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?




Liz Brown had a guest column in the Herald on this last week. Perhaps "someone" at the Herald could provide a link.

Her main point was, as the News reports, why go to all the trouble of referenda when the BOCC can adjust existing tax rates to provide more equitable funding? I've never heard a direct answer to this question.

If the goal is full funding for both districts then the district tax becomes an obsolete relic and the proposed referendum seems little more than a stalling tactic.

Liz Brown's column FALSELY stated "The commissioners granted less than half of our request, while (yet again) fully funding the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools budget request".

CHCCS did not get their full budget request this year and I am almost certain that they did not get their full request last year or the year before.

I think it is appalling that an elected official would either knowingly, or by failing to check the facts, make such a false statement, particularly after the plagiarism fiasco. Do newspapers have an obligation to do fact checking on columns or can people write anything they want?

There are other assertions made in the column that are incorrect. The commissioners could have chosen to fully fund the OCS budget request this budget cycle. They have full discretion on the ad valorem to be any amount and for the CHCCS district tax to be between 0 and 35 cents.

I have asked the commissioners the same question about raising the ad valorem and the replies are that people in CHCCS have chosen to pay a higher tax, that not everyone in the OCS district wants to pay more taxes, and that it would impact people on fixed incomes. Some have also indicated that they want OCS to confirm via a vote that they want to be taxed. Several OCS board members have articulated these same sentiments in recent joint BOCC/BOE meetings. I was out of town for the final budget meetings and the minutes are not yet available. I have requested the audio and am supposed to be picking it up next week.

At the listening session last night, OCS board members told Commissioner Carey there is insufficient time to advocate for an OCS district tax. I think it will be an difficult battle now that the OCS board has voted against it, particularly given that school construction bonds for OCS schools would not have passed the last time around if it were not for the CHCCS voters.

Interestingly, while OCS has chosen not to pay a district tax, the school capital (construction) is financed by the whole county and it is CHCCS that is getting the shaft. The 60/40 proposal retired the Cedar Ridge Debt and significantly reduced the CHCCS capital funding and then the last minute budget shifts left CHCCS with perhaps little or no capital funding that used to come in from impact fees, based on comments by commissioners at the budget meetings (the new data is not yet available).

This OCS district tax comes down to an issue of choice and local control. No matter what solution is chosen, OCS will bear the tax burden and those residents should be allowed to make the decision. If you hold a countywide referendum, then it will be the CHCCS district residents making a decision for OCS.

These are two districts with two constituencies and they are both top funded in the state.


Information on the OC website contradicts the assertion that an OCS district tax would "put a tax on those who can least afford it." Referring to http://www.co.orange.nc.us/schoolmerger/AppendixS.pdf, an OCS district tax of 21.7 cents (per $100 valuation) would provide per pupil finding to the same level as CHCCS. The CHCCS district tax rate is presently 20.8 cents. That's a difference of just 4%. According to county projections, even that small difference would decrease, and then reverse over the next few years. An OCS district tax would impose no more of a financial burden than CHCCS residents voluntarily bear.


Have the commissioners ever stated that equalizing school funding is their goal? Have they ever stated that, school funding comes down to an issue of choice and local control? What do you know of the alternative referendum being considered—what does it say?

Here's some thinking about equal school funding from the NC Supreme Court:

“Recently the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that while the state did not have responsibility for equal school funding it did have a fundamental constitutional responsibility to provide all students with a sound basic education." As Chief Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell summarized, The North Carolina Constitution requires that access to a sound basic education be provided equally in every school district." In a dissent from the majority opinion, Justice Robert Orr went even further: The inability or indifference of local governments to provide funds does not excuse the General Assembly from a duty specifically imposed on it by the Constitution." The conclusion is that if poor school districts cannot provide their students with a sound basic education, then the state has a constitutional responsibility to help those poorer school districts.”

“School Funding and the Quality of Education in North Carolina”

Certainly, the Orange County School system doesn't qualify as one of NC's ‘poorer school districts'; however, we are failing our poorer students in both school districts.

Here's more:

The well-documented effect of childhood poverty is on educational achievement. The lack of education achievement has a cascade effect on children's life chances because those who grow up poor have lower literacy rates, higher rates of dropping out, and higher delinquency rates. Research shows very clearly that illiteracy is strongly correlated to delinquency and criminal behavior. Another major consequence of poverty is that low income often leads to residence in extremely poor neighborhoods characterized by social disorganization and few resources for child development.

