Todd LoFrese

OC Commissioners Commit to Culbreth Labs, But Other Projects Face Delays

CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners on Thursday re-prioritized the five-year capital spending plan in order to kick-start construction on a nearly $5 million dollar science wing for Culbreth Middle School. “In terms of it being the right thing to do, these labs have been needed for a long, long time,” said Commissioner Alice Gordon, who has been a staunch supporter of the project. No formal vote was taken, but board members signaled that they are prepared to spend $600,000 in the next fiscal year and approximately $4.3 million over the next three years to build the six classroom expansion. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board that the extra space will delay the need build a new middle school by at least two years. “The addition would result in the increase of school capacity of 104 students, which based on the current SAPFO projections would push the need back two years at this point in time,” said LoFrese. But in order to stay under the county’s debt limit, construction funds for the Southern Branch Library will also be delayed. Though commissioners agreed to spend $600,000 next year on land acquisition, the $7 million needed to build the library would not be available until 2017. The push to build a science wing for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district met with push back from Board Chair Barry Jacobs,...

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CHCCS School Board Calls For SAPFO Review

CHAPEL HILL- Each year around this time, school officials sign off on the annual SAPFO report, which analyzes student enrollment and estimates the need for new facilities. And although the school board on Thursday approved this year’s report without hesitation, board members agree that it may be time to review the way student generation rates are calculated. Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the school board that recent projections have not been accurate, in part because new developments don’t fit the model currently in place. “Some neighborhoods like Chapel Watch Village, Chapel Hill North, and the multi-family units at Winmore and Claremont- before they were completed they’d already exceeded the anticipated generation rates for new students,” said LoFrese. SAPFO stands for Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. It’s an agreement between the school systems, towns and counties to use planning data on new residential development to project school enrollment before a permit is issued. If the projections exceed school capacity, SAPFO calls for a delay on construction until new facilities are in place. But the decade-old ordinance is under fire from several directions. School officials in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district are seeing higher than expected student generation rates from new apartment complexes, while Orange County officials say growth in Mebane is skewing their numbers, as the town is not a party to the SAPFO agreement. And a recent N.C. Supreme Court...

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School Officials Decry General Assembly’s “Bad Ideas”

HILLSBOROUGH- School leaders say next year’s budget crunch is made worse by what they call “bad ideas” coming out of the General Assembly. Officials from both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts told county commissioners on Tuesday that they are deeply worried about the impact state bills will have on local school budgets and the quality of instruction. Orange County Schools Superintendent Patrick Rhodes said he’s dismayed by much of the legislation working its way through the legislature. “I have never seen this level of legislative activity associated with public schools,” said Rhodes. “Much of it is hurtful, much of it opposed by the North Carolina School Boards Association, much of it opposed by the principals association and the teachers association, because it truly is bad ideas.” Those ideas include a wide variety of proposals, from expanding the reach of charter schools to introducing school voucher programs. Rhodes said a push to open a virtual charter school could attract many local students who are currently home-schooled. “If a virtual charter is established, we would be required to pay the charter school. It would be a for-profit charter and one of them is on the table to start up this fall,” said Rhodes. “Assume that half of those 667 students sign up for the virtual charter, that would be, across the two systems, a drop of a million in...

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State Bill Would Thwart School Boards’ Right To Sue County Commissioners For More Funds

The Chapel Hill Carrboro School District faces a projected $4.8 million shortfall next year— and the likely hood of requesting additional funding from the county is almost certain. Jeff Nash, Executive Director of CHCCS Community Relations, says he’s traced the districts records back to 2001 and found no indications of a law suit against the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “In Orange County, our school system has a good working relationship with our board of county commissioners. The two have worked so well together and I don’t know if that’s just because the folks have really rolled up their sleeves and continued to be interested in the best things for our students,” said Nash. Supporters of Senate Bill 674 say commissioners should have the last word in funding decisions. They hope to prevent taxpayer-funded legal action. “In some part maybe having two school systems in one county— which is only the case in a handful of counties around the state—maybe there’s an added measure of accountability there,” Nash said. “I understand that the commissioners do a good job of making sure that both systems are funded adequately.” Under current state law, a school board can announce to commissioners that it’s not receiving adequate funds. The next step is a meeting with a mediator, and if that fails, the school board can file a lawsuit in Superior Court to request...

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