Durham County

See what improvements CHCCS school board candidates think are needed in the district

Renovation projects totaling $52 million, including the demolition and replacement of two buildings at Chapel Hill High School will be a big part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education’s work over the next few years.
Renovation projects totaling $52 million, including the demolition and replacement of two buildings at Chapel Hill High School will be a big part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education’s work over the next few years. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Four of the seven seats on Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education are up for grabs in the Nov. 7 race. Early voting is underway. The race was originally for just three seats until September when longtime board member Annetta Streater resigned to focus on work, family and academic commitments.

Incumbents James Barrett and Joal Broun are running, along with newcomers Ryan Brummond, Calvin Deutschbein, Amy Fowler, Kim Talikoff and Mary Ann Wolf.

The Herald-Sun posed these four questions to each candidate. Here are their answers:

1. The 2016 county bond covered some of the district’s school repair and renovation needs. What do you think the school board can do to help address the remaining needs and to keep up to date with school maintenance in the future?

James Barrett: Capital funding for maintenance is provided by the county to the schools. We have a good process on how and when to build new schools equitably across the county, and for prioritizing maintenance needs, but the funding for maintenance simply has not kept up with inflationary pressure or growth of our square footage. The board is willing to work with the commissioners on this at any time.

Joal Broun: Facility renovation and maintenance is a high priority for CHCCS. The Board is working with county commissioners to develop a short and longer term funding plan to appropriately maintain our facilities. The typical standard of ongoing maintenance investment is about 5-7 percent of asset value. Currently, CHCCS receives funding of about 1 percent of our facility asset value. This low level of investment impairs our ability to effectively maintain facilities. Investing at the standard level would responsibly maintain district assets and reduce the need for higher spending longer term. In the 2016 NCGA session, a bill was introduced to propose a state bond for school renovation. Unfortunately, this bill did not have legislative support in the last term, but the board will continue to advocate for all sources of funding. The board can also continue to work with community members to provide transparency on plans and explore creative solutions to address the remaining needs.

Ryan Brummond: We need to make this a top three priority. County residents overwhelmingly supported the school bond, and it’s the district’s job to make sure that funding goes as far as possible. We should be judicious in how we bid out contracts. We need to be aware of regional contracting dynamics when we decide how to time this bidding, and be realistic in our expectations for what we can include in the bid process (i.e. requiring contractors to pay a “living wage” to its employees). Second, the district needs to seek opportunities for efficiency in maintenance. Dan Schnitzer (CHCCS’ sustainability coordinator) gave an excellent report to the board on Oct. 5 that detailed how the district’s energy sustainability efforts were resulting in long-term cost savings. I support implementing small behavioral changes to save money that can be re-directed into infrastructure maintenance, such as for our HVAC systems.

Calvin Deutschbein: I applaud the county for taking measures to address facilities needs of our school district. Nevertheless, more must be done to articulate our pro-education values. As a board, we must reach out to the county commissioners, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and our community to communicate that needs remain so that we can get ahead of maintenance moving forward.

Amy Fowler: CHCCS has a prioritized 2016-2026 plan to guide future repairs and renovations. While the bond funds Phase I (Chapel Hill HS, Glenwood, and Preschool/Administrative/Phoenix projects), CHCCS receives county funds yearly that will go to cover Phase II projects. Future projects need to use sustainable practices that can lower operating costs (e.g. solar panels) and delay future repair expenses (e.g. installing 30 year rather than 10 year roofing). The county capital funding has not increased since 2009 despite an increased number of buildings the district must maintain. The school board should advocate for increased capital funds to accommodate this growth and inflation.

Kim Talikoff: Every dollar not spent on utilities can be spent on remaining needs and broader educational goals. While we are financially constrained, opportunities exist to lower costs. We have a significant backlog of preventive maintenance projects that would pay for themselves by extending the life of expensive equipment such as HVAC. As we invest, we should work closely with the facilities department and sustainability coordinator to prioritize maintenance needs that directly affect student accessibility and learning and to take into account energy efficiency and life-cycle costs when allocating internal resources.

Mary Ann Wolf: The bond is critical, but alone will not address the needs across our schools. The district has made strides with energy use and sustainability, and we need to apply that creative lens to rethink and reallocate expenditures. We must ensure decisions align with keeping our students safe and what our schools need. We must collaborate with the County BOCC and towns to ensure that everyone is working toward the same vision. Public education is the backbone of our community and economy, and addressing the infrastructure challenges is critical for our towns and county.