The Causes and Consequences of Children's Poverty:

Even if we fund all of our schools the same, does anything really change for these poor students? I believe very little changes. The achievement gap will continue to exist for as long as we fail to address it. Throwing money at the schools only helps if we put the money in the right kinds of programs. What are the right programs? I believe the right programs are consistent, long-term programs that help children cope with and overcome home situations that work against opportunity, esteem, motivation, and achievement.

I know there are many wonderful people in the community already who are giving at-risk children some of the extra nurturing and attention that these children deserve, but we can't rely on volunteers alone. We need money that is earmarked specifically for these children. Funding equalized or not, guarantees nothing for these children.


I think it's clear that the OCS board opposes a local referendum on an OCS district tax because they know that OCS residents would vote it down. They know that they have a better chance of getting more money if CHCCS residents are forced into a countywide funding decision.

I'm a CHCCS parent and here's the scenario that scares me...
Some form of increased countywide school funding is implemented, supplanting part of the CHCCS district tax. The CHCCS is not hurt too much initially, as CHCCS parents are a noisy bunch. Over time, the portion of school funding supplied by the countywide tax is increased while the CHCCS district tax is decreased. All the while, residents at one end of the county scream for more school funding while residents at the other end yell even louder about the awful tax burden. Politics being the art of compromise, overall county school funding decreases every budget cycle until the noise from the south and the noise from the north are about equal. Schools need money, CHCCS residents want to give more of it to them, but the county says "That's all you're allowed to give".

At the listening session, one of the OCS board members asked “Shouldn't we care about all of the students in the county equally?” Absolutely we should. We should care about all of the students in the state, all of the students on the planet, and we should not create a situation that restricts the money that residents voluntarily provide to schools.

Orange County is generous with school funding. Of the one hundred NC counties, only Dare County is better funded, (see www.ncacc.org), but I would love for OCS residents to voluntarily provide more. I just do not want to tell them that they must, and I especially do not want them to tell me that I can not.

some of the school board members must have at least 2 faces to talk out of both sides at the same time.

let me see...
the only way to increase funding is through a tax increase on property which hits everyone - rich or poor - affordability doesn't matter at all on the mechanism used to generate property tax.

As locally elected politicians they don't support local control of taxation - which can minimize a tax increase relative to what would be supported county wide..

Certain school board members would do anything for more funding except lose re-election. They are passing the buck to the commissioners to make the commissioners raise taxes. Believe me the commissioners are on to their game. Wow that's a lot of integrity - not supporting taxes for education because you want to get re-elected.

Some school board members don't want a district tax on the ballot becauses they will be forced to publicly admit they don't really want more funding if it means they will be less popular. Others don't want it in case in loses any pretense of merger or taxation support will clearly be lost in the future. Copeland is just a republican who wouldn't support tax increases if it guaranteed a cure for cancer.

Amazing how shrewd and politically rovian these soccer moms are when it comes to taxes.

lots of dirt and misinformation is thrown around, but hopefully the commissioners will realize a district tax gives the most local control to bush country while having some gauge of just what people will spend for education.

If we were going to cut or taxes for greenway, library bonds or fare free transit because the rest of the county didn't want higher taxes than what would you say?

It's pretty galling that these guys are now proposing funding cuts for chapel hill and carrboro so that the residents in the south will pressure the commissioners to raise taxes. I don't worship at the church of some of the county school board members who are too cowardly to directly ask the public to vote on important issues that must (by any means) in the end raise taxes. Cowards..

(to cut off the constant fallicy - the county manager showed in the long run (not tomorrow) the mechanism of the tax increase is not statistically different in terms of burden on county residents)

Here's a custom search I ran on Alamance, Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Wake counties. Orange County spends more per pupil than any of our neighbors, despite a relatively similar median income. Despite this spending, African American students achievement as measured by the EOC is lower in Orange County and our povery rate is higher.

In terms of funding, DPI's most recent figures are from 2003-2004. The funding formulas are very complicated, but it's clear that by state and federal guidelines, the two local districts are receiving similar allocations on a per pupil basis. Locally, CHCCS receives close to 70% more than OCS as a result of the district tax. http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/SelectFinData/sfd03-04.pdf

Clearly there is overlap between how we fund our schools, other local government services, and the quality of life for ALL citizens in this county. I believe children are important, despite the fact that I don't have any. I also believe old people and sick people are important. I believe the environment is important. I believe art is important.

