What's at issue in the School Board runoff

As you probably know by now, Laura Nicholson has requested a runoff against current School Board Chair Anne Medenblik.  The special runoff election will be held on June 22nd - the same day as the U.S.  Senatorial showdown between Democrats Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham.

Under the rules for the non-partisan school board race, a candidate may request a runoff if one or more top vote getters fails to win more votes than the total number of votes cast divided by the number of candidates running.

In the school board race, the threshold was 2,636 votes. Medenblik, who finished fourth in the race for four seats, won 2,565 votes; Nicholson won 2,500 votes 

- N&O: Runoff ahead in Orange County, 5/13/10 

I find school board issues are some of the most inscrutable in local politics. Unless you are thoroughly wrapped up in local school committees and know all the acronyms and personalities, it can be hard to know what's at stake and what people are really saying in richly coded language.  For example, no-one is against closing the "minority" acheivement gap, but everyone has different ideas about how that should be done, and where it should be prioritized among other problems.

So all of that is to say: help!  Are any of you readers more familiar with the intricacies of the County School Board? Do you know one or both of these candidates?  I haven't seen any news stories that talked about what the difference would be between having one on the board versus the other.  Let's educate each other.

To start with, we have http://lauranforschoolboard.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hillsborough-NC/Anne-Medenblik-for-School-Board/107740572586900 ... 



Over the past several months at Cedar Ridge High School, a large number of kids have been kicked off of school teams for alleged or 2nd hand witnessed alcohol or drug use. No parental involvement. No due process. Power being wielded without oversight by a handful of people.A large number of parents decided that this situation needed to be changed and we communicated our concerns to the County School Board. No Board member responded. After a second communication, a couple of them did. The word was that they wanted to bunker on this until after the election. Eventually Chair Medenblik responded. Her e-mail was a list of court cases that she believed backed up the current policies. It was a defensive posture and she really didn't seem to understand that we had reasonable concerns. Since the initial communications, neither Medenblik or any other Board member have taken it upon themselve sto talk with or meet with any of us to find out how they could help. 

About six years ago there was a incident in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools in which a student received a significant consequence for violating an athletic team rule and which subsequently resulted in due process issues being raised.  As with the situation described at Cedar Ridge, there are two sets of issues, those affecting the specific child or children involved and those of the poilcies, procedures, and rules.  I know nothing of the Cedar Ridge situation but if someone would have asked our board about the first set of issues concerning a specific child or children, we would have been barred by state and federal law from discussing that with someone other than the student or parent.  School boards also serve a pseudo-judicial role and are strongly advised not to involve themselves in issues that may come before the board in that capacity.  That is, students who have been punished may be able to appeal a decision of a school employee to the school board.  Board members who have involved themselves in such a situation prior to an appeal to the board may not be able to hear the appeal.  The second set of issues is very different.  It is always possible and appropriate to discuss issues of public policy.  What due process rights do students have?  Should there be school-related consequences for behavior occurring outside of school?   Should there be uniform consequences across the district or can the coach decide for each team (or the AD for a school)?  Should the same rules apply to non-athletic extra-curricular activities?  What about co-curricular activities?  A question that came up here recently (again) is whether different consideration should be made if punishment of one student will result in significant negative consequences for other students.  Much work went into revising this policy in CHCCS because the issues are complex.    I can not help much with Ruby's question though, not knowing the issues within OCS's election process.  I have worked with Anne Medenblik in joint meetings with the county commissioners.  I do not think I know Laura Nicholson.  

Welcome to my world.  I've been frustrated by this board for almost 2 years now. Unresponsive, uncommunicative, and absolutely unresponsible bunch of people. Some are even unethical. Yet voters continue to select incumbents. I guess the majority is getting what they asked for - a royal pain. The minority is suffering along with everyone else.

On the issue you raised, all athletes sign a "behavior" policy when making a team at Cedar Ridge. My daughter knows of the consequences to certain behaviors and therefore chose NOT to attend an after-prom party, as much as she wanted to go to one. As harsh as it seems, these kids knew what was at stake. They are almost adults and practically demand we treat them as such. We are aware of the penalties we face when we chose to break rules, as are they. (Please understand, I too would like to see every student athlete re-instated to their teams but what example does that set for the younger students?)

As far as "due process", this board and superintendent don't follow those laws when ADULTS are concerned, they sure don't care about kids' rights.

There is a protocol that has to be completed. Problems regarding suspensions and other issues should be communicated to the coach, the athletic director, school administration, and the superintendent (in that order) before it should ever come to the Board. The Board is essentially the "court of last resort."

Just the type of issues I would expect school board members to explore and to engage with the many parents who raised the general issue.

Just clarifying for the School Board Election on June 22 - it is a "runoff election", not a special election.

Duly noted/corrected.

Disclosure: I work for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, but my daughter has spent her educational career in Orange County Schools.  I've served on a number of committees for OCS.Ruby is correct that choosing school board candidates is difficult unless you know a lot about the inner machinations of the district. As this school board election took place, I found myself trying to figure out what are the qualities that are most important in a school board member.  The quality that seems most important to me is that they can consider complex issues and take multiple perspectives into account as the make decisions.  I believe that most school board members (and elected officials of any kind) learn that there are no easy answers. When you try to govern on a board, you have to work collaboratively if you want to develop broad-based support for your policies.  Therefore, I'm generally skeptical of any school board candidate who seems to have one pet-issue or an altogether slanted perspective.In this case, I have measured my support for the two candidates by trying to see which has demonstrated the strongest ability to do what I have suggested above.  My litmus test has been the work that the Orange County Schools' committee on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps.  I chaired that committee during it's initial report drafting, and then I served on the oversight committee for another year.When I left the committee, I felt that the district was implementing many of the strategies that we had recommended. But the board and administration had not fully embraced the spirit of our report.  To wit: 

The RACG Committee is aware that major changes cannot occur overnight. It requires a transformation of mindsets, policies and practices, ultimately weaving the focus of this work into the fabric of all efforts in the district. This report is a first step towards our district’s development of a framework and process to intentionally raise the achievement of all students while while closing the gap between white students and students of color.

