Letter to Chapel Hill News 12/03/2003 (provided to us by the author)

It is encouraging to see that our the county commissioners have embarked in a direction that attempts to capitalize on the large common ground that exists in this county regarding the need to close the funding gap between the two districts. It is discouraging, however, that some pro-merger folks continue to incite divisiveness by repeatedly alluding to the "elitism" of the city district parents who don't have an issue with equalizing countywide school funding because they would not be paying any more than they do now. The impediment is actually the perceived majority among OCS voters who oppose large tax increases as was evident when OCS district folks voted 2-1 against the 2001 school bond. This puts the commissioners in a dilemma as to balancing school funding with voter will.

So how do we rectify the inequity? Should an OCS district tax be created? It's never gone before the voters, but many think it would fail. Ten years ago, it would not have been possible to levy an OCS district tax and produce similar per pupil funding as an equivalent CHCCS tax, but today it is (see www.4schools.us -> FAQ -> Tax Issues).

How about creating a county wide tax and raising it over time to close the gap, as several commissioners have proposed? That seems like a valid approach and would likely pass because it would be put to a county-wide vote.

How about simply raising the ad valorem tax and unlevying part or all of the city district tax? Seems like a good choice. However, I can see the wisdom of the commissioners in wanting to require that citizens vote on such a large tax increase. Historically, any increase of more than 3 cents per $100 valuation is put to a referendum. By this measure, the county-calculated 20.8 cent increase necessary to equalize funding (as of July 1st 2003) is a HUGE tax increase (about 7 times the practiced single-year maximum). To break this up would still require large tax increases for 7 years in a row.

It seems to me that the PTA Council has been responsible & measured in its approach. The PTA council advocates appropriate funding but does not directly represent OCS residents, so it would be inappropriate for the council to speak on behalf of OCS residents on the matter of tax increases. The PTA council appropriately concludes that merger has not been justified.

In a recent letter, Mrs. Elizabeth Brown inappropriately singled out the chair of the PTA Council for a decision made by the council as a whole.

Mrs. Brown also concluded that Dr. Pedersen's actions are motivated because he would lose his job in a merged system. Based on the number of organizations who endorsed Dr. Pedersen's letter, it is evident that he had his finger on the pulse of his constituency. It is entirely possible that he could be named superintendent of a merged system since it would be up to the newly appointed BOE. I find it ironic that the divisiveness predicted by Dr. Pedersen was realized in Mrs. Brown's letter.

As for the commissioners' proposals, busing all the county's pre-K students to one location is unwise because pre-K children can't sit on a bus that long. School district administrative offices should be centrally located to their respective constituencies.

All of the commissioners, particularly the ones who are running in 2004, need to put their position on merger on the public record prior to the primaries so there are no post-election surprises next year.


Mark Peters

Orange County & Chapel Hill Citizen


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