If we attend only to school funding, ignoring the lack of affordable housing and jobs, we cannot build a community our children will want to live in when they are adults. If we want a sustainable community, we have to look at issues other than just the schools. Expecting people who are only marginally holding on to their homes to pay higher taxes just isn't equitable. In the long run, I think that action will hurt us all. It may also be wasteful, since some of our neighbors are achieving roughly comparable achievement with less funding (specifically look at Wake data above).

While another $300 a year may be meaningless to some of you, it is an insurmountable mountain to others. Instead of throwing more money at schools that are aleady very well funded without the additional district tax, why can't we be working with the two systems to help them become more efficient? Why can't we care as much about the homeless and the mentally ill and those living in poverty as we do about middle to upper class children?

The tuition for Durham Academy is 14,000$ a year for high school plus a 2,000$ initiation fee..

I'd say the rich chapel hill schools are doing quite well spending 40% less than a neighboring private school which does not have many if any kids getting free lunches, is less diverse, and does not have the % of autistic kids that the public schools deal with.

the myth that chapel hill is wasteful.

NC is 38th in state funding per pupil so unless you think being at the bottom is good the extra local money is needed.

actually you are wrong about one thing. Durham county spends 60% of its budget on schools orange only 48%.. so as I percentage we are lower.

(you should try meeting some of the teachers aids who have second jobs in the fry houses if you think chapel hill squanders money.. good things in life can sometimes cost.

Terri, I'm trying to understand your figures on the linked page. They don't look as dour as your comment above. I see that Orange has the highest test scores overall, the second highest test scores for black students and the lowest dropout rates. Only Wake county had higher black student test scores, and they did that with the second lowest per-student spending, far lower than Orange's.

Strictly from this data, I would draw very different conclusions from yours. We're doing better than almost all of our surrounding counties. Spending more money is not a necessity for good results. In fact, we should be able to spend less. Given our higher povery rate, more taxes would be a problem for more people.

Are your figures correct? How do you draw the conclusions you made?

I'm not sure what conclusions you think I drew Ed. Our schools are more highly funded than those of our neighbors and performance, especially compared to Wake, is roughly comparable. On top of that, our poverty rate is higher. That to me is a pretty good argument *against* adding a new tax--which is what I think you are saying. The tabular data came from the NC Rural Center and the data sources they drew from are listed below the table. Most of the sources are fro 2000-2002 so it's slightly out of date but I don't think too much has changed since then.

(My computer is non-operational so I am only able to check in from friends houses. If you have any additional questions about the data, I will answer but it may be later tomorrow or Sunday.)

I don't think we're going to cut the Gordian knot here. Whatever step the commisioners take to equalize funding to our schools will be imperfect. Every solution hurts someone. Every rationale has holes in it.

Terri, I thought this statement of yours indicated that you thought black students were underperforming in comparison with neighboring counties.

"Despite this spending, African American students achievement as measured by the EOC is lower in Orange County..."

But they are not lower. They are higher than most counties. Perhaps you meant lower than the overall population?

You're right Ed. Orange Co (OCS+CHCCS) African American students have EOG higher scores than Alamance or Durham and are roughly equal to Chatham and Wake.

Did you notice the difference between overall pass rates and AA pass rates in Durham (11.2), Orange (13.4) and Wake (10.9)? Wake is doing a better job (not good enough, just better) of bridging the racial achievement gap at a much lower per student expenditure.


"Wake is doing a better job (not good enough, just better) of bridging the racial achievement gap at a much lower per student expenditure."

Here is an object lesson. We can't merely throw money at a problem and make it go away. What works is what you are doing, working at the grassroots. Well-thought out public policy is an important second throng. What gets you to three when you add these two is the synergy of collaboration between citizens working the trenches and the people driving the train.

I attended a Back to School rally at a Black church in the Annexation area today. We packed school bags with donated supplies, and there were speakers on various topics related to African Americans and education. It was very interesting. Not one leader said "we want more money" with the exception of the needs of some children to obtain computers for home use. The concern I heard mentioned over and over again was the seperating of children into groups. The general feeling was that by seperating "gifted" students from "regular" students from " special ed" students, some students got neglected. The prevailing desire was to have access to the resources that the "other" students had. If all the students were grouped together, the rising tide would lift all the boats.

I'm pretty sure the annexation area is in CHCCS rather than OCS.

It was an event held by the council of churches, and buses came in from county-wide, as were the speakers.

