CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools System is projected to face a $2.2 million dollar deficit for the next cycle. The district has been facing funding issues for the past several years, in part due to constant budget cuts coming from the General Assembly.

The four candidates competing for three open spots on the CHCCS Board of Education spoke to WCHL’s Aaron Keck Monday about how they propose to overcome budget constraints if elected.

***Listen to the Forum***

Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett are the two incumbent candidates in the race, and the challengers are Ignacio Tzoumas and Andrew Davidson.

Brownstein, who was elected in 2009 and currently serves as Chair of the Board, said the district has already had to dip into the fund balance to keep elementary school teaching assistants in the classroom. She said the Board may not be able to deplete it any further to help offset the cost of state-level budget cuts.

“We are going to be going through each one of the roles that different people play to look for effective use of staff,” Brownstein said. “This of course will be done by our Superintendent, but he will be presenting it to the Board in the spring. He’s also going to be looking at the programmatics that we have going on, making sure that they are effective and that they are completely aligned with the long-range plan that the community has asked for. This is going to be really tough.”

Barrett, who was elected to the Board in 2011, said the district needs to continue to seek efficiency in staff operations.

“I think that one of the things I’ve watched on the Board is Dr. Forcella doing a very, very good job at looking at each individual that is working in our district, what they are doing, and how they line up with our priorities, and re-purposing where needed, so that we are not spending more money, but we are getting more bang for the buck for the people we have,” Barrett said.

Tzoumas said if he were elected to the Board, he would work to find new avenues of trimming the budget to be able to continue to serve a growing student population.

“We are very fortunate that this county values education so highly, and they have been subsidizing our school system, but we are already four to five times higher than the average in the state,” Tzoumas said. “And it is a strain. We are at a point that we need to be more creative with how we budget so we can make a fair infrastructure for all of our students.”

Davidson said he believed one of the answers to closing the budget gaps would be raising property taxes. Orange County’s property taxes weren’t increased for the 2013-2014 budget cycle, though the special district tax was.

“It’s two choices: do we want to see cuts or do we want to pay out a higher property tax rate,” Davidson said. “If I am given that vote as a voter, I’ll take the higher property tax every time.”

Davidson also suggested finding innovative ways to “stretch the dollar” on construction plans for the district’s fifth middle school. He suggested assessing which Middle School would be most appropriate to demolish and then rebuild it, adding another school on the site as well.