Gay Fairy Tale Sparks Controversy at Efland-Cheeks Elementary

Matthew Roberts is the parent of two children at Efland-Cheeks Elementary. He says the recent controversy over a book about same-sex marriage took him by surprise.

“I am very surprised at how the opposition has taken off on this. I was not expecting it to get this far out of control,” says Roberts.

king and king

Last week, some parents protested a third grade teacher’s decision to read King & King, a fable aimed at elementary-aged children in which two princes fall in love and get married.

The teacher, Omar Currie, says he chose to read the book to address classroom bullying of a student. The message of the book is to accept people for who they are.

Several parents brought their concerns to the Orange County School board earlier this week, and at least three formal complaints have been filed.

In the wake of the controversy, Currie has said he will leave the school at the end of the school year.

Efland-Cheeks Principal Kiley Brown says as parents filed formal complaints, that triggered school policy which says a parent can object to material being used in the classroom and that administrators will review that material. Brown says the media review team examined the text and determined that King & King was appropriate. Since the initial complaint, two other complaints have been filed, which means that the fairy tale will go through review on two more occasions.

Roberts has one child in Currie’s class, and another who Currie taught last year. He says the teacher’s departure would be a huge loss for the district.

“In my opinion they are losing a tremendous teacher,” says Roberts. “My concern is we may not even be able to convince him to stay and the district will lose a great teacher. He has worked wonders with my two boys.”

More broadly, as a white parent who has adopted and fostered bi-racial children, he’s worried that the school could lose sight of key values he says made his family feel welcome.

“The biggest thing is to emphasize that we see Efland-Cheeks’ diversity, and their acceptance of diversity, as the strongest attribute that school has to offer.”

The teacher, Omar Currie, spoke Thursday with WCHL’s Blake Hodge. Listen to their conversation.


Roberts met with Principal Brown to discuss his concerns and he says he was heartened to learn that most parents aren’t opposed to the content of the book, so much as the timing.

“The most positive thing that came out of this was that the majority of the parents who have contacted her are not opposed to the teaching of the subject of same-sex partners,” says Roberts. “They feel that it could have been presented to them ahead of time so they had an opportunity to prep their children on the subject. And that’s probably legitimate.”

The district will hold a public meeting Friday at 5:30 in the school library to address the questions raised by the fairy tale. Roberts says he’s hoping for a happy ending.

“I’m hoping that we can turn it around and get a positive light. Best case, we won’t lose Mr. Currie, but if we can’t stop that, make sure that we don’t lose other teachers because they feel they’re not being supported.”

School Boards Ask Commissioners To Spend More Per Pupil

The two local school districts presented their 2015-16 budget requests to the Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The commissioners will take this information and decide how much money to allocate to each district. The county projects it will have about $94 million, about half of the county’s general fund revenues, to fund both school systems.

As compared to last year, Orange County Schools requested $81 more per pupil and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools requested an additional $302 per pupil.

Commissioners Board Chair Earl McKee said the “per pupil” dollars must be the same for both school systems, and an additional $302 per pupil would require a 3.5 cent property tax increase.

“Three and a half on top of the two cents last year is a fairly significant tax increase in a two-year span,” said McKee. “Our citizens, particularly those who have not had wage increases themselves over the last few years, are going to be impacted by that fairly heavily, particularly those that are on fixed incomes.”

Orange County Schools is requesting a county appropriation of $28 million. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools is requesting an appropriation of $47.5 million in county funds. A significant chunk of the projected revenue for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, $22 million, would come from a special district tax.

The state projects Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools will have 150 fewer students in 2015-16, and Orange County public schools will have 170 fewer students.

“Do you have any sense on why the enrollment is declining?” Commissioner Mark Dorosin asked Del Burns, Interim Superintendent of Orange County Schools.

“The opening of a new charter school last year did have impact,” said Burns. “Orange County Schools lost about 125 students to that charter.”

The county commissioners will hold a 7pm budget work session on May 14 at the Whitted Building in Hillsborough.

The boards also discussed next year’s $125 million bond referendum to repair and renovate school buildings. On April 21, the commissioners voted to focus the bond package solely on repairing school buildings.

 2015-16 Numbers

Orange County Schools Estimated Student Population: 7526
Orange County Schools County Funding Request: $3652 per pupil

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Estimated Student Population: 12,203
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools County Funding Request: $3873 per pupil

Charts from Orange County Schools.

Charts from Orange County Schools.

Orange County School Board Names New Superintendent

The Orange County Schools Board of Education has selected a Wake County educator to serve as the district’s new superintendent.

Photo via Wake County Public Schools

Photo via Wake County Public Schools

Dr. Todd Wirt currently serves as Assistant Superintendent for Academics in Wake County Schools. He has 16 years experience in public education, including teaching science and math to middle schoolers and serving as a middle school and high school principal.

The school board screened 40 applicants for the position. A statement to the press reads:

“The board was especially impressed with his focus on closing the achievement gap and implementing the school system’s strategic plan.”

Wirt implemented a 1-to-1 laptop initiative at Mooresville High School, similar to the initiative in place at middle and high schools in Orange County.

Wirt will step in to his new role in July, taking over from interim Superintendent Del Burns.