They wanted more African American counselors at the jr high and high school level. They wanted more role models for young AA students beyond " those who rapped or bounced a basketball". I assume they meant teachers. The real concern I heard over and over was that AA children are tracked in non college prep at such an early age, they have little chance of making it to college.

Thanks for reporting what people at the church had to say about our schools.

It reminds me of something I heard Fred Battle say on the WCHL school hour back in the spring. I'm sure I don't have the quote exactly right, but he said something like, "Everybody knows Chapel Hill schools are no good for African-American students." As you say, the prevailing sense of many of these students is that they are separated and neglected. The challenge for our community is to provide at-risk students the opportunities that privilege buys.

I would like to see our county decide to provide these ‘opportunities of privilege' over the span of 13+ years that these children are in school. We start out strong helping these children, but we abandon them along the way.

Waiting for problems to appear, and then providing remediation and recovery is not the ideal. Clearly, we need to solicit all the best thinking on how to address the achievement gap in both school systems. We need to set countywide goals and institute a good plan for at-risk children.

The comments you heard at the church are exactly the reason Lincoln Center believes in differentiation as the ideal teaching method in our schools. Unfortunately, there are problems with differentiation that many can't live with (main complaint: not many teachers are very good at differentiation). Another huge problem is that even the teachers who are good at differentiation are overtaxed with bureaucratic requirements. Additionally, they complain that they do not get enough support with non teaching activities.

Again, acquiring, supporting, and retaining teachers who can differentiate should be a top priority in our schools.

The district tax: I don't know what the best funding solution is. With the information I have now, a modest increase in countywide taxes for schools (and commensurate lowering of CHCCS district tax) seems appropriate.

From today's Chapel Hill News (page A3) reported by Patrick Winn:

"All 770 city schools third graders took the test early this year. Of the 160 who scored high enough for LEAP, about 100 were white. About 30 were Asian and--mirroring national trends, staff said--six were black and four were Latino."

That means over 20% of the the third graders qualified for LEAP. (So much for the program being for small percentage of children who can't function in a normal classroom setting...)

As to the racial component...talk about being ISOLATED....



This is distressing news for me personally. My daughter is entering 3rd grade. This is a lose-lose situation.

If she tests for LEAP and...

1. makes it. Odds: 21%. As a parent, I would be happy that she got in, because it sure beats the alternative. But I would also be concerned that her socialization would not include children of diverse ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. Don't children tend to "hang-out" with kids from the same classroom?

2. does not make it. Odds: 79%. As a parent, I would be deeply disturbed that a major component of my daughter's education, association with gifted peers, would be missing. This is especially true of children who might just come under the LEAP wire. Gifted children in the classroom can have different effects on the other students. Although some people believe that it could lead to a loss of self-esteem in some students, I believe that it encourages most students to work at higher levels. When you slice off 21% of the top students from the classroom, you have weakened that classroom.

In the end, whether you are the gifted or non-gifted child, a parent, or a citizen concerned for the future of his or her community, IMHO, we are all diminished by the effects of the LEAP program.

David, the 160 scored high enough on the aptitude test to take the LEAP tests. This is not a cutoff for the program. The district is not "slicing off" off 21% of students. The LEAP percentages are much lower.

Literature on the benefits of having so-called "gifted" students in the classroom for students with low to medium academic readiness is mixed. As you point out, there is the potential for these more academically advanced students to demoralize their classmates. Some believe that advanced students can serve as models, mentors, or surrogate teachers while others argue that the most effective way to motivate children is for them to see others of similar ability demonstrate mastery and attain a sense of personal efficacy.

Regardless of who is right in this ongoing debate, there is no need to fear. Only about one-half of the children who could qualify for LEAP actually choose to attend the program. Also, with estimates of "giftedness" at about 33% for the district, there are plenty of these children to provide the hypothetical benefits of their presence to each and every classroom.

The ironies of the LEAP discussion are becoming delicious.

In order to respond to the claim that the program's selection criteria tended to define the highly gifted too narrowly, and in a way that resulted in potential disadvantage to some students, the district changed its selection criteria. It adopted an initial screening test for all students in the 3rd grade--a non-verbal aptitude test. (There had been no such test for all kids before.)

Those students who scored above a district-defined level on that test were then invited to take further tests to determine qualification for participation in the LEAP program. (Parents were told back in the late spring that the number of kids who actually qualified for LEAP admission after the second round of testing was around 52, if memory serves.)

Today's newspaper article reported the number of students who scored high enough on the initial test to earn an invitation for further testing.