I do not believe that the current board has actively taken on this challenging transformation. Instead, they have supported a set of technical developments that will improve schooling but not address the root of the problem.When I have spoken with Ms. Nicholson, I have found her to be a very good listener and quite inquisitive about the work of the RACG.  She has met my expectations for a school board member who will consider the complexities of an issue and how best to address them.  I will vote for her in the run-off election as I did in the original primary.   

You do not want candidates to have one "Pet-Issue" yet you appear to judge the 2 candidates based one your own pet-issue? Orange County Schools has narrowed the Achievement Gap and was honored for the reduction in drop-outs. You do not say if you spoke to Anne Mendenblik. When I met her this Spring - she actively listened, was knowledgeable about a wide range of issues - challenges with middle and high school programs,  difficulty with the EC Department, real experiences in the trenches as a teacher and an involved parent, financial planning and much more. She even volunteers at schools where she had never been a parent. She wants to raise the bar for ALL our students. She EARNED my vote in May and definitely is clearly the best choice for our vote Tuesday! 

While this is tangential to the question at hand, one way to learn about the Chapel Hill Carrboro district, without personal involvement, is to subscribe to the "Boardroom" which summarizes the discussion at each of our board meetings.  It isn't the approved minutes but is generally quite accurate.   Stephanie Knott, who valiantly manages to stay awake through our sometimes quite long meetings, is the trusty reporter who puts together the Boardroom and puts it out within days, if not hours, of the meeting.  I have found that various stakeholders, parents and teachers in particular, use the Boardroom as a launching point for additional conversation with board members about the district's priorities.  For the question at hand, I hope someone from the Orange Schools will let us know if there is a similar e-publication covering their deliberations.   Link to subscribe to the Chapel Hill Carrboro Boardroom: http://www2.chccs.k12.nc.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?s...

There is a story in this week's News of Orange that attempts to show the differences in the two candidates and where they stand on several issues.We can read the article by Vanessa Shortley at www.newsoforange.com

According to Dan Way of the CH Herald, OC Board of Education candidate Laura Nicholson is currently being investigated by the OC sheriff's office for the use of Central Elementary PTSA funds to purchase personal items, meals, gift cards and for withdrawing cash without proper authorization. http://heraldsun.com/pages/chh_dan_way I hope this subject isn't seen as a stupid diversion from the election issues.  

I guess I'll sit this one out. Neither one appears to have what it takes to be a good school board member. 

The News of Orange County has published an article detailing the "accusations" regarding Laura Nicholson's "role in the managing of funds for Central Elementary School’s PTSA."  http://www.aconews.com/articles/2010/06/16/noc/news/news11.txt According to the article, OCS Financial Director Donna Brinkley audited the CES PTSA books and found 15 discrepancies including several instances where cash was withdrawn from the PTSA's account and "either not re-deposited or not done in a timely manner" and a "fundraiser" for which $500 was spent, but no receipts were deposited into the PTSA account. Given how the article ends, it is no surprise that Laura Nicholson "declined to comment on the record." "Investigator Doug Koehler of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Monday his department has been investigating Central Elementary School’s PTSA since last week.He declined to say how the sheriff’s office got involved or whether he believes charges are likely.'It’s really too early to tell right now,' he said.Koehler also said he couldn’t estimate how long the investigation may take.'There’s no way to tell,' he said. 'There are a lot of people to talk to. There are a lot of discrepancies.'"  If you want to read the OCS audit report and minutes from the CES PTSA board meeting referenced in the article, you can find them here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33124564/CES-PTO-Audit-Findings http://www.scribd.com/doc/33125331/CES-PTSA-Board-Minutes

For the past 6-8 years the Orange County BOE has had several embrassing Board members. It began with Chairman Cook who plagiarize a graduation speech, denied it,  remained in office until he was defeated in a re-election bid and his term expired. Then there was the board member who embezzled from his business partner and clients, at least he was adult enough to resign. Lastly there is current Board Member Triebel who before elected was a drivers education teacher, he was convicted of a DUI during his term.School board members have a greater responsibility to be positive role models for our children in my opinion. All three of the members I listed above made their mistakes in office. We are now being asked to elect candidate Nicholson who is still delinquent on her property taxes and doesn't seem to care. The recent news of missing Central Elementary PTO funds of which she is President being investigated by the Orange County Sheriff Dept. One of candidate Nicholson talking points has been her experience dealing with muilt million dollar budgets with an employer who has been out of business for more than a year. Is there anything else that candidate Nicholson has overlook?Ms Nicholson in my opinion is NOT a good role model for our children.

I realize the allegations coming out about Laura Nicholson in the past few weeks played probably had a huge impact, but I was still surprised to see such a wide gap in the unofficial results from today's election.  Anne Medenblik appears to have won by a three to one margin.


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