Orange County Schools Unhappy With Budget Proposal

Addressing the Orange County Board of Commissioners for the first time since the 2016-2017 fiscal budget was proposed, chair of the Orange County Schools Board of Education Donna Coffee expressed her displeasure with the current plan for school funding.

“I liken the recommended budget to things going on in Raleigh these days,” she said. “It’s as complicated as it can be, it gives folks as little time as possible to  understand it and analyze it and very little time for discussion. With the drop of a gavel we’re afraid it’s going to be approved.”

Both Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have asked the county for additional funding to increase teacher pay.

The proposed budget leaves Orange County Schools an additional $1 million, which is $700,000 short of what was requested.

CHCCS would get an additional $1.6 million, nearly $3 million short of what it asked for.

While the commissioners have also relieved schools of other costs in an attempt to ease the burden on the districts, CHCCS Board of Education chairman James Barrett said his district needed to raise the supplement to remain competitive during the recruiting season.

“If we’re not competitive, it’s a nonstarter for the teachers,” he said. “There may not be an impact today, but it’s going to be an impact next year if we don’t have the best quality teachers.”

No matter the outcome of next year’s fiscal budget, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has already committed to paying an additional $4.5 million to increase pay for its teachers.

Over the course of two public hearings on the issue, a number of teachers, parents and students have advocated for full funding.

“We could do it this year,” commissioner Mia Burroughs said. “There’s ways and it isn’t even five cents on the tax rate. So we don’t have to leave the parents disappointed and it isn’t really about the parents and their disappointment anyway. It’s about the teachers with the second jobs. It’s about the kids.”

Multiple commissioners called for a change in the way the budget process is done.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs said in his 20 years on the board he rarely sees a budget that doesn’t become hostile.

“I also think it’s set up, though no fault of anybody’s to be way too confrontational,” Jacobs said. “And way too stilted and way too inflexible.”

The commissioners will continue to work on the budget until their meeting June 21, when it will be approved.

Orange County Schools See New Leadership

Orange County Schools is shuffling around two of the district leaders for next year.

Eric Yarbrough is the current principal of Gravelly Hill Middle School. But come next year, he will serve as the new principal of Orange High School.

The current principal of Orange High School, Jason Johnson, will become the Director of Secondary Education for Orange County.

The shift is part of the district’s succession planning and promotes each educator to a new leadership role. Both men have had long careers in education and have each received the Principal of the Year award for Orange County.

Johnson said his new leadership position will allow him to play a different role in the district and use his past experiences from Orange High School.

“I’m so thankful for the staff and students and families at Orange,” Johnson said. “Without them, I would not have been able to grow and learn the leadership lessons that I’m bringing to the district level.”

Yarbrough also thanked his school and said it has prepared him for this next step.

“Gravelly Hill has a wonderful staff that is truly dedicated to making a difference in the lives of their students,” he said.  “The school community has been so supportive throughout my time at Gravelly and I thank them for their support.”

Yarbrough will inherit Orange High School from Johnson and said he is excited to continue Johnson’s work.

“Mr. Johnson has done some great things over the past four years and I look forward to building on these successes,” Yarbrough said.

Both men will start their positions at the end of this school year.

Community Members Ask Orange County To Increase School Funding

School funding quickly became the focus of the public hearing held by the Orange County Board of Commissioners Thursday night.

Teachers, students and parents from Orange County Schools showed up in Hillsborough to ask the board to consider increasing the budget for the system.

Gravelly Hill Middle School teacher Tom Mullaney talked about local teachers providing high quality education.

“If you grant Orange County Schools the money it deserves, those teachers will still do that, ” he said. “If you don’t, those teachers will still do that, but they might do it in Wake County; they might do it in another state.”

County manager Bonnie Hammersley presented her recommended budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year last week.

In it, she gave Orange County Schools an increase of around $1 million to their current budget, short of the $1.7 million they were asking for.

All of the additional funding is scheduled to go toward increasing teacher pay, but many urged the commissioners to give the full amount.

“The only way to get good teachers is to pay them well and treat them well,” said parent Dana White. “We as a county need to be a leader in the effort of valuing our teachers and our children.”

The 2015-2016 budget provided an increase of $126.50 cents per pupil over the previous year’s budget. Hammersley recommended an increase of $133.10 for the upcoming fiscal year.

“It’s distressing when well-meaning people send us emails saying we’re cutting funds to schools,” commissioner Barry Jacobs said. “When we, in fact, have a history of doing as much as we possibly can to increase funding for schools, even as the state is moving at an even faster trajectory to cut.”

But that didn’t stop residents from expressing their frustration with both the state and the county.