And now comes the criticism: "So much for the program being for [the] small percentage of children who can't function in a normal classroom setting…"

No good deed goes unpunished!


You worry that your daughter would miss the chance to spend time with "children of diverse ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds" in 4th grade LEAP.

Not to worry.

My older daughter's 4th and 5th grade years in Tier 1 (as it has until now been called) were by orders of magnitude the most racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse classrooms she has been in here in the CHCCS district.

"Don't children tend to “hang-out” with kids from the same classroom?" you ask. Indeed they do. This past Friday night, for example, my daughter was at a sleepover birthday party with 7 or 8 girls. She was the only white girl there. And we just got back from attending today's India Independence Day Celebration at the Hindu Temple in Morrisville with the family of another kid from her class.

Combined with the wonderful racial and ethnic diversity she had from kindergarten through third grade at Carrboro Elementary, her experiences with diversity have been extraordinary.

I am simply in awe of the diversity that the CHCCS schools have offered.

One additional note, on the subject of diversity: my older daughter probably spent almost as much time this year with the other members of Glenwood Elementary's incredible Show Choir as she did with her classmates. (They rehearse every single morning, before the schoolday begins, and twice a week after school.) The Show Choir offered even greater diversity than her classroom!


My apologies. The article I quoted did not make it clear that, on further testing, only 52 children had been selected for LEAP.


Frank, thanks for the point of fact explanation regarding LEAP testing and cut-offs. But we're still talking about almost 7% of the top students, right?

Eric, thank you for your anecdotal evidence. I really need to see the actual breakdown before I can make an informed decision on the diversity issue. Diversity has to mean more than tokenism. I hope you can appreciate my concerns as a parent and my skepticism as an egalitarian.

Excuse me for changing the subject back to school taxation and funding, but I would like to know more about your views on the issues. Below is a letter I sent to the commissioners, some of which is a repeat of my earlier postings. I would like to hear your comments, not just on this letter, but around the whole topic.


I understand that you are facing difficult questions regarding school taxation and funding, but I hope that you will conclude that residents of each district deserve the continued ability to decide for themselves how much they want to spend on schools.

Some have claimed that an OCS district tax, similar to the CHCCS district tax, is not a viable option for increased funding of OCS schools because OCS residents cannot afford it. Information on your own Orange County website contradicts that assertion. Referring to www.co.orange.nc.us/schoolmerger/AppendixS.pdf, an OCS district tax of 21.7 cents (per $100 valuation) would provide per pupil funding to the same level as CHCCS. The CHCCS district tax rate is presently 20.8 cents. That is a difference of just 4%. An OCS district tax would impose no more of a financial burden than CHCCS residents voluntarily bear. According to the county study, this is not a matter of wealth or ability. It is a matter of choice.

OCS board members do not want OCS residents to vote on an OCS district tax because they do not believe that OCS residents would vote to financially support their schools to CHCCS levels. The OCS board believes that they will get more money if the OCC, or if CHCCS residents make the taxation and funding decisions instead. I respect the OCS board for doing all they can to increase funding for their schools, but I do not believe that it is fair or ethical to take the decision away from those who will pay the bill.

As a CHCCS parent, I am frightened that the reduction or elimination of local taxation control would ultimately reduce funding for CHCCS schools. County residents in the south want to pay more for schools, the rest (presumably) want to pay less. A combined taxation system would inevitably result in a compromise, eventually reducing taxation and funding in the CHCCS district. What a ridiculous situation that would be! The schools would need more money, CHCCS residents would want to give it to them, but the county would not support it. Please do not create a situation that would restrict the money that residents voluntarily provide to schools.

To take taxation and funding ideas to the extreme, imagine if you were faced with a proposal to combine funding for every school system in the one hundred NC counties. OCS schools are currently the second best funded in the state. I feel sure that you would oppose a system that would force Orange County to fund schools to a state average level. In that situation, you would probably support local control of taxation and funding.

Please allow OCS residents to vote on their own district tax.

Charlie Buckner
Chapel Hill

Yes, I do appreciate your concerns as a parent and your skepticism as an egalitarian.
On the subject of "tokenism," though, please know that about half of my daughter's 5th grade Tier 1 class last year was non-white. I would venture the guess that the LEAP classrooms are the most racially, ethnically, and culturally mixed classrooms in the entire district.

