Durham County

Forum: Candidates respond to Durham teachers’ concerns

Editor’s note: We reported this week what some teachers in the Durham Public Schools want from those running for mayor and Durham City Council. Three candidates had responded to the article as of Friday morning. (Find the article here: bit.ly/2yHtR6X)

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Brian Callaway: As a fellow employee of Durham Public Schools, I understand the concerns brought forth about the impact city politics can still have on the education of our youth despite the city not being directly involved in the funding of our schools. Not only do I work at DPS, but I come from a family with a deep commitment to public education: my mother taught public school for 34 years, and my late grandmother taught public school for a staggering 75 years! They would agree with the DPS educators that student development is not isolated to just what happens in the classroom. Empowering our youth to develop into their highest potential is a holistic endeavor that benefits from dismantling socioeconomic hurdles that arise. The educators astutely identified housing, transportation, economic development and safety for immigrants as their top concerns. It is no accident that my platform addresses these shared concerns.

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My housing plan brings innovative solutions to increase our stock of affordable units as well as make existing housing more affordable. Tax increment financing is a mechanism the city can use to leverage future development to pay for our needs of today without increasing taxes. I am also proposing the city engage in a targeted energy efficiency renovation program for low-income residents. As a transportation planner by education, I am eager to assist the city’s quest for light rail, which will expand access to vital job centers. I have also been a staunch voice on the campaign trail for an end of subsidies to for-profit developers, calling instead for investment in locally focused economic development. I will continue to be a bold voice against local collaboration with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). No one in Durham is dispensable: not by displacement, not by detention, not by deportation.

Brian Callaway is a candidate for the Durham City Council in Ward 1.

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Don Moffitt: Michelle Burton, Lisa McCool-Grime, Dabney Hopkins, Alexa Goff and Anca Stefan are spot on in their comments about what students need from the city. I saw this firsthand several years ago while visiting Glenn Elementary School on behalf of Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods), and I continue to see it as a parent of a student in Durham Public Schools.

Over and over they pointed to affordable-housing issues, the lack of good paying jobs, the need for improved transit options and the importance of people feeling safe in their community. And they called on city government to do more.

These are the issues that I work on week after week, the issues I’ve been working on for the past five years I’ve served you on the City Council.

I’ve helped move the city’s plan on affordable housing. We doubled the size of our housing fund, we’re working with the Durham Housing Authority, nonprofit partners and developers to create more affordable housing.

We’re working to improve bus routes, shorten wait times and add shelters. And of course we’re working on the light-rail system. Not just station areas, but also new development options to reduce pressure on the rest of the city and affordable housing at every station.

Everyone should feel safe in their home, in their neighborhood. Our police officers understand that no human is illegal and being an immigrant is not a crime, and don’t worry about immigration status while investigating actual crimes. The Police Department is changing the way it does its job, with liaisons to both the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities, more officers on patrol so that they can spend more time getting to know their community, with new training on de-escalation and racial equity.

These are the issues I care about and will continue to work on in the years ahead.

Don Moffitt is the incumbent candidate for the Durham City Council in Ward 3.

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Sylvester Williams

Sylvester Williams: I signed off on a Title VI Complaint with the Office of Civil Right U.S. Department of Education. The complaint addresses discriminatory practices in the Durham school system.

Applying a “disparate impact” theory, the complaint seeks to vindicate the rights of all Durham Public Schools students – including black students, students with disabilities, and especially black students with disabilities – who are disproportionately harmed by suspension policies and practices. It asks the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to investigate the district and encourage the district to adopt new non-discriminatory policies and practices that use out-of-school suspension only as a last resort.

For example, across the K-12 grade span, less than one-third of the suspended white students without disabilities were suspended two or more times in 2009-10. However, more than half of the suspended black students with disabilities were suspended two or more times. Put another way, in 2009-10, blacks with disabilities (K-12) were 13 times more likely to have been suspended two or more times, compared to white students without disabilities.

Using the enrollment data DPS reported to OCR for 2009-10 as a baseline, we took the state’s report on out-of-school suspensions (for all grades) published by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to calculate the incident rate for the same year. The data show that in 2009-10, DPS issued suspensions at a rate of 31.4 per 100 black students, but just 4.8 per 100 white students. In other words, the incident rate for blacks for out-of-school suspension was nearly seven times greater than the incident rate for whites.

Durham’s students, whether black, Hispanic or poor, deserve better.

The Rev. Sylvester Williams is a candidate for Durham mayor.

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