2. How do you think the district can attract and retain quality teachers?

James Barrett: The board took the bold first step of raising our local supplement in 2016 by 4 percent, going a long way to resolving recruitment challenges. Retention is highly dependent on quality leadership in each and every building. I fully support new ideas for improving the skills of our principals, and compensating them appropriately for their leadership. Additionally, I love the work that Superintendent (Pamela) Baldwin did in Asheville creating affordable teacher housing to attract teachers. This is an opportunity for us to partner with others to improve our community.

Joal Broun: Continue to advocate for competitive salaries for teachers.

▪ Advocate for policies that create environments which encourage teachers to take risks in support of our students.

▪ Provide teacher and staff leadership, including climate surveys and other methods to continue to include teacher and staff perspective in policies and planning.

▪ Continue to invest in grow-our-own programs.

▪ Provide professional development aligned with the needs our district. Ensure that the district effectively uses current resources, continuously reviewing budget items to confirm alignment with priorities and outcomes and make changes when necessary.

▪ Explore partnerships for collaboration with the University, community college, Orange County schools, and other local resources.

▪ Explore strategic use of technology and continue investment in energy and utility reductions.

▪ We must continue to build the foundation of the district so that all students can succeed. This includes providing access to resources for historically disadvantaged students and appropriate development and offerings for students who may pursue vocational and non-traditional careers, as well as removing barriers for student learning via a student-centered approach to improving mental health services and other supports.

Ryan Brummond: We need to ensure that we are paying at the higher end of market rate for our classroom educators to ensure that we’re not losing good people to lower-cost areas. We also need to empower our teachers to meet expectations in their way. It’s been my experience that the most talented people in any profession seek autonomy and opportunities for creativity and responsibility. Our policies should reflect this to the greatest extent reasonable.

Calvin Deutschbein: I think the district should offer higher pay also look to non-financial compensation. We need strong and respected leadership and policy to ensure the lived experience of educators as workers are strongly positive.

Amy Fowler: We must value teachers financially; the district should continue paying a competitive supplement. Professional development for educators must be flexible to ensure they ascertain novel skills rather than review current skills. We must provide teachers with effective, respectable leadership that values their input as the district evolves to prepare students for a global and technology oriented society. We must provide the necessary support personnel so teachers are not overburdened. The NC General Assembly should value education by paying competitive salaries and better supporting state universities in producing high quality educators.

Kim Talikoff: Evidence strongly and repeatedly suggests that high-quality teachers are the single most important factor in student success. We need to keep our skilled teachers in CHCCS if our students are to reach their potential. However, our turnover rate is high, sometimes well above the rates of neighboring counties. From my own classroom experience, discussions with many other CHCCS teachers as well as staff, and conversations at the superintendent’s advisory committee, I believe this is a solvable problem. I am excited about the possibilities offered by our new administration. By supporting policies and practices to improve instructional support and two-way communication, we can create a more supportive work environment that not only inspires innovation but also nurtures our teachers and attracts additional talented faculty.

Mary Ann Wolf: Our state currently ranks 35th and is $9,000 below the national average for teacher pay. Our district must continue to strive for competitive salaries and recognize publicly the importance of supporting educators and principals and the profession. A supportive environment focused on student-centered, personalized learning and trust in educators create a culture in which teachers and principals want to stay. We must recognize teachers for helping students have agency over their work, addressing the strengths and learning differences of each child, and fostering a love of learning for each child to reach their potential.

3. What are your ideas for dealing with the district’s shrinking budget?

James Barrett: In a time of stagnant budgets, we need to examine every area of spending and ensure that our spending aligns with our priorities and effectiveness of the work. We have added a 2-pager explaining how our money is used (tinyurl.com/chccsbudget). We should also clearly show individual program expenses, and overhaul our budget process to align our spending very clearly with the needs of every student. Such priority-based budgeting would force administrators and the board to think even more carefully about how we follow through on our stated values. We have high expectations for everyone in our district, and we need to ensure they have the ability to meet those expectations.

Joal Broun: Ensure that the district effectively uses current resources, continuously reviewing budget items to confirm alignment with priorities and outcomes and make changes when necessary.

▪ Explore partnerships for collaboration with the University, community college, Orange County schools, and other local resources.

▪ Explore strategic use of technology and continue investment in energy and utility reductions.

Ryan Brummond: We need to seek outside funding for eligible programs in order to free up district funds that can be dedicated elsewhere. We should consider incremental changes in behavior that can have disproportionate fiscal savings – for example, widening our schools’ thermostat range by just a few degrees can save us significant money on energy costs. We should look for ways to make processes more efficient: consolidating bus routes and promoting closer-to-home school attendance reduces our transportation costs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must remember our core mission of providing excellent academic instruction to our students when considering budget priorities.

