Questionnaire

Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools

All candidates for the Board of Education, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools were sent the same five questions, and were given two weeks to complete a written questionnaire. These are the answers that were given by the candidates, with no editorial changes.

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George Griffin

  1. The rising cost of housing in southern Orange County is making it increasingly difficult to attract talented teachers and other school employees. Other than increasing the salary supplement, what can the school system do to make it easier for school employees to live in our community? 

Both school systems in Orange County are having trouble filling all their positions, even with significant signing bonuses. I would support the school system exploring both public and private partnerships to make it financially easier for employees to live in our community. I would certainly support exploring rent supplement options as an employment benefit.

A reality for most employees is that salaries simply don’t increase much from year-to-year. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to save enough money for a down-payment (now 20%) on a mortgage. In a recent 2020 student paper the author (Matthew Calvert, in partial completion of the graduation requirements for the Master of Public Policy Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University), described a proposal for a no-down-payment home loan program for teachers. This is an example of the type of thinking that is needed to develop realistic incentives to allow school system employees to live in the district. I support the school system working jointly with appropriate public and private agencies to explore and develop incentives to allow employees to live in the district. 

  1. What is your evaluation of the CHCCS’s current implementation of the Safe Routes to School program? If elected, what would you do to support this program?

The Safe Routes to School Program is administered by the NC State Department of Transportation and the two local municipal governments, in a partnership with community agencies including the schools. Due to the pandemic, there has been little movement in this area. The intent and focus of the program is to make walking and riding a bicycle to school a safe and more appealing option for all children. The program facilitates the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities to improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air quality near schools. The focus of this effort is both laudable and important. I would actively support and expect our school system to actively participate at whatever levels are possible.  

  1. How can CHCCS address the shortage of bus drivers and related issues, such as bus routes that take one hour or longer? 

The district has recently undertaken aggressive steps to raise the hourly rate, provide bonuses, increase available hours for drivers wanting full-time employment, and establish regular appreciation events. A next step is staggered start times for the schools, and the school board has previously acknowledged this.

  1. Do you support adding greenway access to local schools, such as a connection to Seawell/Smith Middle/CHHS via the Bolin Creek OWASA Easement?

Yes. The schools are an integral part of our community resources. The development of greenway access benefits the community and the schools. 

  1. The CHCCS operates several magnet schools that are accessible to students across the district, putting pressure on the school bus system and contributing to higher levels of traffic congestion and pollution. While these schools are popular with some in our community, some have been identified in the past for poor performance or contributing to furthering social and economic inequity. In order to advance equity and reduce climate impacts, would you support closing, consolidating, or otherwise reimagining the use of magnet schools in our district? 

I always support re-imagining services and options. “Advancing equity” and reducing “climate impacts” in the same sentence makes it difficult to respond as both issues are hugely important. The equity problem (i.e., racial achievement gap) is as much an issue of opportunity as it is achievement. Addressing this will require some significant systemic changes in common practices (e.g., academically gifted identification and service access, unofficial course-tracking, use of out-of-school suspensions). 

The reality of our longstanding opportunity gap is not going to be addressed adequately through closing or consolidating magnet schools. This is a huge systemic problem that has existed for decades. It is not simply an issue with providing the “right” program. At a recent joint governmental meeting (Board of County Commissioners, OCS School board, CHCCS School Board) on September 23, 2021, this issue drew significant and passionate discussion among the participants. Frustration with continuing to do “business as usual” was palpable at times. Most everyone is frustrated and growing increasingly impatient with the lack of progress. I look forward to assisting the school system in developing and implementing real change in practices that produce real gains in opportunity. 

Ryan C. Jackson

Did not submit a questionnaire

Riza Jenkins

  1. The rising cost of housing in southern Orange County is making it increasingly difficult to attract talented teachers and other school employees. Other than increasing the salary supplement, what can the school system do to make it easier for school employees to live in our community?

The school district should work with Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange county to collaborate on housing programs which could provide grants, down payment assistance programs, and other financial assistance programs for teachers, staff, and other town/county employees. The district should survey our staff to see if they have any ideas or other barriers that are preventing them from living in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro-Orange County community. For some, it could be finding housing, so could be addressed by providing resources for housing options. There may be an opportunity with some of the new developments to have housing options available to town, CHCCS, and county employees.

  1. What is your evaluation of the CHCCS’s current implementation of the Safe Routes to School program? If elected, what would you do to support this program?

