We sent the following survey out to the 2006
Orange County Board of County Commissioner Candidates.
1. If elected, would you oppose or support a county
commissioner initiated merger plan in the next term of office? Would you make or
second a motion to get merger back on the table?
Battle - I would not make or second a motion to put merger back on the
table, and I would oppose a county commissioner initiated merger plan. Both the
residents of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Orange County Schools
have overwhelmingly expressed opposition to merger, and as a county commissioner
it is my job to uphold the values that our citizens hold. I don’t support
forcing things on my constituents that they don’t want.
Cutson - I would oppose attempts to revive the merger issue and would not
second a motion to place merger back on the table. Public hearings and citizen
input has indicated the majority of citizens are not in favor of merger and this
issue has been examined and debated past the point of diminishing returns.
However, citizens should note that if elected officials in the CHCCS fail to
responsibly coordinate residential growth with adequate school facilities
(negating SAPFO principles) then merger will eventually surface again if
overcrowded schools and lack of land for school facilities “forces” expansion
into the county.
Daniel - I would not support a plan for merger during my term in office.
I would not second a motion to bring merger back on the table. I would oppose
and resist such actions.
Franklin - I would oppose a county commissioner initiated merger plan
unless it was a detailed merger plan requiring approval by a majority in both
school districts in a straight up or down referendum. I would be willing to
make or second a motion to put a detailed merger plan to a straight up or down
referendum requiring approval by a majority in both school districts.
Gordon - I would oppose a county commissioner initiated merger plan. No,
I would not make or second a motion to get merger back on the table. Of course,
if the state legislature mandated 100 school districts for the 100 counties,
there would be no choice.
Jacobs - I am not in favor of resurrecting the divisive issue of merger
in the foreseeable future. I recently made a motion to take merger off the table
as an option in the commissioners’ ongoing discussions of school equity. The
motion passed 4-1.
Nelson - Clearly, the community is divided on the issue of merger. The
commissioners have taken the issue off the table, and I expect it to remain so
for the foreseeable future—perhaps permanently, unless the General Assembly
forces Orange County to revisit the issue. I would not make or second a motion
to get merger back on the table in the next 4 years.
Davidson - I will not support a county commissioner initiated merger plan
in my next term of office. I would not make or second a motion to get merger
back on the table. I am very weary of the merger debate. As a former Orange
County School Board member I opposed merger.
2. Is there a problem with school
funding or is this the case of two districts who have the taxation and funding
that they desire? What is your interpretation of the defeat of the OCS district
Fred Battle - I think there is a problem with school funding. Clearly,
there is much progress that needs to be made in both districts on issues like
minority student achievement. Increased funding could help lead to better
results. But I also think that if the Commissioners make efforts to increase
school funding they should demand increased accountability from the school
districts. We need to see tangible, measurable evidence that increasing funding
to the districts is also increasing their levels of achievement. As far as the
defeat of the OCS district tax, this is a referendum that the County
Commissioners should not have forced on the voters of the Orange County Schools,
... (100 word limit)
Robin Cutson - The school funding issue must balance: 1.) need for
adequate funding for all schools; 2.) respect for local control/funding choices;
3.) ensuring county taxes don’t harm residents with low/ moderate incomes. The
best compromise solution is to implement a moderate increase in per pupil
allocation (by increasing the ad valorem tax and/or reducing overall county
expenditures) while retaining the CHCCS district tax with desired adjustments.
Otherwise, as funding disparities increase, pressure for merger will increase
even though merger would cause even higher taxes for county residents. As with
many referendums, the OCS district tax rejection fails to provide meaningful
Jamie Daniel - The two school systems have the funding they desire as
determined at the ballot box. I see the defeat of the district tax as being the
will of the voters in Orange County. The people have spoken.
Artie Franklin - There is a problem with school funding. Neither Board of
Education is satisfied with its budget funding nor with the level of taxation
within its district. Tax increases may benefit the school systems, but will
negatively impact some taxpayers. While Boards of Education have education
budgeting authority, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has tax authority
and must balance the negative impacts of taxation with all budget requests.
