OP Live Candidate Forum: County School Board

Good evening. Orange County’s election schedule sets the election for Orange County Board of Education during the spring primary in even numbered years.This year, voters will choose between four candidates for three seats on the seven member board. Thank you for joining us.

Thanks for providing us with the opportunity. Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

For the challengers — What inspired you to seek a seat on the school board? What do you want to accomplish?For the incumbents — Why do want to seek another term? What do you want to accomplish?

We have a number of projects that have begun in the last 4 years that I would like to see to completion. For example, continued progress on raising achievement and closing the gap for all students, continued progress with literacy efforts and a new and exciting undertaking with Central Elementary becoming a STEM school – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

It is paramount that Orange County Schools maintains its focus on providing all of our children regardless of their race, gender or ethnicity with a quality education that prepares them for the demands of the 21st century.  That is not to say that our current system has failed. But in the current economic crisis, many school districts, including ours, are forced to do more with less. Student success with an emphasis on academics and supporting the ­­­­social, emotional, and physical needs of our children becomes critical. Equipping our children for the future is important and requires that all of us work together to ensure that happens.

This is a point in my life where passion meets purpose. I have volunteered as a parent, business representative, and community member for several years. Those activities have afforded me the opportunity to work with elected officials, school administrators, educators, students, parents, and the community on different initiatives to benefit the children of Orange County. As a result, I have developed the ability to look at a situation and see it from every perspective. I feel that this knowledge that I have attained, combined with my passion for helping children, makes me an ideal candidate. For me, this is the next step in what has already been a rewarding experience.

My primary goals as a future board member are to:

 ■Ensure Transparency by serving as a two-way conduit between Orange County Schools and the public and advocating for an updated communication plan.

 ■ Promote Partnership between educators, students, parents and the community with an increased focus on partnering with the business community.

 ■ Maintain a Focus on raising the achievement of all students while closing the achievement gap.

 ■ Be Fiscally Responsible to ensure that budget priorities are focused on the needs of the children first and foremost.

Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

I care about the children of Orange County Schools, and my motivation is to prepare all students for successful futures.

As the world is ever-changing, we as a school system must equip our students with the necessary tools and skills to successfully become globally competitive in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and discovering new methods of delivery within the classroom (physical and online).

  • Preparing our students for the 21st Century
  • Promoting positive achievement for all students
  • Establishing challenging courses that will engage our students, based on the upcoming Common Core curriculum
  • Recruiting and retaining Highly Qualified Teachers for our schools
  • Increasing parental and community engagement within the school system through stronger partnerships
  • Maintaining accountability of prioritized budget/funding that is geared towards classroom instruction delivery

The state funding situation is, well, dismal and not expected to improve any time soon. What should the district be doing to mitigate state cuts? And, if by some chance the state should restore some funding in the short session, what would you fund?

I believe that to lessen the impact of budget cuts, OCS should increase their efforts to promote partnerships between educators, students, parents and the community. Dr. Pedro Noguera says that, “When communities embrace schools, it is not left up to the teachers to figure it all out.” It is critical that OCS maintains current partnerships and cultivate new partnerships.

If elected, I will meet with state legislatures and local leaders to advocate for increased funding. I will encourage the support and voices of others to help persuade government officials to better support our children’s education. I will also review monthly financial reports thoroughly, and measure budgeted costs against actual costs, to proactively address any concerns related to budget deficits or surpluses.

If funds were restored, I would ensure that the foreign language programs are funded as they are somewhat in jeopardy for middle schools. I would also look at adding other teacher, TA and administrator positions where most needed as well as other support roles.

Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

Don't be shy.

Achievement gap funding is another area to look at. There's supposed to be achievement gap funds included in the at-risk category of the budget, but it is not clear exactly how much. With the common core standards being rolled out, additional funds may be needed to properly address the achievement gap.

Our main objective as a board is to ensure that budget constraints doe not affect the classroom

From the 2008-2009 budget year to the projected 2012-2013 budget year, Orange County Schools will have returned approximately $7.4 million in reversion monies to the state. They give with one hand and take back with the other. This amount is equal to approximately 173 staff positions that we have lost since 2009. Our lottery funds are also “dismal.” From a high of $879,000 in 2010-2011 school year, we dropped to $524,000 in 2011-2012. The rules were changed and more money is being sent to low wealth districts and the other districts are suffering as a result. Last year the state decided to use $20 million in lottery funds to shore up Medicaid short falls. Citizens voted for the lottery to provide funds for education and for no other purpose. Our only hope for this upcoming school year is that our county commissioners will rise to the challenge for both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools to make up for projected shortfalls. Reports we have received indicate that the legislative session will be very short and there will be no additional funds for K-12 education in NC. We need help in order to avoid losing teachers in the 2012-2013 budget year. My top priority is to keep teachers in the classroom and not lose more teaching positions.

