Questions worth answering on public schools
Hill News, October 1st, 2003 (provided by author)
a merger of CHCCS and OCS is the answer proposed by some in the BOCC, what
questions were asked? What additional critical questions need to be answered?
This countyís merger analysis process is being rushed through in a
non-election year, while avoiding the thoughtful, hard questions of importance
for our students, families and teachers. Public hearings are scheduled before
critical information is available. Other state studies of school mergers took
over a year, and involved local resources such as the
Viable alternatives to merger, such as changes to the county-wide tax, or an Orange County Schools district tax, and additional collaboration have not been explored in depth. There may be some justifications for differences in funding, e.g. CHCCS has more exceptional ed and limited English proficiency students, and capital costs and living expenses are higher. What follows is a view of the right questions to ask and answer. They fall into several categories: taxation, capital expenses, neighborhood schools and bussing, teacher pay, education and curriculum changes.
school merger would necessitate an immediate tax increase for
appears from the merger report that a lot of bussing for CHCCS students might be
used to avoid building the middle school currently planned for the Chapel Hill
Township School/Park campus in northern Carrboro.
This would defer the approx. $18M it costs to build a second MS.
But does this mean that everyone north of
Academic achievement is heavily correlated with parental involvement and an environment supportive of education. OCS needs foreign language teachers in elementary schools and more AP classes in high schools. CHCCS needs additional ESL and special ed resources. Both districts parents are involved in and proud of their childrenís schools. Parental involvement in remote schools will inevitably suffer. Long bus rides are wasted time imposed on students, and would clearly pull down the achievement of those students who would no longer have enough time to get their homework done, or play outdoors while daylight lingered, or read a book. It is time for smart-growth, walkable-bikeable community advocates to speak up about the need to place schools near their intended population. Merger without planning will hurt community schools.
retention is another critical piece of quality education. In a merger, would the
teacher supplement in CHCCS be immediately reduced to the level in OCS, or
frozen for 3-5 years allowing inflation to reduce its value gradually? We
already have a high turnover rate (N&O
Regarding academic curriculum, parents have a legitimate concern that their children should be offered a wide array of choices at the appropriate level of challenge. It is common for CHCCS students to approach college with many AP courses. Will the same broad variety (33 available) be continued? Will OCS courses in agriculture and cosmetology continue to be available for those choosing a career track? With merger, it would become possible to claim for the entire county school system the highest SAT scores in the state (see SAT report on DPI web site). This should be good for landowners who want to sell to real-estate developers, especially with UNCís Carolina North beckoning new employees soon. What about those homeowners who have no desire to sell? Are developers and realtors the biggest winners of a school merger?
The county should pay for a serious study of the issues regarding capital costs, curriculum changes, teacher pay, and family impacts, using extensive public involvement, and a realistic due date. This would provide information suitable for public discussion and referendum, rather than precipitous action Involving the citizenry is important to build support for any needed changes. In the meantime, nothing prevents OCS parents from clearly identifying their funding needs and curriculum plans to the BOCC. I support well-reasoned efforts to improve the schools, but if a substantial funding increase is required for OCS, it does not clearly require merger, and we deserve serious investigation both of the alternatives, and what merger really would change in our schools.
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