A combination of voters who thought the district tax would be too burdensome and
voters who thought the district tax would provide too little overwhelming
defeated the OCS district tax.
Alice Gordon, Ph.D. - (a) Since the two districts are among the best
funded in the state, it can be argued that they are paying the taxes for which
they have voted and are willing to pay. However, there is a concern that I will
address in the second question. (b) The defeat confirms the 2-1 vote against the
bond referendum in 2001. It means that the OCS voters will probably vote
against increased taxes, at least in the current climate. That still means that
there are some voters in the OCS who will support increased taxes for schools.
Barry Jacobs - There is a funding problem, or rather a perception of
funding inequity. The $14 million difference in available resources between the
CHCCS district and the OCS district creates a sense that greater opportunity is
available in one district. Actually, both systems are among the best-funded in
the state, and would be separately celebrated if not in close proximity. I
promoted placing a district tax on the ballot for the Orange County system. The
sound defeat of this alternative presented a mixed message: against merger and
higher taxes, yet also against anything short of equal funding with the CHCCS
Mike Nelson - A problem exists as long as the parents in the county are
dissatisfied with the quality of education available to their children relative
to those in city schools. Everybody wants the same thing for their children—a
quality education with adequate resources. It’s difficult to definitively
interpret the intent of voters when they defeated the district tax. Some are
against all taxes; some wanted merger or nothing; some voted against it because
the issue wasn’t clearly explained. Rather than reading tea leaves, I think
it’s important to redouble our efforts to resolve the funding inequity between
the two systems.
Betty Tom Davidson - The people within our two school districts have
decided by referendum to fund schools differently. A voter-approved tax levy
passed a decade ago in Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools and in November 2005 the
voters categorically opposed such a tax levy for Orange County Schools.
Further, I am not confused by the defeat of the OCS district tax. Residents in
the Orange County School district will not impose an additional tax upon
themselves as they are struggling with the current ad valorem tax rate. This is
democracy in action as a democratic government is here to serve its people.
3. Have you ever publicly commented in support of merger?
Battle - No.
Cutson - I have spoken out
against merger and my position on this issue is consistent with my general
viewpoint. In my campaign for Chapel Hill Town Council I criticized the Town’s
expanding government bureaucracy on the basis that larger
governments/administrations tend to be more costly, less efficient and dilute
the effectiveness of citizen input/influence. I believe the same holds true
regarding schools. Maintaining two districts ensures greater accountability, a
stronger voice/ influence for parents and ensures the ability of school boards
to more effectively respond to whatever special needs arise as
indicated/requested by the students and parents in their particular districts.
Daniel - NEVER. I have always been, and continue to be - the No Merger
candidate. No politically acticulate answer here. I am not in favor of a school
Franklin - I have stated that I would support merger of CHCCS and OCS if
a detailed merger plan is approved by a straight up or down referendum in both
Gordon -(a) No. My position on merger in December 9, 2003 was posted on
the county web site. Of course, events since then have made some parts of my
proposal outdated. (b) The CHCCS district is better funded for operating
expenses because of the district tax. On the capital side, the OCS is in better
shape, since they will have no new school needs for ten years. In contrast the
CHCCS needs new schools over the next decade, beginning with elementary school
#10. There is only partial funding for that school, and no easy way to fund the
other new CHCCS schools, thanks in part to the "60/40" capital funding policy
which I opposed.
Jacobs - Once the issue was raised, I publicly supported exploring and
discussing the pros and cons of merger. I purposely refrained from stating a
position until I had a chance to listen to residents and school board members,
and until I could review and weigh evidence on the subject. I subsequently
decided to oppose merger, and as an alternative advocated a closer examination
of the efficiency of school spending, an educator-driven study of the two
systems (the Grumet report), and heightened efforts to pursue collaboration
between the districts in all feasible areas.