We would probably finish projects at Cedar Ridge HS, and plan for Elementary #8.

I’ll not use the ‘M’ word, but I think throughout the county there is interest in finding ways for the two school systems to cooperate. In this regard, what’s working, what’s not working and are there any ways to improve cooperation and collaboration?

I feel that both systems collaborate on issues that we are facing to commissioners in relation to providing quality education for all students.

I am aware of the collaboration meetings that are held, but I am not keenly aware of the business that is covered in those meetings. There's a suspension program that both districts collaborate in where students are taken to the Chapel Hill YMCA. But from what I understand, it is difficult for some OCS parents to allow their kids to participate due to transportation challenges. So with any collaboration, we must include a transportation plan if/when needed, especially if students are involved.We should also look at ways to share best practices between the two districts, and the charter schools too as they receive public funding.Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

The collaboration effort between the two school systems was prompted by the Orange County Commissioners over a decade ago while I was still serving as a county commissioner. The hope at that time was that both systems and county government would be able to explore any and all opportunities for cost savings through combined purchasing power and mutual efforts toward efficiencies. The Orange County system has achieved cost savings by utilizing prototype elementary and middle school designs that have been constructed in other school systems. The collaboration effort has yielded several small gains such as the athletic field lighting that was done at Smith Middle School in conjunction with Orange County Parks and Recreation. The efforts for both school systems to achieve significant cost savings through collaboration has not materialized. Several years ago there was an opportunity for Orange County Schools (OCS) and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools (CHCCS) to share the costs associated with replenishing elementary grade science kits but CHCCS instead chose to partner with Chatham County Schools for this effort. I have publicly bemoaned this fact for several years. The OCS system stands ready to partner with the county and our sister system in Chapel Hill to save money whenever and wherever possible.

Candidates, please respond by clicking the reply button next to the question or response to which you are replying. This will allow readers to better understand what you are talking about, and also prevents the chance that you will lose your comment-in-progress when the page refreshes every two minutes.We are moving replies as needed, but would greatly appreacite your help in this matter. Thank you. 

Orange County has seen a real jump in poverty over the past five years with more than one in five families living below the federal poverty line. As the recent superintendent’s report indicated, there’s been an increase in the number of students in the free and reduced lunch program. Unfortunately, that means some schools have far higher rates than others. How does this affect the district’s diversity goal? What other efforts would you like to see to assist students in families hit by the recession?

The diversity goals have been an issue for some time now. Efland Cheeks Elementary and Central Elementary have a much higher population of children on free and reduced lunch than the other schools. OCS should continue to ensure that the needs of those families are met by partnering with other organizations to ensure that all nutritional, health, social and other needs are met. Providing as many of these services as possible at the school would be a great benefit for those families. I could even see OCS hosting a job fair for parents or providing help with resumes for example. What that will also do is foster parental involvement.Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

In the 2006-2007 school year, the student eligibility rate for free and reduced lunch stood at 30.6%. For the 2011-2012 school year, the rate jumped to 40.4%. This is a first for OCS. We have several elementary schools that have free and reduced rates higher than 40%. Our cafeteria managers prepare extra meals on Mondays and on days when students return from vacation days because children return to school hungry. We also participate in a back-pack program at one school where the students take food home with them for weekend meals. The ruling powers in Raleigh don’t seem to be too concerned that we have children that are going hungry while prisoners across the correctional system are fed better than many of our school-aged children.   We continue to have a strong working relationship with the Orange County Department of Social Services via our school social workers, and with the Orange County Health Department through our school nursing staff—along with the help of our teachers and administrators. In 2011-2012, the state of NC provided $ 5,254 in per pupil funding across the state. The state spends 8 times this amount to house one person in prison.

This is not only happening in Orange County Schools, its happening all over the US. We must ensure that that are students are healthy, providing take home  snacks, and or meals, and assists those parents in finding resources to sustain, and to continue to focus on diversity issues. Also partnering other community agencies such as Social Services, and other resources to ensure families needs are being met.