I don’t think the district has done enough to encourage students to walk and/or bike to schools. With some of the challenges around bus drivers, the traffic issues around the schools, and the need to reduce cars on the road, we should be promoting greener and healthier options for children to get to school.

  1. How can CHCCS address the shortage of bus drivers and related issues, such as bus routes that take one hour or longer?

The district should consider collaborating with the town of Chapel Hill to increase the town bus routes and/or mirror some of the routes the district uses. The district can still provide buses, but promoting the use of the town buses should decrease need for as many CHCCS buses. Also, increasing the town buses would promote the use of public transit for the greater community and reduce the number of cars on our roads.

  1. Do you support adding greenway access to local schools, such as a connection to Seawell/Smith Middle/CHHS via the Bolin Creek OWASA Easement?

I would like to see improvements for students to access schools by walking or biking, especially if it provides a safe option where students are not at risk for some of the roadway traffic.  Initiatives like adding greenway access provides greener, safer, and healthier ways for students to get to and from school.

  1. The CHCCS operates several magnet schools that are accessible to students across the district, putting pressure on the school bus system and contributing to higher levels of traffic congestion and pollution. While these schools are popular with some in our community, some have been identified in the past for poor performance or contributing to furthering social and economic inequity. In order to advance equity and reduce climate impacts, would you support closing, consolidating, or otherwise reimagining the use of magnet schools in our district?

I would look at the goals that the programs have stated to achieve and assess whether the programs are achieving those goals along with any other goals in our strategic plan. Additionally, we would need to take into consideration other factors such as addressing the opportunity gap, fiscal impact, and impact on other aspects of district operation. After completing this review of the programs, we should make a decision, which may involve any of the above stated actions.

Meredith Pruitt

Did not submit a questionnaire

Mike Sharp

  1. The rising cost of housing in southern Orange County is making it increasingly difficult to attract talented teachers and other school employees. Other than increasing the salary supplement, what can the school system do to make it easier for school employees to live in our community? 

I’ve had several teacher friends who have been able to buy homes in Chapel Hill through the Community Home Trust. But I’ve also known many who weren’t even aware of this or similar programs. The CHCCS HR department could build better partnerships with these groups in order to advertise this as a perk at job fairs and in recruiting. The board could also work with the town to increase the allotment of affordable housing in new developments, especially if we develop more schools within neighborhoods, similar to meadowmont or southern village.

  1. What is your evaluation of the CHCCS’s current implementation of the Safe Routes to School program? If elected, what would you do to support this program?

The only Safe Routes to School efforts of which I’m aware are the annual walk to school or bike to school events. In the schools in which I have worked, these events are only given fleeting attention, starting within a week of the event with little more than a single message to families to “do if if you want to”. There’s an opportunity for greater community education and a possible attitude shift regarding driving vs walking that’s being wasted. I understand that the state will fund efforts at community education and outreach to try to facilitate changing community mindset, and we should be taking advantage of it!

  1. How can CHCCS address the shortage of bus drivers and related issues, such as bus routes that take one hour or longer? 

I think the district’s recent efforts toward reaching out to more drivers has a lot of promise. Additional pay, bonuses for longevity and retention, and paying for the CDL licensure are necessary and important steps to hiring and keeping a sufficient number of drivers. As a more long-term solution, a changing mindset in the community about walking and biking for students close to school will free up bus routes to run to pick up kids on the periphery more quickly.

  1. Do you support adding greenway access to local schools, such as a connection to Seawell/Smith Middle/CHHS via the Bolin Creek OWASA Easement?

If we are truly committed to reducing our carbon footprint and modeling for our kids some eco-conscious attitudes, we need to be willing to put some money behind it. Greenway access to schools will help reduce the car rider wait times (especially on Seawell School Road) and bring a more positive sense of community to our schools.

  1. The CHCCS operates several magnet schools that are accessible to students across the district, putting pressure on the school bus system and contributing to higher levels of traffic congestion and pollution. While these schools are popular with some in our community, some have been identified in the past for poor performance or contributing to furthering social and economic inequity. In order to advance equity and reduce climate impacts, would you support closing, consolidating, or otherwise reimagining the use of magnet schools in our district? 

I think we owe it to ourselves to hold up a mirror to any and all of our programs to see if they are in the best interests of the community as a whole.  While magnet schools may provide some great benefits for a portion of our community, we have to weight the impacts across the whole group. Environmental impacts do not always get the same attention as other concerns; perhaps our recent struggles with long bus routes and driver shortages might help to bring these issues more to the foreground.

Tim Sookram

Did not submit a questionnaire