Nelson - I cannot recall if I made public comments regarding merger. I
do recall making a statement that I believe merger is inevitable eventually.
What I meant by that is that the leadership in the state legislature has made
their position abundantly clear that they do not desire to fund more than one
school district per county. Once before, in the not-too-distant past, the
legislature passed a law requiring merger of school districts in counties with
more than one district. While there is no evidence that they will do so again
anytime soon, it would be short-sighted to ignore the possibility.
Davidson - I have never publicly commented in support of merger.
4. What problems besides differences in funding would school
merger solve? What problems might a merger create?
Battle - As I have said I oppose school merger. The biggest problem it
would cause is that it would be a slap in the face to democracy, by ignoring the
overwhelming voices of activists concerned about the schools who are opposed to
merger. Beyond that though it would create 45 minutes bus rides and disrupt the
traditions that the Orange County and Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools have
developed over the years. Merger would not be good for the children in either
district from a logistical stand point, and when it comes to schools issues
advocating for them is my top priority.
Cutson -CHCCS, via the district
tax, funds schools at a much higher level than OCS and almost all other N.C.
school districts. Due to higher population density the CHCCS
district has greater voting power than the OCS district; thus a merged system
would probably be funded at the higher CHCCS level resulting in much higher
taxes for county residents. This could cause serious financial hardship for
county residents with low to moderate incomes. Merger could also result in
increased/longer bus rides for children; loss of parental input due to larger
system; reduced accountability; and increased pressure to develop in the county.
Daniel - It may bring more
leverage to the school board via purchase power, leasing of equipment, etc. Not
enough of a benefit in my opinion. As we have seen with OCSB redistricting, I
can see busing will be an issue, the powers that be will claim it will not be,
but we know it will happen. Children will be bussed to Chapel Hill from
Hillsborough and vice versa. There are many issues that it will cause such as :
loss of local control, transportation issues, loss of funding due to racial
diversity and social-economic issues since the county as a whole will be
evaluated instead of each school system.
Franklin - There may be some cost savings involved in combining
administrative functions, but cost-saving forecasts in mergers tend to be
overstated. Problems created by a merger would include the elimination of the
only major elected body that still has non-urban representation (the Orange
County School Board); a more unwieldy school system; reduced time spent with
family and participating in other activities; a less local and less responsive
school board and administration; a majority of citizens who will be dissatisfied
with the change; and dissolution of the only education-dedicated revenue source
in Orange County.
Gordon -(a) It would solve no additional problems beyond funding of which
I am aware. I do not know of any evidence that demonstrates that there will be
educational advantages to the merging of school districts. However, it might
eliminate perceptions of social injustice. (b) The additional problems would be
bussing of students to the other school district. Right now, most of the
children being bussed would be CHCCS students, since OCS has most of the extra
Jacobs - An argument can be made that merger would promote greater
opportunity for all students, as well as save money and serve to unify the
county. However, merger might destroy the distinctive character now manifest by
each county school district. By creating a larger bureaucracy it could undermine
the parental involvement so important to student achievement. There is also
evidence that merged systems would not generate substantial savings.
Nelson - Now that merger of the two school systems is off the table, both
sides should come together with renewed vigor to support efforts to fund both
school systems equitably and to close the achievement and graduation rate
gaps—the one that exists between systems and the other between races and
ethnicities. I believe we do a disservice to our community and the children in
our school systems by continuing to beat a dead horse. I intend to lead the
community away from divisive arguments about merger and towards a solution for
the equity issue.
Davidson - “The answer to questions about the effect of money on schools is
still incomplete, contradictory, and even confusing,” says Thompson and Wood,
Money and Schools, 3rd Ed. We have well funded school systems and are fortunate
to not be on Judge Manning’s list of failing schools. I argue that Orange
County’s educational finance plans far exceed an adequacy criterion as is
currently being defined by Judge Manning and the N.C. Supreme Court. Local
control increases responsiveness and innovation. Centralizing services may
create more uniformity but our populations have distinctive characteristics
marking success for each group. A merger will create a ... (100 word limit)
5. Do you support the siting and building of neighborhood
schools as the center of a walk-able, sustainable community?