Former commissioner and current Orange County School Board member Steve Halkiotis said the county commissioners needed to commit to students.

“The seven of you must save the children,” he said. “Don’t throw the kids under the bus. Don’t throw the teachers under the bus. Don’t throw the community under the bus. The children are looking to us, we have to fight for them.”

The commissioners will hold another public hearing on the county budget May 19.

County Manager Presents Orange County Budget Recommendations

Orange County took the first steps toward getting a budget approved for the coming fiscal year as manager Bonnie Hammersley presented her recommendations to the Board of Commissioners Thursday night.

Commissioner Mia Burroughs encouraged the public to remember that this budget is currently a work-in-progress and nothing is finalized yet.

“I’d encourage advocates who might be around listening to remember that this is an offering,” she said. “We’re going to build on it, and I really, really appreciate that tone.”

Hammersley said the budget she presented will not raise county taxes, but the size of the budget will increase from last fiscal year due to an increase in population.

It will be approved ahead of the upcoming bond referendum in the fall, which if passed, would be the largest in county history.

“It is not included in this because it would not impact fiscal year ’16-’17,” Hammersley said. “But that is a consideration going forward on the tax rate.”

One of the big issues as the county moves forward is the funding for both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts.

While always an important issue, this year both districts have asked for a funding increase to raise teacher pay, CHCCS has already to committed to paying $4.5 million, regardless of what the commissioners decide.

Orange County Schools is asking for an additional $1.7 million for teacher pay.

“It’s not what they asked for,” Burroughs said. “And that is fine. That is fine for an offering. We’ll be working on it.”

Hammersley’s recommendation will give the CHCCS an additional $1.7 million dollars, while Orange County Schools gets $975,000.

But it wasn’t all bad news as the county looked to relieve some funding pressure by covering all costs related to the systems’ health and safety contracts.

“The county contribution currently is $1.9 million and the schools contribute $1.4 million,” Hammersley said. “I’m recommending in this budget that the county pick up the remaining $1.4 million.”

This would represent a $1.2 million appropriation for CHCCS and around $250,000 for Orange County Schools.

The commissioners will hold public hearings on the budget May 12 and 19. May 26 they will meet with representatives from the school systems for a work session.

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.

Merging Orange County School Districts Not ‘Worth the Squeeze’

While our community works to find a way to provide housing options to every family that would like to live Orange County, former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt brought up an idea during the WCHL Community Forum that has been volleyed about in our community before as a potential solution.

Kleinschmidt said that merging the Chapel Hill – Carrboro and Orange County School Districts would alleviate some of the pressure on housing “at least between northern and southern Orange.”

Kleinschmidt said he thought that the benefits of merging the school districts would go beyond helping to provide more affordable housing.

“I think that would have enormous impact not only on housing prices,” Kleinschmidt said, “but I also believe it would have an impact on our ability to address the achievement gap.”

When speaking, Kleinschmidt cited former Orange County Commissioner Moses Carey, who brought up the idea in the early-2000s.

Current Commissioner and former Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School board member Mia Burroughs said she would support that idea, under certain circumstances.

“I would feel very strongly that we should merge if I felt that we had a severely disadvantaged school district among the two,” Burroughs said. “But I don’t think we’re there.”

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Superintendent Tom Forcella said that, while the school districts remain separate, there has been an increased level of collaboration between the two.

“I think the gains we would get, maybe, out of merging or consolidating, I think a lot of those things can be addressed if we really get creative and think about the things that we can share and do together.”

Orange County School Board chair Donna Coffey said a study was commissioned in 2001 that said merging the districts would raise the cost to Orange County residents as a whole.

“The study revealed that it would not save dollars and cents if you will,” Coffey said. “Because in order to merge the districts, state statute says you have to lift the per-pupil spending to the higher of the two districts that you merge.”

Coffey said the study said that would result in a “significant” tax increase, adding “at that time it was 18 to 20 cents, I believe.”

“Moses Carey was cited in the earlier conversation as being the one who brought this up,” Coffey said. “And I will quote Moses saying, ‘the juice’ at that point ‘did not appear to be worth the squeeze.’”

School Boards Prepare To Present To County Commissioners

Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will present their 2016-2017 budgets to the Orange County Board of Commissioners in a meeting Tuesday night.

The presentation will be the next formal step for CHCCS, in its attempt to get approval for an additional $4.5 million to its budget for the next school year.

The county commissioners make the final decision on the budgets for the school districts in the county.

The additional money in the CHCCS budget will go towards increasing teacher pay.