Eric--half of your daughter's class was non-white--but how many of those children were black or Latino? Asians (and I am using the historic "Asia" which includes India, Pakistan, et al as well as the Far East) are usually well represented in the upper levels of academe. In fact, the US Congress has a bill floating about to fund US science and math students in college and graduate schol because so many of the current crop of graduate students are from OTHER COUNTRIES and Congress thinks we need some HOME GROWN physicists, chemists, mathemeticians, etc.

Anecdotally, I've heard that many of the children of color over at Glenwood are kids whose parents are here as graduate students/post docs, etc. (This may not be true.)

I'm not trying to be confrontational. I just worry that the "ethnic diversity" is limited to (primarily) students of Asian background. As the numbers I quoted from the Chapel HIll News would suggest.


OC may be allowed to vote on it--but it's not going to pass. It's only a matter of time before the State makes us merge, anyways. We are one of a HANDFULL of independant systems left in the state.


Charlie you are very right.

In addition - I don't know if you've followed all of Liz Brown's antics but initially she was more than happy to support merger and a 20% + tax increase on her constituents.

When it became clear she could not get re-elected inflicting that on the county she abandoned that position and now advocates CUTTING the CHCCS funding to make it more similar instead.

The orange county school board is becoming more like the dysfunctional durham school board. They make no sense and change positions all the time and there is no evidence that they want to raise taxes to support education.

I hope there is no countywide supplemental tax proposal I would vote against it.

In the end the county needs to support taxes for education or get what they pay for. There is no magic bullet - end of story.

also the county school board 1st insulted CHCCS parents.. then insulted the county commissioners and now have called the CHCCS school board wasteful.. personally I've given up on them and there insults and postion changes.

vote against a countywide tax if it comes up because that is just another way of inflicting chccs views on county residents.

To add to Melanie...
Is there gaping SES diversity in LEAP? Do LEAP children get the experience of attending birthday parties of friends who live at the homeless shelter? Do they have best friends with teenage family members who make the police blotter for violent crimes? Do they get to sit across the table from the same 'worldly' LD student for two years? I think this is the diversity that is missing from LEAP classes. In my book, non-white has nothing to do with it; privilege is the issue.

I simply don't know the answer. There's logic in what you say. My problem is that I think it is wrong for our two school systems to be funded differently--- even if it is the American way.

On the other hand, I don't see fluff in the CHCCS budget, and I would hate to lose any funding we have. As I said before, a modest increase in countywide taxes for schools (and commensurate lowering of CHCCS district tax) seems appropriate for now. There's much more thinking that has to go on here.

I do not know enough about the wealth of the LEAP families to answer Mary's question precisely, although I would imagine that the SES disparities within LEAP are less "gaping" than those in the system as a whole. I do not believe that the families of any of the LEAP kids live in a homeless shelter--though there are plenty of home renters (as opposed to owners), and I know of a couple of families that barely make ends meet. I saw no classmates' siblings in the police blotter. And I believe, though I am of course not sure, that there were a number of kids in the class with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, impulse-control, and attention deficit issues.

The answer to Melanie's question is that my daughter's 4th and 5th grade classes did not have any African-American students. I am not certain, but don't think there were any Latino students in them either. (Perhaps another parent can correct me on that if I'm mistaken.)


"I think it is wrong for our two school systems to be funded differently"

Though I would not call the present taxation system "wrong", I certainly wish that everyone in the county valued schools as much as I do.

It would be wrong, in my opinion, to impose my values on others through legislation. If we raise countywide taxes for schools, without asking OCS residents if they want it, that's what we would be doing. Sure, every law that's passed imposes on someone, but the separation of districts gives us an opportunity to understand and respect more than one set of values.

I hope the commissioners will give OCS residents their vote.

This census map and data shows that Chapel Hill has a higher poverty rate than the county.


The census also states that Orange county overall has a higher median and per capita income than Chapel Hill Residents.



The Census poverty numbers for Orange and Chapel Hill are not belieable. I suspect they're being influenced and skewed by the large number of student "households" that report low incomes but are not by any stretch of the imagination poor. I do more to back up that comment but would invite other commentators here to give this a closer look.

Ray (or anyone else),
Any idea of how those numbers might also be influenced by OC residents living just outside the town limits but within the CHCCS district?


And likewise, if anyone has a better source, then I would be interested to see the data. After I posted that, I saw that the county faced similar challenges preparing data in their material for the agenda item tomorrow night.


Here are some numbers, pulled from the NC LINC web site, which is an excellent compendium of data from a variety of sources. The data is from 2001 to 2003 and stops there only because one data field doesn't have anything more recent.