Battle - I certainly support the building of neighborhood schools. I’ve
been involved in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools for over fifty years, and this
is an issue that I have lived. I grew up on Hillsborough Street in Chapel Hill
and walked far past the old Chapel Hill High at University Square every day on
my walk to Lincoln High School. I had a great experience at Lincoln, but I
certainly haven’t forgotten what it was like to walk to a school twice as far
away as the one closest to my house. We need kids to be able to go to the
schools closest to them, and for them to be within walking/biking distance as
often as possible. Merger would hurt this ideal.
Cutson - Obviously it’s best
for children and parents when children attend schools close to their
neighborhoods. This enhances community ties and safety; enables parents to
respond quickly in case of illness at school or family emergencies; promotes
participation in after school events; and eliminates undesirable long bus rides
for children. To ensure children attend neighborhood schools,
municipalities/counties need to agree to, and honor, SAPFO principles requiring
balancing residential growth with availability of land/funds for new school
facilities. As Chapel Hill is close to build-out, future
residential growth will need limiting and
needs an immediate MOU from Mebane regarding SAPFO.
Daniel - Yes. I think the current commissioners have botched their future
planning. There needs to be fresh ideas and respect for sustainable communities
as key to our overall success with any growth plan.
Franklin - Schools should be built where children are. Because of the
dispersal of children in the OCS district, centralized school buildings seem
sensible. In CHCCS, neighborhood schools make sense; however, it is important to
have sidewalks in walk zones - particularly on major thoroughfares - to enhance
Gordon - Yes. Of course I support walk-able, sustainable communities,
and schools can serve as a logical center.
Jacobs - I have supported the siting and building of neighborhood schools
as integral to a walkable community. I advocated and voted alone for the
redesign of the Twin Creeks park and school site in response to parental
concerns about improving walkability. I worked on smart growth standards for
Carrboro High School that required connection to town sidewalks, bike lanes, and
public transportation. I continue to promote reexamination of school siting
standards that currently promote sprawl and auto-driven transit.
Nelson - Yes, absolutely. I firmly believe that walkable, connected
communities benefit everybody. Walkability improves safety, enhances community
ties, and means public services can be delivered more efficiently.
Davidson - I support the community school concept as long as neighborhoods
are planned with affordable housing in mind. Such planning assures a diverse
community accessible to all. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated
$10 million to a 21st Century High School Reform Initiative in North Carolina to
jumpstart such small school endeavors. I look forward to seeing the results.
6. Do you want to eliminate the city district tax?
Battle - I certainly do not support the elimination of the CHCCS district
tax. Schools being well funded has always been a high priority for me, as it
was when I served on the CHCCS School Board from 1985-1989. It is not the place
of the County Commissioners to tell the residents of the city schools that they
can’t pay a special tax if they want to. Creating equity by reducing the
funding of the CHCCS is an abysmal idea. The Chapel Hill/Carrboro voters have
made school funding a priority for them by agreeing to pay this tax, I applaud
them for it, and I’m not going to take away their ability to do so.
Cutson - The choice to retain
or eliminate the district tax should always rest in the CHCCS district voters as
this is a matter of choice. Absolute equity
in school funding will not exist as long as parents value choice and control
over their children’s education and options such as private religious schools,
military schools, home-schooling, local control and voluntary district taxes
exist. Therefore, I believe we need to continue to
value and respect diversity/choice while
working to ensure all schools have the funding they need to meet
their goals instead of focusing on dollar-for-dollar equity.
Daniel - The voters of Chapel Hill voted
for a district tax, the voters spoke. Unless there would be many people
requesting that the BOCC remove the tax, I think the voters decisions should
always be respected.
