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.

Schools, County In Limbo Awaiting NCGA Budget

Local leaders don’t yet know what the final state budget will look like, but they all agree- things are likely to get worse, not better.

“It would be a disaster, I think, to cut $6 million dollars from our budget,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Mike Kelley. “It would just be a completely different community.”

Kelley and other officials from Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools came before Orange County Commissioners on Thursday to detail how state cuts could adversely impact education.

The proposed senate spending plan will take a bigger bite out of local budgets, costing Orange County Schools an extra $2 million and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools an extra $3.6 million on top of the district’s $2.7 million dollar shortfall.

The plan also calls for increasing teacher pay by cutting teaching assistants. County schools would lose 35 positions, city schools would lose 57.

The state House has not yet released its budget proposal, but with legislators promising to wrap up the short session before school ends next week, county leaders say they’re in a position to make last minute changes to the local budget if necessary. Still, they say they can’t possibly afford to undo all the damage school officials are bracing for.

“We can fill holes but we can’t fill craters,” said Board Chair Barry Jacobs. “So I would be surprised if we can address all of the cuts that y’all have just described.”

Looking ahead, Commissioners, including Penny Rich, said it might be time to revisit the county goals for school funding.

“We keep saying this year is different than every other year, but I think this year is the beginning of what it’s going to be like,” said Rich. “So we do need to change the process, because, perhaps we can put a band-aid on it this year, but what happens in year two, three and four?”

County Commissioners will hold two budget work sessions next week before adopting the 2014-2015 budget on June 17.

Hundreds Call On BoCC To Spend More On Schools

The Southern Human Services Center was awash in a sea of crimson Thursday night as more than 300 parents and teachers wearing red for education turned out to the budget public hearing to ask Orange County Commissioners to fully fund both school systems.

“We’re tired of seeing our kids’ education become a political chew toy. We’re tired of teachers not making a living wage,” said Jeff Hall, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Council. “We’re tired of hearing that next year is the year we do something, next year we’ll raise revenue or cut costs, next year we’ll fix old or overcrowded schools. There isn’t ‘next year.’ We’re insisting, we’re demanding, frankly, we’re begging you to fully fund our schools.”

Hall was one of forty speakers who addressed the board before a standing-room-only crowd. Outside the boardroom, the building was filled to capacity, with supporters standing shoulder to shoulder lining the hallways. Still more waited on the lawn after the fire marshal was forced to turn them away.

The county manager’s proposed $195 million dollar budget for 2014-2015 does include more money for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools than last year, but the plan falls short of what each district requested.

The Orange County school board requested an additional $2.9 million dollars next year, while the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board asked for an additional $3.9 million.

Under the county’s current budget plan, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could lose 22 teaching assistants. Kim Talikoff is a fourth grade teacher at Estes Hills Elementary. She told commissioners teaching assistants are vital to the success of her students.

“I will not be able to compensate for what I am about to lose if we don’t act now to fully fund TAs,” said Talikoff. “So I ask you please, provide the funding we need to make our shared objectives possible. Please put TAs in every classroom.”

The recently released state Senate budget proposal also has education supporters on edge, as funding for teaching assistants would be cut in half, resulting in the loss of 57 teaching assistants in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system. Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told commissioners the Senate plan would more than double the district’s budget gap.

“In the current scenario, we would need to make reductions of over six million dollars to balance our budget,” said LoFrese. “We felt that it was important for commissioners to know this, and know that both school districts will be under a tremendous amount of pressure. We reiterate our request for your strong continued support and increased funding.”

To increase school funding, commissioners have the option of raising the countywide property tax rate, raising the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district tax, or dipping into the county’s fund balance. The manager’s plan already calls for $8.5 million worth of fund balance money to balance the budget.

Board Chair Barry Jacobs reminded the crowd that Orange County elected officials have long supported public education. He thanked the parents, teachers and students in the audience for their advocacy.

“Unlike the North Carolina Legislature, we actually want to hear from the public,” said Jacobs, to much applause.

The board will discuss the budget at a work session on Thursday, June 5. The final budget is scheduled to be adopted June 17.

HS Boys’ Basketball: Orange 72 – Chapel Hill 63

HILLSBOROUGH – The 3A NCHSAA East Regional No. 1-seeded Orange Panthers held off the No. 16-seeded Chapel Hill Tigers to advance to the 3rd round of the playoffs, 72-63.

The Panthers meet their bitter rivals, the No. 9-seeded Eastern Alamance Eagles, Friday at 7:00 p.m. in Hillsborough.

***Listen to the CHHS at OHS Game***

Click here to read the game recap of this and other second-round games of Chapelboro teams.

Local Candidates Gear Up For 2014 Election

HILLSBOROUGH- Even before the start of the filing period, more than a dozen local candidates have declared their intent to run for office in 2014.

Long-time Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon announced she won’t be seeking re-election, prompting Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs to seek the seat representing District 1.

Bingham resident Mark Marcoplos says he’ll challenge incumbent Earl McKee for the District 2 seat representing rural Orange County, and Bonnie Hauser will take on Board Chair Barry Jacobs for the at-large seat.

For the first time in three decades, there’s no incumbent running for Orange County Sheriff. Lindy Pendergrass announced he’ll be retiring after more than thirty years as the county’s top lawman. Already several challengers have put their names forward, including Charles Blackwood, Andy Cagle, Larry Faucette and David Caldwell.

The Orange County School board has four seats up for grabs- that race will be determined in the May primary.

At the same time, the Town of Carrboro will hold a special election to fill the board seat Lydia Lavelle left vacant when she was elected mayor last fall. To date, planning board chair Bethany Chaney is the only candidate to come forward, but others are likely to run.

At the state level, newly-seated House District 50 Representative Graig Meyer will stand for office for the first time, and State Senator Valerie Foushee will be running to keep the seat she was appointed to when Ellie Kinnaird stepped down. House District 56 Representative Verla Insko will be seeking her tenth term.

Last but not least, Superior Court Judges Carl Fox and Allen Baddour are up for re-election, as is District Court Judge Joe Buckner and District Attorney Jim Woodall.

The filing period opens at noon on Monday and  runs through the end of the month. The primary election is May 6, the general election is November 4.