District Tax for County Schools: Will it Fly?

On Tuesday August 16th the Orange County Commissioners will make a decision about how to address the funding disparity between our two school systems. The current plan is to put a district tax on the ballot this fall, and let county school district voters decide for themselves.

According to the Chapel Hill News, the entire Orange County School Board opposes this referendum. And County Commissioner Moses Carey says "Obviously, what the school board thinks is important, but we won't base our decision solely on what they think."

Should the commissioners assume that the county school board is the voice of the people and abandon the referendum, or should they take the attitude that this is an activist school board that may not reflect the will of the people, and go forth with the referendum?

According to school board member Randy Copeland, the proposal will "put a tax on those who can least afford it." Fiscal conservatives want to leave things as is.

Several county school board members offered a counter-proposal to the tax idea: lower the city schools special tax, raise the overall property tax and hand out more money to the county schools.

Hough said she hoped that arrangement would raise the overall tax enough so that Chapel Hill's "sandbox" doesn't get "sullied or rearranged."

Copeland didn't share the concern and said commissioners should call on the city schools to "end their wasteful ways."

"I don't have problem with messing up Chapel Hill's sandbox," he said. "It's all our tax dollars."
- Chapel Hill News, 8/2/05

Complicating matters, a tiny blurb appearing in the August 10th Chapel Hill News reports that, if the commissioners decide against the district tax, they will put an alternative referendum on the ballot this fall. This alternative referendum will ask “voters countywide to decide on a new countywide property tax that would give both school systems more money.” (Sorry no link found, CHN 8/10/05)

What do people think about this district tax referendum and the alternative referendum?




Yes, but having sales tax resources available to pay down capital and debt service allows Carrboro and Chapel Hill to keep their tax rate lower than if they didn't have the sales tax revenues/licensing fees. The point is that the University adds to the towns' operating budgets while the open spaces and the water reservoirs do not add to the county's operating budgets. The county is contributing to the well being of town citizens without any financial return which in turns takes money away from their school system.

but having sales tax resources available to pay down capital and debt service allows Carrboro and Chapel Hill to keep their tax rate lower than if they didn't have the sales tax revenues/licensing fees. The point is that the University adds to the towns' operating budgets.

Neither the town operating nor capital budgets contribute to the school system. So what does this have to do with school taxes/revenue?

Are you saying that the 'wealth' of Chapel Hill/Carrboro, as a result of the university's location within their boundaries, has nothing to do with the communities willingness to pay an additional tax? Local governments generate revenue through 3 sources: property, sales, and licenses/fees. In the absence of one (such as sales taxes), either property taxes would be raised or services would be reduced. Thanks to the University/Hospital contribution to sales taxes, Chapel Hill property taxes are lower without any sacrifice in service. This year CH fees/licenses were raised to start bridging the gap; some services were lost. The next couple of years should be interesting. As taxes continue to go up, will CHCCS residents continue paying the additional district tax without complaint? It's all part of the budgetary equation Mark.

At least it sounds like you do now agree that the University/Hospital are not equivalent to open space/water reservoirs. Hope you enjoy the week off!


No, at this time, I do not agree. Let's see some math here and maybe you can make a convincing case. Based on what I see on the league of municipalities, the county gets most of the sales tax. And CH and C residents pay huge town property taxes. It is my understanding that UNC nor the hospital directly contribute much if anything to sales taxes, as most or all is refunded. Show me how you believe that the indirect effect of UNC somehow disproportionately benefits CHCCS with some figures.

The CHCCS "wealth" vs. OCS district has not been substantiated, as the property ratio is pretty close to the population and student ratio.

We don't have to take the week off, when OP takes a holiday, there is a thread on squeezethepulp.com waiting to pick this thread up.

Terri, Thanks for the link to Berliner's “OUR IMPOVERISHED VIEW OF EDUCATIONAL REFORM” August 2, 2005.
Some of Berliner's salient points follow (Readers, please read in context before you dismiss!):

*First, put bluntly, poverty sucks. Among the poor the normal variation we see in academic talent has been sucked away, like corn growing in bad soil.

*... the simplest way to deal with poverty's effects on achievement is to increase the income of poor people so that they are less poor.

*The obligation that we educators have accepted to be accountable to our communities must become reciprocal. Our communities must also be accountable to those of us who work in the schools, and they can do this by creating social conditions for our nation that allow us to do our jobs well.

*It does take a whole village to raise a child, and we actually know a little bit about how to do that. What we seem not to know how to do in modern America is to raise the village, to promote communal values that insure that all our children will prosper.