In North Carolina, teachers are given a base salary mandated by the state, but individual school districts provide a supplement to that salary.

CHCCS has already approved increase its supplement for new teachers from 12 percent to 16 percent, meaning that no matter what the county commissioners decide, the school system will still have to pay the additional $4.5 million.

Members of the Board of Education said that although the move is risky, it was done to make CHCCS more competitive for recruiting and retaining top teachers.

Wake County increase its teacher supplement to 16 percent last year, which is what prompted CHCCS to change its policy.

Board members said they needed to formally make the change before getting approval from the commissioners because this time of  year is recruiting season for new teachers and they wanted to make sure they made their best offers to potential candidates.

The meeting will start at 7:00 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Building.

Commissioners To Hold Public Hearing On Upcoming Bond

The Board of Orange County Commissioners will be taking public comment on the upcoming bond Tuesday night.

It will be the first of two public hearings on the bond which, if passed in November, will be the largest in county history at $125 million.

Up to $120 million dollars is planned to make necessary health and safety upgrades to Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. This would be the first step in acquiring the funding needed to finance over $300 million in repairs.

Another $5 million dollars is expected to go towards affordable housing.

The meeting will begin at seven p.m. at the Southern Human Services Building in Chapel Hill.

A second hearing will be held in Hillsborough May 5 at the Whitted Building, which will also begin at 7:00 p.m.

Commissioners Reject Proposal To Hire Contractor For Bond

Orange County could be issuing a bond worth up to $120 million to go to both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools after the elections in November.

Because this would only pay for a fraction of the estimated $330 million the systems have said they need to make necessary repairs and upgrades, commissioner Barry Jacobs said he wanted to hire an independent contractor to make recommendations on how the money should be spent.

“Since we’re the ones who are going to be approving the $120 million, I thought it was an important thing for us to feel comfortable with what was recommended,” he said. “That it met certain criteria that we all generally agree are important.”

The proposal was unanimously rejected in their meeting Tuesday night , with Jacobs himself voting against it.

The contractor was estimated to cost between $38,000 and $43,000. Chairs of both boards of education addressed the commissioners and stated their opposition.

Orange County chairwoman Donna Coffey said three years ago her board spent over $250,000 to study the issue.

“Our board has spend countless hours diligently reviewing and analyzing the results of these studies, knowing a future bond referendum would only offer us a limited amount of money,” Coffey said. “We wanted to ensure that our students, our teachers, our families and Orange County taxpayers got the most juice for our squeeze.”

After doing these studies, both boards of education shared their recommendations with the county.

Commissioner Mia Burroughs, who is a former member of the CHCCS board of education, said she saw no reason to hire the contractor.

“School boards are duly elected by the exact same people who elect us,” Burroughs said. “I think it would be duplicative and not necessary in any way to open that back up and question the priorities that they’ve made and started to invest in.”

Before the county is allowed to issue the bond, they will first have to get the public to approve it when it appears on the ballot in November.

“Just from a practical point of view I don’t see it working to have a consultant,” said commissioner Bernadette Pelissier. “The work wouldn’t be done until the end of June, then we’re on break, which means we couldn’t even discuss anything until September and then you’re supposed to have a campaign going.”

The board will hold public hearings on the bond April 19 and May 5.

Orange County Schools Superintendent and Middle School Receive Awards

Orange County Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt has been named the 2016 Outstanding Young Educator by the North Carolina Association for Supervision and Curriculum.

Wirt began his job as superintendent on July 1, 2015.

“Everything that I’ve thought about Orange County has been affirmed and more. We are excited about the work that’s going on and is ahead,” said Wirt.

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt. Photo via Orange County Schools.

Orange County Schools Superintendent Todd Wirt. Photo via Orange County Schools.

The award is given to an education professional under 40 that makes an exceptional contribution to the profession.

Wirt had success in several school districts around the state before coming to Orange County but he humbly credited the people he has worked with for the award.

‘I’ve had great mentors and I’ve had great colleagues over the years and the award is just a representation of that,” said Wirt.

Gravelly Hill Middle School in Orange County Schools has also been awarded the 2016 Lighthouse School Award. This award is given to a school that shows student achievement and innovative teaching methods.

That award also made Wirt proud. He has a child at Gravelly Hill and has a close professional relationship with their principal.

“I had lots of pride yesterday on several levels, not only for our school system but as a parent and as a friend and colleague of our Principal Eric Yarbrough,” said Wirt.

As for his goals for the future of the district, Wirt hopes to make Orange County Schools a career destination.

“That’s really the terminology that we are using. We are trying to look for some of those internal things that we could put in place that are wins for our employees,” said Wirt.