Calvin Deutschbein: From the publicly available information, it appears that our district is suffering from a growing administrative bloat that is starving classrooms of resources and could be improved with greater transparency and clarity of purpose. However, I would also encourage my community to consider what I high value our schools offer and where we could better invest.

Amy Fowler: The 2017/18 school district budget increased slightly in both state and local funding ($123 increased per pupil local funding). However, inflation in expenses and state mandates mean the combined funding does not meet the current school board’s 2017/18 budget request. This led to the district decreasing the number of middle school PE teachers and eliminating elementary media assistants. These changes have direct negative impacts on student learning. As a board and as citizens we need to advocate at the state level for sufficient funding for instruction. Education is the best possible investment NC General Assembly can make.

Kim Talikoff: It is essential, given limited resources, that our expenditures effectively advance our core goals and educational priorities. We can move every one of our learners forward by using data to critically evaluate what is and what is not getting the job done. We can also be more efficient through increased coordination at many levels, from purchasing processes to integration of the many important student services we provide.

Mary Ann Wolf: Someone recently said to me that the budget is a reflection of values. Being able to understand the complexities of the budget is critical for a School Board member. Although my career has been primarily in education, I have run a small, national education nonprofit; have an undergraduate accounting degree; and held a CPA for many years. These business skills, with my educational and policy experience, give me a broad perspective on how best to be a good steward of our District’s resources. We must be willing to ask the tough questions about whether expenditures help us reach our vision for teaching and learning and to say that we may stop things that are not working, while staying focused on meeting the needs of each child.

4. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is generally seen as the top district in the state. Is there still room for improvement? And if yes, in what areas?

James Barrett: We do see great student learning results with upper-income, white students. But we are not seeing similar results with other populations. In fact, we are about average in the state in many measures for our students of color, lower-income students, and students with disabilities. The school board must continue a strong message of our expectations that teachers maintain a laser focus on growth for all students (and above-average growth for those who start out the school year behind). With that, the district can improve results for all students and meet the expectations of all families who want their students to fulfill their educational potential. And we can’t ignore other issues for our students, most notably their mental health wellness: There is still much work to be done in reducing the pressures in our district.

Joal Broun: We must continue to build the foundation of the district so that all students can succeed. This includes providing access to resources for historically disadvantaged students and appropriate development and offerings for students who may pursue vocational and non-traditional careers, as well as removing barriers for student learning via a student-centered approach to improving mental health services and other supports.

Ryan Brummond: We have an excellent district with a great reputation, but we can always be better. We need to reinvest in our buildings to stay ahead of dilapidation and lay a foundation for a sustainable future. We can improve AIG service delivery by ensuring that our schools have the resources and personnel necessary to meet the needs of our district’s many children. Finally, we can look for ways to make our budgets more efficient and keep them in line with the district’s core mission of education.

Calvin Deutschbein: Our school district has very high highs but must reorient itself toward serving all of its students. Equity must be the single highest priority of the school district both that it might become more excellent and that it might overcome its greatest limitation.

Amy Fowler: CHCCS district has and should keep many innovative programs such as dual language, Social Justice, Biomedical, and Arts Academies, AVID, and a plethora of Advanced Placement courses that contribute to high average SATs, high graduation rates, and a multitude of awards. Yet, CHCCS clearly needs to improve, primarily in serving disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. According to the latest 2016-17 Read to Achieve report, 29.3 percent of third-graders were not proficient in reading! More early intervention is needed to prepare these students. And ongoing supports are needed for these groups to achieve accelerated growth.

Kim Talikoff: According to a study by the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis (one discussed by CHCCS in The Daily Tar Heel), we have the second largest white-black achievement gap in the country, as well as the fifth largest white-Latino gap. We must maintain every bit of our rigor and continue to challenge our highest achieving students, while elevating the achievement of every one of our students. We must not endorse ‘zero sum’ framing or decision making but instead address this ongoing problem by offering all students the challenging curricula they need.

Mary Ann Wolf: CHCCS is a very good school district for many of our students, but we can be an excellent district for all of our students. Our graduates will go into different jobs and careers than currently exist. Instructional strategies that engage students; develop collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity; and personalize their learning experience can be implemented to ensure that all students are prepared for college, career, and citizenship. Equity and the achievement gap are challenges that we must address purposefully. We must ensure that students have the essential conditions to be successful; and we must be able to meet their wide range of abilities, life circumstances, and learning differences. We must address the readiness of students before they enter kindergarten, work with the community to support student’s access to opportunities, and ensure that remediation does not become rote instruction. We must have high expectations for every child and believe that every student is capable of having ownership of their own learning.

More online

Visit us online at heraldsun.com for more questions and answers from the seven Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education candidates.

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