First, estimated population:

Durham Co. 236,036, Orange Co. 120,916

Durham Co. 233,187, Orange Co. 119,774

Durham Co. 229,468, Orange Co. 118,645

Now, Work First recipients:

Durham Co. 2,944, Orange Co. 744

Durham Co. 3,171, Orange Co. 780

Durham Co. 3,872, Orange Co. 821

I think one rough and ready measure of relative poverty (comparing county to county) is the percentage of Work First recipients in the population. It's not ideal -- the respective DSS departments could be doing better outreach, etc. -- but is better than anecdote.

Doing that comparison, we see that in 2003, Durham's Work First population was 1.2 percent, and Orange's was 0.6 percent. In 2002, the numbers were 1.4 v. 0.7 percent, respectively. In 2001, they were 1.7 v. 0.7 percent, respectively.

Note that the Orange percentage is about half Durham's. That's a far cry from the Census numbers that say there's actually more poverty in relative terms in Orange than in Durham.

Here's a little more information about funding proposals the BOCC will consider tonight:


Ray - what are reporters responsibilities in stories... is it just the facts or facts in the background of reality...

e.g. in this report


the reporter fails to mention that the theoretical tax increase numbers the county provides include IMHO FALSE assumptions of flat future school funding. Shouldn't these budgets use HISTORICAL increases in school spending to calculate the tax?

the first thing someone should look at in multiyear budgets is what assumptions are or are not included.

What a shame it would be if the commissioners decide to rush something onto the ballot for fall. The issue of equitable funding has been discussed off and on for close to 20 years, tied closely to the highly charged merger debates. To make a decision in one meeting on what choices to put onto the ballot, without the time to ensure that residents in both districts understand the implications of the choices, is poor leadership IMHO. Especially when we know that fall, local only elections, have notoriously poor turnout. Whichever outcome you want to see on this issue, I would encourage you to ask the BOCC to slow down and do this right rather than rushing in at the last moment.

From that Herald article, it sounds like the options are either to create a new OCS district tax, or to reduce the CHCCS district tax and raise the overall property tax rate.

I can only think of one reason to lower the city district tax and raise the overall county tax rate. And that would be to transfer tax dollars, or at least some portion of future tax increases, from property owners in the city school district to the county schools. After all, this is a zero sum situation. If the county schools need more money, and the county residents aren't willing to pay all of it, where will it come from? So as far as I can tell, this is just a way to redistribute tax revenues from town residents to county residents.

That may be the right or the wrong thing to do, but I wondered if anyone can offer another rationale for that option. Anyone?

Either way, if equal funding is the goal, why not just merge the two systems? In the long run, that will save everyone the expense of funding two administrations. Let's not waste money playing politics and a shell game with tax revenue.

One more viewpoint: if it's right to provide equal funding within Orange County, shouldn't we also provide equal funding statewide? OCS is still one of the top-funded districts in the state. I know that is not the purview of the BOCC, but I can't recall any comments on this on OP. We are really arguing over pennies while other districts are dollars behind.

Check again Ed. During the merger debates, I argued vehemently that school funding should not be linked to property taxes--anywhere. As to other options for funding OCS, if the city residents are not willing to "transfer" revenues to the county, perhaps the county should consider adding or increasing charges for uses of park land, water reservoirs, landfill space, and all the other amenities town residents enjoy at the expense of OCS children. Then we can get rid of the rural buffer and land conservation programs because those too are amenities at the expense of county residents and their children. I say this with only a slight degree of sarcasm! Like you, I think we should just merge and forget all the machinations around taxes.


Contrary to what some would have you believe, lowering the city district tax while raising the county tax rate would not have the effect of transferring significant amounts of money from the CHCCS district to the county schools. Both districts have, within a few percent, the same ratio of tax base to number of students. That new tax structure, in fact any of the proposed tax structures, would only have the effect of greatly raising taxes for OCS residents.

As I understand it, the reason for the proposing to lower the CHCCS tax while raising the county tax is primarily political. Everyone in the county could vote on that option, and CHCCS residents might vote in favor of it if they did not understand it's implications. More on those implications later. County residents have historically opposed taxes and bonds, so an OCS district tax, voted on only by OCS residents, would probably fail. The OC school board knows that their best chance of maximizing funding is to force CHCCS residents to make the taxation decision for OCS residents.

What implications would a combined taxation and funding system have for CHCCS schools? Apparently, the commissioners cannot set a rate higher than the lowest requested amount from the two school boards. The OCS board could set a low rate, drastically decreasing CHCCS funding.

