Orange County Schools See New Leadership

Orange County Schools are 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.

Weather Delays Opening of Hollow Rock Park

Potential thunderstorms have delayed the grand opening of the Hollow Rock Nature Park.

The 75-acre park located on Erwin Road in Durham was scheduled to open Saturday, May 21st.

The City of Durham, Durham County, Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill have all collaborated to put this project together.

The grand opening will be rescheduled to Sunday, June 5th at 2:00 p.m.

In the interim, the park will be available for public use beginning Monday, May 23.

House Budget Clears Path for Durham-Orange Light Rail

As part of the $22 billion budget proposal that has made its way through the North Carolina House, the cap on light rail spending that was put in place at the end of the long legislative session last year has been removed.

The budget passed its third reading in the House on Thursday by a 103-12 margin and now awaits action in the state Senate.

When the House Transportation Committee was discussing removing the $500,000 spending cap on light rail projects earlier this month, it was clear there were still questions over how or why the cap was put in place at all. It was viewed as a “project killer” for the Durham-Orange Light Rail proposal, which will rely on 25 percent of the funding for the $1.6 billion project to come from the state.

The House also passed legislation to remove the cap last year, but it was not discussed in the Senate.

The House budget includes a two percent pay raise for most state employees and a salary bump for teachers that averages around four percent. The bulk of teacher raises is targeted to those in the middle of their teaching careers.

The full Senate will be back in session on Monday.

4 Arrested After Hillsborough Shooting

Four suspects were taken into custody after authorities responded to a report of shots bring fired in the Fairview community on Monday.

Police said in a release that members of the Hillsborough Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded to the call around 10:40 Monday night after arguments had allegedly been escalating throughout the evening.

Officers arrived on the scene near Tulip Tree Drive and Locust Road and found a house that had been struck by a bullet. Officials say officers then heard additional gunshots near Dixie Avenue and Wilardo Court. Authorities then found a large crowd and numerous fights that had broken out, according to a release.

Police say several weapons were seized.

No injuries were reported and no motive for the argument was given.

The four suspects taken into custody were 19-year-old Alexander “AJ” Lipford, 20-year-old Terrell Jamal Howell, 43-year-old Ronnie Renee Fuller and 44-year-old Nathan Neal Johnson Sr. Lipford was charged with resisting an officer; Howell is facing one count of resisting an officer and one count of communicating threats; Fuller was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and Johnson was charged with discharging a firearm within the town limits.

Police are asking for additional information from anyone with knowledge of the situation. You can contact Sergeant Chip White at (919) 732-9381, extension 34.

Fed: Schools Must Allow Transgender Students to Use Facilities Matching Gender Identity

Public schools across the country “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity” in order to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments.

That is what the United States Department of Justice is telling local school districts across the country in a notice sent out on Friday.

The letter comes after the DOJ and the state of North Carolina have filed dueling lawsuits over the state’s controversial House Bill 2, which requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom and changing facility that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity. The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also issued a ruling recently that a local school board in Virginia violated Title IX protections by forcing a transgender male student to use the female restroom and changing facility. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said on Thursday that the Obama administration would not withhold federal funding from North Carolina until a resolution was reached in court regarding HB2.

The notice to school districts says schools are obligated to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities “even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”

The notice also says:

“The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity.”

The letter adds “there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.”

School staff and contractors “will use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity,” according to the letter.

Schools will also be required to allow transgender students to access sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams that are consistent with the student’s gender identity.

The letter also stipulates steps that must be taken in record keeping to ensure the student’s privacy under FERPA laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement following the letter’s publication with a quote from the plaintiff in the 4th Circuit lawsuit Gavin Grimm.

“I am so happy that with this new guidance, transgender students across the country have a new tool to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect at school. This guidance would have made a big difference in my life, and I’m happy that kids will be free to use the bathroom that reflects who they are.”

Governor Pat McCrory said the “federally mandated edicts” changes “generations of gender etiquette and privacy norms which parents, children and employees have expected in the most personal and private setting of their everyday lives.” McCrory admitted in his statement “States and local governments cannot have a myriad of different laws which cause confusion and inconsistent application.” But he added, “However, the executive branch of the federal government does not have the authority to be the final arbiter.”

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said in a release, “We disagree with the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act] and Title IX.”

Moore went on to say:

“This morning, parents all across the country are waking up to find that the Obama Administration has sent every public school a letter requiring the schools to allow boys and girls to share locker rooms and restrooms. This is no longer a North Carolina issue, this is a national issue. We all have to wonder what other threats to common sense norms may come before the sun sets on the Obama Administration.”

North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest released a statement saying North Carolina public schools are bound to the law in the state – HB2 – rather than “the President’s non-binding directive.” He added, “It should be rejected as a matter of principle and policy.”

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools superintendent Tom Forcella released the following statement regarding the letter:

“We find ourselves in a unique situation in which our Federal government has issued one order, and our State government has issued an opposite order. Our school district will do whatever is necessary to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory learning environment for all students.”

If schools are found to be out of compliance with these standards going forward, it will be interpreted as a violation of Title IX regulations, according to the letter, and the school may be subject to a loss of federal funding.

See the full letter from the DOJ here.

Orange County To Take Public Comment On Upcoming Budget

The Orange County Board of Commissioners will take public comment regarding the county budget Thursday evening.

County manager Bonnie Hammersly presented her recommendations for the budget in a meeting last week.

Sign ups will begin at six o’clock Thursday night and the meeting will begin at seven.

It will take place in the Whitted Building in Hillsborough.

For those that are not able to attend, the commissioners will take public comment again May 19.