Make Up Days Announced for Orange County Schools

Traditional school students in the Orange County School System will add 20 minutes to the end of the instructional day beginning March 16, in a new plan from the Board of Education to make up for days missed due to winter weather.

April 29 will change from an early-release day to a full day. June 12 will be an early-release day and the last day of school. June 15 is an optional teacher workday.

Students at Hillsborough Elementary will also add 20 minutes to the end of the instructional day beginning March 16. March 16-19 in the spring intersession will now become school days.

April 29 will be a full day. June 5 will be an early-release day and the last day of school.

School Superintendents Talk Over State Budget Cuts to Public Schools

The number of public school students in North Carolina has increased by more than 48,000 since 2007-08, yet the state funding level for public schools has decreased by $100 million. That’s according to last year’s report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

On Tuesday night at North Carolina Central University, a panel of superintendents from four area school districts discussed how changes in the state education budget impact their districts.

Tom Forcella, superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the recent economic recession impacted state education budgets across the country. But, he said, other states have renewed their support for public education.

“There doesn’t seem to be the will on the part of our state leaders to really turn this around,” said Forcella. “I think that if we had that will and that desire, and the people of North Carolina really voiced their concerns, I think we can turn this around.”

In 2012-13, the sources of funding for North Carolina public schools were:

State 62%
Local 26%
Federal 12%

“Orange County provides the highest per pupil appropriations in the state of North Carolina,” said Del Burns, Orange County interim superintendent.

A study from the nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina shows that Orange County leads spending in the state with $4,100 per pupil in 2012-13.

Local chapters of the League of Women Voters sponsored the event, and Wynetta Lee, Dean of the School of Education at NCCU, moderated the discussion with the four superintendents:

Del Burns, Orange County interim superintendent;
Tom Forcella, Chapel Hill-Carrboro superintendent;
Derrick Jordan, Chatham superintendent and
Bert L’Homme, Durham superintendent.

In addition to discussing the state’s role in funding public education, the panel discussed technology in schools and how charter schools are impacting public school funding.

Charter schools are exempt from regulations traditional public schools must follow; charters don’t have to provide transportation or meals for students. Critics say charter schools, which receive public funds, draw resources away from traditional public schools.

“Folks leave us for a reason,” said Burns. “Sometimes they’re running to something. Sometimes they’re running from something. And I don’t believe charter schools will go away. The question of Orange County Schools now is, ‘What would it take for Orange County Schools to be the first choice for families in Orange County?’”

Area Schools Operating on a 2-Hour Delay for Thursday

Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will operate on a 2-hour delay for Thursday, January 8.

Temperatures overnight are forecasted to drop to 11 degrees, with a wind chill of -3 at 7 o’clock Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service has issued a wind-chill advisory until 10 o’clock Thursday morning.

Orange County Schools Hires Two New Principals

Two Orange County schools are welcoming new principals.

Last week, the Orange County Board of Education approved two new hires, and both of them come from within the school system.

Orange County Schools’ Chief Communications Officer Seth Stephens said that a wide net was cast for job candidates, as always, but Leslie Armistad and Angela Coachman were best suited for their new challenges.

Armistad is the new principal at Grady A. Brown Elementary School in Hillsborough. She’ll leave her current position as assistant principal at New Hope Elementary School in Chapel Hill.

“Leslie is a familiar face to a lot of people in the district, and many people in the community,” said Stephens. “She was a teacher at C.W. Stanford for a good number of years, and a coach there.”

Stephens said she’s a perfect fit for the school, which has built a “positive culture” for learning.

Prior to working at New Hope Elementary, Armistad was assistant principal at Woodlawn Middle School in the Alamance-Burlington School System.

The new principal at Hillsborough Elementary School is Angela Coachman, currently the assistant principal at Glenwood Elementary in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

“She’ll be heading up our year-round elementary school,” said Stephens. “It’s the only year-round school we have in Orange County, So it takes a special person to be the principal of a school like that, and she is a special person. She has a personality that’s well-built for that environment.”

Coachman has experience as a middle school reading teacher, and as the coordinator of exceptional children for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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.”

OC Approves 2-Cent Property Tax Hike

Orange County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a $200 million dollar budget that includes a 2-cent property tax rate increase.

The property tax rate for next year will be 87.8 cents per $100 dollars of assessed value, the first increase in five years.

The additional revenue will go to support education, as both school districts are braced for funding cuts from the state that will likely translate to a reduction in teaching assistants.

The chairs of both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school boards came before Commissioners to thank them for the increase.

Orange County Schools Chair Donna Coffey said the additional local money is not a windfall for the district, merely a patch at best.

“There’s still a great bit of uncertainty coming out of Raleigh and the budget hasn’t been finalized,” said Coffey. “At the very least I think we’re going to face more cuts, which will mean a lot less funding from Raleigh.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chair Jamezetta Bedford agreed.

“We don’t know what the state is going to do but it won’t be good,” said Bedford. “Our TA allotment is also the most critical piece that could be cut, well over 50 positions in the State Senate proposed budget. So this increase in taxes really will help us.”

Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs reminded the audience that the two school districts have seen a combined loss of $42 million in state funding in the past five years.

The 2014-2015 county budget goes in to effect July 1. Legislators are still hashing out the final version of the state budget.

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.