The Candidates Respond: Relationships with School Districts

Nine candidates are running for the Orange County Board of Commissioners in the upcoming Democratic primary election on March 15.

  • At Large (1 seat): Andy Cagle, Matt Hughes, Mark Marcoplos
  • District 1 (2 seats): Jamezetta Bedford, Mark Dorosin, Gary Kahn, Penny Rich
  • District 2 (1 seat): Bonnie Hauser, Renee Price

OrangePolitics asked the candidates to answer five questions, and all provided responses. We're posting the candidates' responses to one question every Monday. Two weeks ago, we posted the responses to the first question and last week the second question. Today, we post the responses to the third question:

How would you characterize the relationships between the county and each of our community’s two school districts? In what ways could these relationships be improved?

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Andy Cagle

I believe the relationship is pretty good, I would like to see more collaboration between the school districts by sharing resources, information and cost sharing.

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Matt Hughes

Having grown up in Orange County, I attended Orange County Schools and graduated from Cedar Ridge High School. I have an immense respect for our local school districts and feel proud to live in a community that values public education so highly. As a county commissioner, I will continue my life-long commitment to public education.

I characterize the relationships between the county and our two districts as a professional partnership that is laser focused on providing a high quality public education to the residents of our community. After the merger discussions and the release of the 2001 Merger Study, we saw increased collaboration between the districts. One example of this was the Safety Study. This study, though not public, was a unified effort to pinpoint areas which needed improvement for school safety and the health our students. We also know there’s a collaborative effort that allows students to apply for educational programs that one district does not offer, but the other does, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Cedar Ridge High.  I believe we should continue these collaborative efforts with the school districts and find additional ways we can join forces on community issues, including zoning, affordable housing, and the achievement gap.

One area that I believe will require this collaboration quite soon is the bond. The bus maintenance facilities in our county are not adequate for the new age buses that are currently manufactured. I support money coming from the bond, off the top, to fund a unified bus maintenance facility that is centrally located for both districts. While we have two Local Education Authorities (e.g. school districts), the state only recognizes one LEA for the purposes of school transportation and funds buses per county, not per district. Therefore, this almost begs for collaboration between the school districts, in order for both districts to obtain the bus maintenance facilities that they both desperately need. Receiving money from the county-wide bond would be excellent inspiration for this collaboration, and greatly simplify the process.

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Mark Marcoplos

I honestly don’t know much about the nature of school boards relationships with the county, especially with the new make-up of each school board. I have been aware of tensions over the years and they obviously relate to budgeting, since the BOCC’s primary involvement with the schools is to work with the school systems to provide proper funding.

I have spoken with some school board members to better understand the process that leads to a specific budgetary decision. The major opportunity for the school boards and BOCC to discuss budget details occurs at a group meeting of the three bodies. This seems more symbolic than effective. I understand the root of the tension. The school boards have more knowledge of the programs and facility needs that need funding and the BOCC has more knowledge of the overall fiscal state of the County.

I would explore a better process to cultivate more mutual understanding of these issues, possibly involving more small meetings on various aspects of the budget. I’m a firm believer that more, effective communication will lessen friction between boards.   

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Jamezetta Bedford

Because NC is one of the handful of states where the school board does not have taxing authority, there is a resulting tension between the county commissioners who do and the school boards.  Twice a year the full boards of the three entities jointly meet, to facilitate budgeting and to work together on local and state issues.  As needed, every few months, the chair and vice-chair of each board also meet in a collaboration meeting, facilitated by Andy Sachs of the Dispute Settlement Center, with the manager and Superintendents participating.  These meetings do use a significant amount of staff time, but provide time to communicate, explore possibilities and resolve conflicts. For example, I recall working on county school construction standards, adding xeriscaping and environmental language, making sure both school districts had sustainable, equitable facilities with new construction or large improvements. There is also the issue of funding for schools outside of the Average Daily Membership (ADM), e.g., the extra appropriation to pay for the sheriff’s office to provide school resource officers to Orange Co Schools.

