

ORANGE COUNTY – Orange County Schools will be operating on a 2-hour delay Tuesday, November 26. District officials made the decision due to the threat of inclement weather and the potential for hazardous driving conditions.

Opening Times:

Elementary Schools begin at 9:50

Middle Schools begin at 10:20

High Schools begin at 10:45


Orange Charter and Alamance Burlington schools are also operating on a two-hour delay this morning.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh issued a Winter Weather Advisory for sleet and freezing rain which is in effect until noon Tuesday.

Stay with WCHL for updates on school closings and delays.

BoCC Eyes Older Schools For Bond Referendum

HILLSBOROUGH- Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday signaled they may be willing to shift the focus of a proposed $100 million bond referendum.

In a prior discussion, the board talked about getting voter approval to finance a new jail, and a fifth middle school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system. Those two projects alone total $73 million.

But school board members from both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County districts say aging schools are badly in need of repair, and fixing those could cost as much as $230 million.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin said he’d like some guarantee from district officials that renovating older schools would increase student capacity, delaying the need for new buildings.

“I think if we’re going to put any money into the renovation of these older schools, which is much needed, I think we should demand that any renovation increase capacity, whether it’s in the middle school or the elementary school,” said Dorosin. “Whatever those plans are, that money should have as an additional benefit that it is going to push out the next elementary school, the next middle school, the next high school, whatever it is.”

If voters approve a $100 million dollar bond package, Assistant County Manager Clarence Grier told the board that could mean raising the tax rate by 4.18 cents for the next 20 years to cover the $6.7 million annual debt payments.

In order to get the referendum on the ballot for the November 2014 election, the school boards and commissioners must come up with a list of priorities by early June.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators have already completed a detailed assessment of the district’s older buildings, while Orange County school officials have a study underway. County Commissioners will discuss the timing of the possible bond package at a meeting later this fall.

School and County Leaders Consider $100M Bond Referendum

CHAPEL HILL- Years of deferred maintenance are taking a toll on local schools, leaving county and school officials scrambling to figure out how to foot the bill.

“We have to have a different communication with the citizens. We cannot even afford this. We don’t have enough money to do this,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Vice-Chair Jamezetta Bedford, speaking Thursday at a joint meeting of school board members and county commissioners. “The idea that we want new things and we want this new park or whatever, when we can’t afford to maintain what we already have is very worrisome.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school budget allocates $20 million in the next decade to repair aging facilities, but a recent evaluation of the district’s oldest schools school revealed that repairing or replacing those facilities could cost as much as $170 million.

Orange County School administrators are still in the process of inspecting that district’s schools. Initial estimates for renovation range between $20 million and $68 million, but school officials say those numbers are likely to rise as many of the county’s oldest schools are in the Orange County system.

Members of the two school boards and county commissioners came together Thursday to discuss a potential bond package to take to voters, possibly as early as November of 2014.

County commissioners are considering a $100 million dollar bond referendum to pay for a new county jail and a fifth middle school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system, but that plan doesn’t yet include any projects to repair aging schools.

And with the jail and the middle school estimated to cost about $76 million, that leaves just $24 million to address what school officials say is a $230 million dollar problem.

County leaders hope to break ground on a new jail in the next four years, but Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board Chair Michelle Brownstein said the school systems can’t wait that long.

“My anticipation is that as more details come out about both Orange County schools and Chapel Hill schools, about the level of need at those schools, there’s going to be a greater sense of urgency,” said Brownstein. “There’s going to need to be evidence that we’re coming up with a plan. I don’t think it is reasonable to think that we’re going to be able to wait until 2016 to address our county’s school needs.”

The need for a new jail is also pressing, not only because the county jail is consistently overcrowded, but because the board recently signed a land lease with the state that mandates the county start construction within five years. Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs said failure to do so would invalidate the lease.

“If we haven’t done what we need to by that time then we’re just out of luck,” said Jacobs.

Nonetheless, County Manager Mike Talbert warned commissioners their options may be limited.

“Right now, outstanding debt is $190 million dollars. You’re looking at proposals that would nearly double that in a fairly short period of time. There are going to be limitations,” said Talbert. “Our debt has to grow in proportion to our budget and to our population. There are very much limits on what we can do.”

Veteran Orange County school board member and former county commissioner Stephen Halkiotis said he’s worked on three bond referendums over the years. He told the assembled leaders not to get too worried this early in the process.

“It always starts this way, so don’t get flabbergasted, don’t get upset,” said Halkiotis. “The first reach is real high. Then you realize you can only get certain fruit from the tree. Then you get real practical.”

Commissioners will discuss the feasibility of a possible bond package at their October 8 work session.

BoCC, Schools Boards To Discuss Facility Finances

ORANGE COUNTY – School and county leaders will meet Thursday to discuss a possible bond referendum to finance new facilities.

Orange County needs a new jail, while Chapel Hill-Carrboro school administrators are already beginning to plan for the district’s fifth middle school.

Combined, those two projects could cost as much as $72 million dollars.

In addition, both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school systems are facing steep costs to repair aging schools.