*I am tired, also, of those among us who say the poor are not really bad off, as claimed recently in a lengthy research report from the Heritage Foundation (Rector & Johnson, 2004)….. completely fails to capture what poverty is like for poor children.

On the other school thread, Mike Kelley says, “It appears to me that there is reluctance among educators to use non-school explanations for fear that these may become excuses.” The ETS report Kelley sites, “PARSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP”, confirms Mike's idea that schools do feel like they ‘own' the burden of closing the achievement gap. I personally, think the ETS report is missing the point, as articulated in the Berliner paper. As Mark M. says to Terri, “The research you point to (Berliner) highlights part of the reason that the “achievement gap” will still be the hot school board issue in 2035 and probably beyond.” And as Melanie See said days ago, “I think its (poor reading scores in the black population) a COMMUNITY problem that needs to be addressed on a COMMUNITY level. You'd think SOMEONE would include it in a platform.”

It would be great if our schools' central staff, county government, and city governments could come together to create a permanent organization charged with developing a full-prong approach to helping our at-risk children: identifying current programs, developing new programs, filling in gaps, identifying funds, assisting with implementation, and so on...

Happy week off!

Found the Berliner cite. Thanks, Terri. At the last school board meeting we discussed priorities for the coming year and again at the top of that list was student achievement, particularly among students who are non-proficient. There was discussion of where to go from here including outside the schools. To paraphrase Liz Carter, it must be a community effort.

With regard to school funding sources, I agree with Liz Brown that a less regressive taxing scheme is needed. Leandro has forced the first baby steps to that end. For now, it appears the only way to increase funding to OCS involves a higher property tax in OCS.

I would like to see all the parties put their cards on the table. I for one am tired of following the doublespeak, inneundo. and disingenuous discussions.

If the Orange County school board wants to merge. then say so. If they want to capitalize on the relatively more valuable real estate of Southern Orange property, then say so. If they want a transfer of wealth (something that should have some serious support from the communists/socialists on this board) then say so.

If the Chapel Hill schools want to retain the illusion of private school at public school prices, then say so. If they are concerned about mixing vocational education with Advanced Japanese, then say so. If they are concerned about transfering some of their precious resources to the "country schools" then say so.

The "dont say what you mean" discussions are giving many of us a headache.

At least Moses Carey is up front and honest about what he wants and what he believes. Most of the rest of the discussion is Classism disguised as self determination, independence and fighting "big brother" or paternalism disguised as benevolent interest.

It seems there is enough NIMBY on both sides of this argument to keep cultural anthropologists busy for some time.

There are many of us who are just tired of the snippy arguments that are hiding the real issues bothering the NAYSAYERS-----a transfer of resources, loss of self determinism, a fear of dumbing down, and a fear of "Big Brother."

What I have gleaned from this discussion is that an education lottery already exists in Orange County. The city schools get the lottery money that has come from convincing city residents that their district tax is ON TOP OF county funding, when what is REALLY happening is that the city district reduces its county funding requests because it has the district tax. HOW IS THAT SUPPLEMENTAL???

Chapel hill/Carrboro district tax is no different than lottery money. The country reduces its funding b/c the "private" resource is there.

What I would like to see is Chapel Hill ask for FULL funding for its educational needs from the county pretending that there was no district tax. Then let's see what that scenario looks like. I think everybody would be screaming for a tax increase in that paradigm, so perhaps the orange county district would stop believing in miracles. If they want more money, then their property owners will have to pay more. You can either vote a special district tax now or wait for the BOCC to increase your taxes later. surely you don't believe you can get more money without paying more taxes.

Just my humble opinion as a new member of this community.


I'd like to respond to Masie:

I invite you to come to one of our board meetings. I think you'll find we're very up front, even with our divergent views. Some don't want higher taxes for anything, some want that "transfer of wealth" via raising the ad valorem and lowering the district tax (I'm in that group). Of course, not everything that is said in a meeting is then quoted in the paper. So again, come on up any first or third Monday evening at 7 pm. We'd love to have you.

Masie, you stated: the Chapel Hill/Carrboro district tax is no different than lottery money. The country reduces its funding b/c the “private” resource is there.

Wow! You know, I've come to same conclusion. It IS like the lottery, which the Chapel Hill school board officially opposed. Interesting, huh?

I don't want a district tax in our neck of the woods because I don't think adding that additional layer of tax to the already convoluded tax structure we have in place is the best or fairest way to increase funding for our schools -- which I absolutely think we need to do.