Orange County Looking For Bond Committee Applicants

There is one open spot for an at-large Orange County resident on the newly-created Bond Committee.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners created the committee to help inform the electorate about the upcoming bonds that will be voted on in November.

Orange County is in the process of placing two bonds on the ballot. One could be worth up to $120 million and, if passed, will go towards necessary health and safety upgrades for schools in the county. The second bond could be worth up to $5 million for affordable housing.

The committee includes additional members from Orange County at large, housing non-profit organizations, schools and the county for a total of 14 members on the committee.

Last week the Orange County commissioners named three to the committee.

Applicants should apply before June 1. Anyone interested should apply here.

Durham – Orange Light Rail Could See New Life

Based off of discussion in a House Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday, lawmakers are still unsure how or why a $500,000 spending cap on light rail projects was included in the budget at the end of an extraordinarily-long legislative session last year.

Mecklenburg County Republican William Brawley said during the committee meeting had the cap been introduced prior to the end of the session, it likely would not have been implemented.

“Let’s be candid guys,” Brawley said, “in September, we would’ve swallowed a lot of bitter pills to get out of town.”

The item is of local interest because it was initially described as a “project killer” for the Orange – Durham Light Rail project. The $1.6 billion estimated cost of the light rail line is being split between local, state and federal dollars. The federal government would ultimately be asked to pay half of the overall cost with the remaining funding being split between the local and state levels. The local 25 percent would be funded through a sales tax increase approved by the vote of Orange and Durham County residents.

Wake County Republican Nelson Dollar said “it was bad policy when it was done last year, and I appreciate the opportunity to fix it this year.”

But not all members of the committee shared the enthusiasm to repeal the cap.

“I think we’re opening the door to the possibility of taking transportation moneys that could be better used some place else in the state for a light rail project,” said Onslow Republican George Cleveland.

The project was one of the first to go through a data-driven process as part of the Strategic Transportation Investments law passed by the General Assembly in 2013.

“The idea was to make decisions on funding based on data and local input after open hearings,” Brawley said. “It was to take out of transportation funding the idea that we decide up here how all the money’s spent based on who can get the most votes.”

Granville and Person County Republican Representative Larry Yarborough, who was elected in 2014, said he had not seen the data that supported the light rail project.

“I haven’t seen any data here that supports the concept of light rail,” Yarborough said. “Everything I know about it is that it’s a feel-good proposition that results in a very expensive cost per passenger mile and it benefits a very small area of the state.

“I know the people in my district would not benefit from a light rail built somewhere else.”

Brawley said that rejecting the data collected to allocate transportation dollars and reverting back to picking and choosing which projects to fund would be a negative for the state as a whole.

“If we leave this in primarily to kill a particular project in Durham and Orange Counties, what we’re really saying is we’re going to go back to, ‘We’re going to fund the roads we want, whenever we want to fund them. And we’re not going to worry about data, and we’re not going to worry about how we spend our money based upon what is the most bang for the buck for the citizens of North Carolina for every dollar we spend.’”

The bill passed through the committee and is now scheduled to be heard in the House Appropriations Committee. Several members of the Senate, meanwhile, have introduced an identical bill to repeal the light rail cap.

North American Travel Journalists Coming to Orange County

The North American Travel Journalists Association will hold its annual conference in Orange County next year.

Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau chair Rosemary Waldorf said in a release that “NATJA enjoyed experiencing Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough on their site tour and our success in landing the conference is because of Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and [Hillsborough] Mayor Tom Stevens personally hosting NATJA CEO Helen Hernandez and pointing out the unique attributes of each town.”

Hernandez is quoted in the release:

“Orange County, North Carolina proudly weaves their history, culture, food and family into the very fabric of their communities. The beauty and historical significance of this area should be shared with everyone and who better than the members of a travel journalism association. NATJA looks forward to experiencing Orange County and its surrounding communities.”

The conference will also allow the community to show its hosting chops to a large number of travel journalists.

“This conference allows us to highlight Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County as a top-notch visitor destination,” said Laurie Paolicelli, Orange County Director of Community Relations and Tourism. “We are thrilled the travel journalists will get a close up and personal look at Orange County and be able to experience our communities through our people, attractions, natural beauty, farms, food, music, brews, spirits and more.”

The convention is one of the first to announce it is coming to Orange County after North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which has made national news and continues to be labeled as being among the worst pieces of anti-LGBT legislation in the nation. During the WCHL Community Forum, Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens spoke about the questions that were now having to be answered by localities to assure these conventions their attendees would be welcome here.

The 2017 NATJA 15th Annual Conference & Marketplace will convene from May 15 – 19 and will bring together travel journalists from throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Orange County ‘Recommends’ Contractors Pay Living Wage

Orange County officials have adopted a policy encouraging all vendors and contractors working with the county to pay a living wage to their employees.

Orange County Government, as an employer, already pays its workers a living wage, which is $12.76 per hour in the county. But North Carolina’s House Bill 2 bars localities from enacting policies that require employers operating in their jurisdiction to pay anything above the federal minimum wage.

Orange County manager Bonnie Hammersley said in a release, “Orange County is committed to providing its employees with a living wage and encourages all contactors and vendors doing business with Orange County to pursue the same goal.”

The release says “to the extent possible, Orange County recommends that contractors and vendors seeking to do business with Orange County provide a living wage to their employees.”

All contractors and vendors who are seeking to work with Orange County are going to be asked to submit a statement indicating whether the employees who will be performing the work are paid at least the living wage, according to Hammersley.

That statement will have to be submitted as part of the packet for bid projects in the county.

You can view the policy here.