Franklin - No, district taxes are beneficial as a means to supplement
local education funding as well as declining state and federal funding.
Gordon - (a) No. (b) Now I want to comment on the new "60/40" capital
funding policy. Though I agreed that the County had pent-up capital needs that
should be addressed, I disagreed with the policy. It increased the allocation
of capital funds by hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the previous year
to County government and OCS, while allocating hundreds of thousands dollars
less than the previous year to CHCCS. To make up for that deficit, the
commissioners raised the district tax to "hold harmless" the CHCCS district,
allowing the district to fund operating or capital expenses. CHCCS chose to fund
Jacobs - The CHCCS district tax is a fact of life established long ago by
town voters. Eliminating the district tax in and of itself solves nothing. Some
advocate raising property taxes to completely supplant the district tax; I do
not. We can narrow the funding gap between the two school systems without
harming the CHCCS system. There would always be a need to retain the district
tax as a revenue arrow in the county’s quiver.
Nelson -To achieve funding equity between our school systems, I support a
decrease in the city school tax commensurate with a gradual adjustment in the
county property tax rate. The equity problem wasn't created over night, and we
shouldn't expect it to be fixed overnight either. We should avoid drastic
changes and implement a well-planned series of modest, incremental steps to
adjust the two systems into positions of equity. I am open to exploring other
options. Regardless of the option we ultimately choose, our goal should be to
provide adequate and equitable funding for both school systems. We’ll know
we’ve achieved ... (100 word limit)
Davidson - I respect any voter-approved referendum.
7. Do you support giving the
school boards taxation authority?
Battle - I support giving the two local school boards taxation
authority. The County Commissioners have spent too much time ineffectively
dealing with this issue. The School Boards are directly accountable to the
voters of the districts that elected them and can make appropriate decisions
about how best to fund their respective districts. It could help us move
forward on a lot of critical issues that have to do with educating children
instead of spending all this time haggling over things at the BOCC level.
Cutson - Obviously there are pros
and cons, but I am aware that many other school boards across
already have this authority. However, since there are pertinent details
associated with how different areas have implemented this taxing authority, I
feel an in-depth examination of their experiences and results along with public
discussions on the details on how this would be structured in our area would be
prudent before forming a final opinion. Also, I believe any proposal on this
issue should be drawn up with input from citizens and submitted to the voters in
Daniel - I would consider discussing giving
the CHCCS control over their district tax, but I would not support OCSB having
taxing authority until I, as a father with three girls in the OCSB, see better
management and results of the school system.
Franklin - Hypothetically yes, but not unless both CHCCS and OCS agree. I
do not expect OCS to agree because Board of Education-controlled tax authority
could lead to widening the difference between per-pupil funding in Orange
County’s two school districts.
Gordon - Right now it is the responsibility of the commissioners to
balance competing needs and resolve school funding issues. In that process, I
would like the school boards to take more responsibility for pairing their
requested funding increases with advocacy for the related tax increases.
However, until there is more discussion of the pros and cons, I cannot determine
my position on the taxing authority question. Moreover, it is the state
legislature that must decide whether to grant that authority.
Jacobs - I am willing to discuss any reasonable idea, including the
possibility of giving school boards taxation authority. That said, I believe in
gathering evidence and soliciting public comment prior to making major policy
decisions. Changing the manner in which we fund schools in Orange County and/or
North Carolina requires the careful sifting of information, as well as an
opportunity to ask informed questions and to hear from the public and school
Nelson - Generally speaking, I am comfortable with the concept of
taxation authority for local school boards. I understand that the state
legislature is the ultimate decision-maker with regard to allowing local school
boards to have this responsibility. If the local school boards request such
authority, I will support seeking enabling legislation from the North Carolina
Davidson - If we grant taxing authority to local schools boards, taxpayers
will inevitably pay higher taxes. Multiple governing bodies with independent
taxing authority preclude that single oversight function that must be held by
one tax-levying entity. School boards are responsible for one service to the
community, that being setting education policy. Our current system promotes
election to school boards of citizens who desire to write educational policy
that results in productive student outcomes. School board elections would
become a mandate on tax policy, not education policy.
