We are fortunate in Chapel Hill-Carrboro to have fantastic schools and a community that has always been supportive of our schools.
But we face a structural problem in ensuring that our schools remain great. State funding to schools across the state has declined, leaving local governments to pick up the tab. The challenge we face here in Chapel Hill-Carrboro is that we have so few businesses that the bulk of tax burden falls on residential property owners. As our schools require more local investment, we need to add new businesses and jobs locally that can generate sales tax and property tax revenue that does not fall solely on homeowners.
Our school employees find it increasingly hard to live in our communities due to the high costs of housing. Even though we pay a salary supplement locally, we cannot compete with nearby communities that pay a similar supplement but also produce much more housing than we do. While we are lucky to have teachers who have long been part of our community, we are experiencing rapid turnover of teaching staff, making it difficult to build strong school communities.
In addition, our school system has created a system that maximizes school choice while ignoring the ecological and social costs of a system where children living on the same street can go to schools that are five miles apart. Many of our schools are not easily accessible via foot or bike, and bus rides can take an hour or more. Too often, our schools exacerbate traffic congestion, social isolation, and inequality, when they should be doing the reverse.
Policy Ideas + Solutions
New jobs and businesses are essential to strengthening our school system. Rather than having to fight for a larger slice of the budget pie each year at the expense of other important government services, adding new jobs and businesses will enable the budget pie to grow larger, so that our schools can receive adequate funding without sacrificing other government services.
School leaders should consider working closely with town and county leaders to build and remodel schools in ways that accommodate the construction of new housing as well as places that are connected to the communities around them via greenways and bus routes. We could consider building affordable housing, including housing for teachers, at Lincoln Center, the school administration building.
We also hope that our schools recenter the conversation on inequalities within the system, which have seen little improvement in decades. We cannot have a strong community without strong schools, and we needs schools that are committed to reducing social, racial, and economic inequities.