The school boards will meet with County Commissioners to discuss how to pay for both new construction and the restoration of older buildings. County staffers are exploring the possibility of putting a bond referendum on the ballot in November of 2014.

The boards meet Thursday at 7:00 p.m. in the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.


OC Schools BoE Chair Shares Thoughts On New Superintendent

ORANGE COUNTY – Donna Coffey, Chair of the Orange County Board of Education, says newly-named Superintendent Dr. Gerri Martin’s experience and strong communication skills make her the best fit to lead the school system.

Coffey says the Orange County Schools Board of Education reviewed 30 applications, with applicants from 11 states.

“Dr. Martin definitely stood out as the best candidate to our board,” Coffey says.  “Her credentials, her skills, her passion, her dedication, along with her experience just led us to believe that she will serve our students, our staff and our community for many years to come.”

Martin comes from the McDowell County Schools in Marion, N.C., where she served as superintendent. She’s been working in education for 27 years, including four years as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction prior to her role in McDowell.

“She has worked at all levels in schools, from teaching on up through the central office administration, and she’s had a little bit more than a year’s experience being superintendent,” Coffey says.

Martin received her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Politics from WakeForestUniversity and is fluent in Spanish. Coffey says about 14 percent of Orange County Schools students’ are Hispanic

“I think she is just going to bring a whole other level to our non-English speaking students and their parents,” Coffey says. “She will help us lead the way in providing more services.”

Martin received a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Appalachian State University and continued her education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she received her Doctorate of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations.

Martin succeeds Patrick Rhodes, who retired in June. Del Burns has served as interim superintendent and will remain in the position until Martin takes over sometime in October.

OC Schools Names Superintendent

ORANGE COUNTY – McDowell County Schools Superintendent Dr. Gerri Martin was announced Thursday night as Orange Schools’ next superintendent.

Martin has served McDowell County in Marion since July 2012. She’s been working in education for 27 years, including four years as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction prior to her role in McDowell.

The Orange County Schools Board of Education reviewed 30 applications which came from 11 states. In a press release on Thursday, the board said Martin’s experience, credentials, strong communication skills, tenacious work ethic, and dedication to student learning makes her the best fit.

Martin got her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Politics from Wake Forest University. A few years later, she went on to Appalachian State University where she obtained her master’s of arts in Educational Leadership. She continued her education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she received her Doctorate of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations.

“I am so humbled to receive the opportunity for this responsibility,” Martin said. “I come with great enthusiasm to serve the students, staff, and community of Orange County.”

Martin will take the position at a date to be determined in October.

Orange County Wealthy On Average, But Poverty Still Lingers

Aaron Nelson and Chamber board chair Paige Zinn. Photo by Donn Young, courtesy of the Orange County Visitors Bureau.

CHAPEL HILL – Year after year, Orange County consistently ranks as the wealthiest in the state of North Carolina—but poverty, even here, continues to be a nagging and serious issue.

“There’s a big disparity between wealth, (and) there continues to be growth in childhood poverty,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson at his annual State of the Community presentation this week. “That is (a statistic) that we need to pay close attention to.”

Orange County ranks first in the state with a per capita income of $48,683 in 2011, well above the state average of $36,000. But in spite of that, our poverty rate is also well above the state average: in 2011, 16.9 percent of Orange County residents were living below the poverty line, compared to 16.1 percent of all North Carolinians (and 14.3 percent of all Americans). The percentage is even higher in Chapel Hill alone, where 22.1 percent of residents lived below the poverty line in 2011.

“Some folks have often discounted that–(because they think) that’s just the student population…but our poverty level is high,” Nelson says. “We ought not to discount it simply because it includes students.”

For the first time, researchers this year were able to distinguish between students and non-students when analyzing wealth and poverty in the area. Students do account for much of the poverty rate in Chapel Hill—but that poverty rate is still elevated even when they’re taken out of the equation. About ten percent of Chapel Hill’s non-student population lives below the poverty line—a poverty rate that’s less than the state average, but still more than twice as high as nearby communities like Apex and Cary.

And the poverty rate increases when the focus is narrowed to children. “That is on the rise,” says Nelson, “and in a pretty serious way.”

The key increase is in the percentage of “economically disadvantaged” children, which is to say children who qualify for free and reduced lunch. 26.5 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School students and 41.6 percent of Orange County School students qualified for free and reduced lunch in 2011-12—the highest percentage in both districts since at least 2006, when the Chamber began collecting data.

And the high level of need in Orange County is at odds with the common perception of Chapel Hill as a wealthy community—a disconnect that actually makes it harder for governmental and non-governmental organizations to address the real need that exists.

“(It’s called) ‘Chapel Hill Syndrome,'” Nelson says. “Donors get this: it’s a belief that we don’t need anything, Orange County doesn’t need anything–we have the highest per capita income, the University’s there, the hospital’s there, your economy’s bulletproof–but the reality is that some of us feel that way and forget to reinvest and take a look under the rocks on what’s going on in our community with respect to poverty, particularly children in poverty.”

Nelson delivered his State of the Community report on Tuesday at the Friday Center. You can see the full presentation at this link.