I also think that if the commissioners want to find out if in fact county residents want to pay more for our schools, then ask THAT question on a referendum or at public hearings, not "do you want a district tax?" Oh well, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

But I have to ask, if the referendum fails, then what is plan B for increasing funding to OCS without increasing the difference in resource levels in our two school systems?

What do I think about merger? I am an Orange County school board member and contrary to what many have said here, I have not changed my views so that I can remain in office; I haven't even decided if I will run again. Have my views about how to get more money for OCS changed over time? Sure. With new information, opinions and stances should change, don't you think? But one thing hasn't changed -- I've ALWAYS supported increased funding for our schools.

So back to merger. While I see the financial merits of merging, and think it will ultimately have to happen, I'd really rather it not. I like the climate we've created for our students. And look at what we've done for those of our students who come in with so very little. Just imagine what we could do for those children, and all children in our school system, if we had more...

Libbie Hough

oops -- i just noticed i didn't spell convoluted correctly. Sorry!

Libbie Hough

These comments appear to be going around in circles. Has anyone refuted the claim that the BOCC could--right now and without passing any additional measures--set the district tax to 0% and raise the county-wide tax to whatever is needed to fund both systems?

If that is so, the notion that the district tax limits OCS funding does not hold water. If that is so, the only limitation to the current funding model is if the county needed so much money, they would need a district tax instead of CHCCS, rather than in addition to.

It's really quite simple.

Until the Orange County School Board can come up with 4 votes FOR something (not just against something).. Nothing is going to change.

If 4 people come clean and support votes for increased taxation by whatever means than something can change.

Nothing will change as long as there are convoluted and continuously shifting (and often false) arguments by 3 school board members and no majority to make specific legally binding requests that assume taxation will and must be linked with increased funding.

The last couple years have made at least 1 school board member look like Karl Rove's parallel universe communist sister.

My comments on the recently published county Q&A on the district tax: http://squeezethepulp.com/viewtopic.php?t=52

From today's Fitzsimon Report:

The education poverty gap

By Chris Fitzsimon
More compelling evidence this week that many of the state's education reform efforts are misguided or at least rendered less effective because of the failure of state leaders to recognize a critical predictor of student performance---poverty.

The Greensboro News and Record recently conducted a statistical comparison of test scores in Guilford County schools and the wealth of students' families, based on the tax values of housing in the school's attendance zones.

It turns out that wealth has more to do with test scores than class size, teacher experience or the racial background of the students. The study found that 82 percent of the difference in schools SAT scores could be predicted by the wealth of the students' neighborhoods. The same correlation was found when comparing standardized test scores in early grades.

The Sunday story about the report quotes local school officials and university professors saying that the findings are not a surprise and confirm what many other studies have found, that children living in poverty have a harder time doing well in school. Parents in poor families are less likely to have time to help their children learn and less likely to have the resources for tutors and other help when their children struggle.

The report then questions the state's standardized testing program, which rewards teachers with bonuses if their students make progress on standardized tests. That provides a disincentive for teachers to teach at struggling schools with a high percentage of poor students where teachers are much less likely to earn bonus pay.

Finally, the story mentions Wake County's plan of assigning schools by economic status instead of race as one solution, a plan that was recently the subject of a glowing story in the New York Times.

Good for the News and Record for again raising the issue of the role poverty plays in student achievement. Wake County's strategy seems to be working well in the short run. But it begs a much bigger question that the story and most importantly, state leaders continue to ignore.

If poverty plays such a vital role in a student's success and state officials claim to be so dedicated to improving student performance, then why is it so hard to get state leaders to do something about poverty in North Carolina?

Thousands of adults work 40 hours a week but live in poverty and Governor Mike Easley, who wants to be the education governor, has not yet weighed in on a proposal to raise the state minimum wage.

Hundreds of thousands of families live in a housing they cannot afford straining the family budget, yet legislative leaders who talk everyday about education virtually ignored the state's affordable housing crisis this past session.

More than 1.4 million people in the state have no health insurance coverage, meaning that minor illnesses are often ignored, and a major illness can ruin the family financially. Yet state leaders have done little to help the uninsured and instead battle over reducing benefits provided to the poor by Medicaid.

Students need smaller classes, highly qualified teachers, and adequate facilities to learn. That all helps. It also appears that creative student assignment can help poor children some. But the schools and teachers and principals cannot work miracles. Neither can families who can barely afford to make ends meet.

Education reform must include addressing the poverty gap. Fighting to reduce poverty means fighting for kids to succeed in school.



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