8. Communities make local decisions on property taxes for
sidewalks, fare free transit, energy efficiency bonds, libraries, and green
space bonds. Many parts of the county choose not to tax themselves for these.
Should all parts of the county pay more to have these amenities? How far should
Battle - All parts of the county should not have to pay more for these
amenities. As I have said, if one area wants to tax itself more for something
it values, that should be its prerogative. The BOCC should stay out of it. But
no one should be forced to pay for additional things that they don’t want- and
no one in the southern part of the county should be forced to pay for things in
the northern part of the county that the northern part of the county is not
willing to pay for itself.
Cutson -Obviously communities
should have local control regarding decisions to raise taxes or issue bonds to
fund their choice of amenities (parks, public art, etc.) or to provide
additional funding for essential services (i.e. CHCCS’s district tax). But at
this point it is the responsibility of the BOCC to either
re-prioritize expenditures and/or increase ad valorem taxes if there is
inadequate funding for critical infrastructure and basic necessities such as
schools, EMS, police/fire protection, county facilities, trash disposal, etc.
A moderate increase in per pupil funding while allowing CHCCS to retain
their district tax is a good compromise solution.
Daniel - The phrase "all parts of the county"
is misleading. There is a split in this county currently, fueled by the BOCC. I
think you would be hard pressed to get the people of rural Orange County to
agree to raise their taxes to build sidewalks in Chapel Hill. Until there is
true fair district representation (7 member board) there will not be cohesion on
many "county-wide" issues. I measure equity in the value of the return for the
investment, not the amount invested. First we need to focus on the value of our
return instead of focusing only on the value of our investment.
Franklin - Some of these amenities are prohibitively expensive or
unnecessary in non-urban areas while other are provided in central locations
because of the population dispersal. It can be expedient to consider the equity
of one situation independently of others, but decisions for higher funding are
ultimately decisions to raise taxes, and that will negatively impact family
budgets. While there can be many ways to make Orange County more equitable, one
may be through property tax reforms.
Gordon - (a) The commissioners try to balance needs with ability to pay,
so there is no clear answer to the first part of the question. (b) School
funding "equity" means "fairness" in school funding. Anything the county does
would need to really "hold harmless" the CHCCS district, so the district needs
are met. It cannot mean that CHCCS would have its funding made stagnant, let
alone lowered, while OCS caught up. In other words, "equity" cannot go so far
as to hurt CHCCS. That would not be fair.
Jacobs - I view Orange County as a whole rather than as disparate parts.
Beyond the divisions enforced by having two school systems, I tend to pursue
what I consider the public interest from a countywide perspective. Amenities
such as libraries, parks, and senior centers are specifically designed to serve
the populace as a whole. We should site amenities where they are accessible to
all. In the case of senior centers we have provided facilities in both the
southern and central parts of the county.
Nelson - First, “equity’ does not necessitate ‘equality’. Equity should
be measured by the relative satisfaction of county and city school district
parents with the quality of their children’s education. With regard to other
services, city and county residents should have the level of service they desire
and are willing to pay for. In the case of the school systems, parents in both
school districts have indicated strong desire to provide their children with
adequate resources. Many parents in the Orange County system are dissatisfied
with the quality and quantity of resources available to their children. Orange
County is a community that ... (100 word limit)
Davidson - There is no single answer to this question. Should all
taxpayers financially support public services? Is this equitable? We know that
individuals vary in their ability to pay taxes and their use of services
mentioned above. Five principles are used to guide equity in tax policy:
benefits received, ability to pay, equal sacrifice, horizontal equity, and
vertical equity (Swanson et al, School Finance: Achieving High Standards with
Equity and Efficiency, 3rd Ed.). Much discussion is needed to address all of