Stakeholders across the county want and need the commissioners to prioritize education.  The cuts from federal and state sources have left our districts jointly looking to the county for relief.

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Mark Dorosin

The relationship between the county and the school districts is generally positive, but additional efforts need to be made to improve communication and collaboration on the substantive policy goals that we all share.  A growing community focus on the urgent need to address racial and economic disparities for families and children requires us to revisit the dynamics of the relationship between school policies and other critical county objectives.  Most significantly, we need to more deliberately link our education policies to the challenges of income inequality, loss of diversity, and economic opportunity. Additionally, as the only one of the three elected boards accountable to all residents of the county, the commissioners must push to expand collaboration, coordination, and innovation from the school boards, and to ensure that all school children in the county have access to equal educational opportunities.  I believe, through the bond discussions and with new members on all three boards, we have begun to do this, but there is much more work to do.

We also must combine our strengths, strategies, and voices to advocate against privatization and the broader anti-public school agenda of the state legislature.

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Gary Kahn

I think the relationship between the county and the school system is fair, but I would like to see some accountability for how the school boards are spending our money for there budgets, (ie what programs are necessary and those that are not).

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Penny Rich

Orange County and the two school districts therein have one of the most cooperative relationships in the state. School collaboration meetings are very productive with measurable outcomes. I am frustrated with the state legislature defunding public education and teacher salaries year after year. It is difficult to cope with constant funding reductions, and this causes friction during our budget discussions. I am proud of our great school systems. I have two sons in college who received a top quality education in the CHCCS school system. I think every person in Orange County agrees that we must continue to support our schools, and consider every option available to do so.

The Orange County school board has been in flux due to a long superintendent search and resignation, and a lack of continuity on their board. CHCCS school board has 3 new members (and possibly 4 after the appointment) and is in a period of transition. This creates an opportunity to form a stronger understanding of each other’s roles. Moving forward it will be imperative that the leaders on both boards remember that the county commission plays a broad role in the country, which includes but it not limited to the schools. The more we can come to understand and respect our differences, the better we will be able to collaborate.

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Bonnie Hauser

I would characterize the relationships as cordial and hands off. Each district works within its own policies and within a general funding policy set by the county. The county does not get involved with education policies or resources within each school district.

I’d like to see the relationships become more collaborative. To me, that includes, school leaders who work more closely with each other and with the county to explore best practices in education and funding. I’m not interested in merging schools, but I am interested assuring that our public schools are truly the best choice for families – even as the legislature continues its assault on public schools. I’d like our school districts to learn from each other and from districts outside Orange County. 

I’m interested in exploring better ways to fund our schools – especially given the growing uncertainty from the state. Better funding policies should help to increase trust between our schools and the public. New leaders in both school districts are ready to start the conversation – including the option to use agreed standards as the basis for funding. Standards could include class size, staffing levels, and building maintenance schedules. 

Imagine if school and county leaders committed to work together and with outside experts to modernize funding policies, and make spending more open and transparent. I’d expect the effort would improve trust and collaboration, and increase everyone’s confidence that school and county funds are going to essential priorities.

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Renee Price

From my perspective, the relationships between the County and each of the two School Districts are interesting. Our interactions involve funding, and the topic of money and its allocation, in almost any circumstance, brings a bit of tension. At the same time, at the heart of our relationships are the children of Orange County, and how we nurture them and prepare them for their futures.

Each district has its own particular priorities, while the commissioners are considering a host of other departmental needs. The atmosphere during budget season at times has been tense. Throughout the year, commissioners, school board members, teachers, support staff, administrators are talking and collaborating to provide the best educational systems, and our relationships are becoming more and more productive. Personally, I find the ongoing development or our relationships to be extremely valuable.

We may be able to realize more dynamic relationships with enhanced communication. Commissioners and school board members would benefit if we had a more interactive approach for sharing knowledge and understanding resources, issues and constraints that each body encounters. More meetings are challenging when we already have busy schedules; yet somehow, we need to become more sensitive to the circumstances that influence our decision-making.

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