Why not merge? The reasons are plentiful and have been discussed at length, so I won't go into it here. The numbers on this site are a little out of date, but it's a good place to start... http://www.nomerger.org/fact_or_fiction.htm

Except that the end result of a merger would be the purging of low income home owners from Orange county. Chapel Hill Carrboro voters make up close to 70% of county population, and parents in CHC schools have been pretty adamant about not reducing funding, so they'll vote in a higher tax rate for the county as a whole.


...amenities town residents enjoy at the expense of OCS children. Then we can get rid of the rural buffer and land conservation programs because those too are amenities at the expense of county residents and their children.

That is rhetoric. The relevant figure is the ratio of students compared to the ratio of the tax base. The city district has things that reduce its tax base, such as UNC, the hospital, etc.

City district residents pay county taxes. Your argument might apply to someone who uses the services of a municipality when they are not paying taxes, but does not apply here.

The land conservation districts, the landfill, and the rural buffer reduce the density of students and thus reduces the tax required for county school funding.

I think we should just merge and forget all the machinations around taxes.

OCS residents should be allowed to determine their own taxes. Merger is a means to force a tax increase by a vocal minority in OCS. Likewise, CHCCS residents should be allowed to choose their level of taxation. This is the essence of local control.

The Chapel Hill outcry to let OCS vote for themselves may be intended as democratic but it's not since its the CHCCS special tax that imposes the lowered per student expenditure upon the OCS schools. Orange County has a much lower tax base when you take into consideration space, density, and population. If the county was developed to the density of Chapel Hill/Carrboro the % of a new district tax increase might be sustainable for low income families, but by the values we all espouse in preserving open space, parks, greenways, responsible management of wastewater, etc. we have limited the growth potential of rural Orange County. And I'm glad we've done that. But we should accept the financial burden.

We live in this county and this world together. Nothing you do is completely impact free on me. Likewise for the schools and all other community services. The social and economic impacts on Orange County residents don't seem to matter to some CHCCS parents, but I predict if this special district tax is imposed upon our county neighbors, we will all pay the price somewhere down the line.

What I don't understand is why those CHCCS parents who equate more money with the essence of a quality education, don't simply put their children into private schools instead of undermining the premise of "public" education that is affordable and equitable for all students.

If the commissioners do push for a OCS tax vote in November I predict it will be defeated. Presently there is NO reason for people to go to the polls in the rural Orange in November. Having a tax vote in November will only prove how the commissioner waste taxpayer dollars. If they want a vote, do it in May 2006 when we have a primary and school board race.

The road block to that idea is that the some of the commissioners will be running for re-election and they don't want to be on the same ballot as the tax issue, at least that is the word on the street.


How does the CHCCS special tax impose the lowered per student expenditure upon the OCS schools? I understand the argument that CHCCS does not ask for as much from the county because CHCCS has the district tax supplement, therefore OCS also gets the lower budget amount, but OCS has the option to fund it's schools with it's own district tax. Such a district tax would have virtually the same financial impact on OCS residents as would a higher county tax.

"Orange County has a much lower tax base when you take into consideration space, density, and population. If the county was developed to the density of Chapel Hill/Carrboro the % of a new district tax increase might be sustainable for low income families, but by the values we all espouse in preserving open space, parks, greenways, responsible management of wastewater, etc. we have limited the growth potential of rural Orange County."

I appreciate your sentiment, but the numbers don't strongly support the argument. Interpretation of the numbers in the agenda abstract for tonight's meeting shows that the ratio of tax base to student population is about 15% higher in CHCCS than in OCS. For a $200k property, CHCCS residents now pay about $420/year for schools, and OCS residents would have to pay about $485 for the same level of per pupil funding. Yes there's a difference there, but it's not insurmountable, especially at the lower funding levels that OCS residents seem to prefer.

"I predict if this special district tax is imposed upon our county neighbors, "

A special district tax is theirs to adopt or reject by their own vote. It would be their choice, not an imposition. A countywide tax, voted on by CHCCS residents, would be an imposed tax.

"What I don't understand is why those CHCCS parents who equate more money with the essence of a quality education, don't simply put their children into private schools instead of undermining the premise of “public” education that is affordable and equitable for all students."

A lot of people don't have an extra $12K per child per year to throw around.

Terri, after meeting you the other night, it's a lot easier to debate with you and know you won't take offense.

Charlie Buckner



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