As the economy recovers, do you see the district growing over the next few years? What kind of capital needs should we anticipate and how will that impact the budget?

The state student population projections estimate an increase of about 150 students for a total of 7,420 students in the 2012-2013 school year. OCS has exceeded expectations almost every year.

There is already work underway to expand some parts of Cedar ridge high school and Orange High School has a new auditorium. They spoke of plans for another elementary school at the last board meeting.

If the trend continues, the budget will of course be impacted as jobs are not projected to increase at the same rate as the population.


Some states offer incentives to schools districts and county and local planners. Smart Growth America suggests that a collaborative plan to encourage the sharing of school facilities for community use could be useful. Maybe this is an area for collaboration.


Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

The State has projected for the 2012-13 school year that Orange County School's we a projected growth of approximately 150 additional students. We would probably need an additional elementary school, which is not on the books, and completion of classroom wing at Cedar Ridge H.S. I do not know how this will impact budget in upcoming years.

The OCS has seen a steady growth in student enrollment over the past 6 years. Quoting from a recent memo sent to the Orange County Commissioners dated March 14, 2012 – “…for each of the past 6 years, actual OCS elementary student enrollment has exceeded state projections for a cumulative total of 202 students in excess of state projections – an average of more than 33 each year.” Since the 2005-2006 school year, we have increased enrollment by 609 students (almost one school’s enrollment). During that same school year we opened the last school that OCS has built – Gravelly Hill Middle School.   We are looking to open a new elementary school (#8) during the 2016-2017 school year. In addition, we have requested a review of the established capacity for Orange High School by the State Department of Public Instruction. Orange High students are given 140 sq. ft. of space as opposed to 158 sq. ft per student at Chapel Hill High and 171 sq. ft at East Chapel Hill High. We need to begin planning next year for an academic wing addition at Cedar Ridge High School since that school’s enrollment has exceeded the building capacity of 1,000 students. The original design of that school allowed for a core capacity of 1,500 students in the cafeteria, kitchen and media center. Finally, we will need the strong support of the county commissioners to fund these projects since capital needs are funded at the county level and not by the state.

What are the top two or three strategies/programs you see as essential in order to close the achievement gap?

The progress that OCS has made in closing the gap is to be commended. But I know that we can do more without even impacting the budget. I will start by asking the board to revisit the 2007 Report and Recommendations developed by the OCS Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap (RACG) Committee. While some of those recommendations have been acted upon, others have not. For example, there should be an active subcommittee for each goal. But currently there is only one active sub-committee working on increasing the number of minority students taking advanced level courses. I will advocate for the reformation of the other subcommittees, as well as initiate transforming current committees/and or models needed to meet the desired goals. It is important that we support the RACG goals and ensure that the proper focus and attention is maintained on this important initiative. Also, we need to ramp up the efforts to ensure that the demographics of the staff, especially those in the schools, mirror the demographics of the student population. There is plenty of data out there that supports this need.Another recommendation I will push for is that the Board and the Superintendent develop a plan that aligns OCS policies, procedures and practices with RACG benchmarks, achievement goals and timetables. Although policies were developed by a RACG subcommittee, they have yet to be acted upon. Also, if research tells us that parental involvement in their children’s education is a key factor in closing the achievement gap, then the district should have a specific goal related to parental involvement in its RACG plan.Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

AVID-Advancement via Individual Determenation, Community Learning Centers, SOCRATES, are just to name a few, and recruiting and retaining more teachers of color. Continous engagement with parents and community.

It is imperative that we continue our strong efforts to improve the literacy rate for Orange County students (currently at approximately 76%). With the assistance of faculty from UNC-CH and a top literacy director, our students should continue to improve. Literacy is critical for success across all areas of study. We must strive to achieve a 100% literacy rate for all children by the time they reach the 3rd Grade. Success at this level will insure success at the middle and high school levels and beyond.   The STEM initiative at Central Elementary School and mentoring efforts such as SOCRATES -- (Student of Color Reaching Academic Achievement through Enhanced Support) which started at OHS and is now being used in several elementary schools – all show great promise and success.   Today I participated in the induction ceremony at Cedar Ridge High School for the National Achievers Society. This honor society is for students of color (African-American, Asian, Latino, multi-racial) who maintain a 3.0 GPA. We must continue to support any and all such programs highlighting and promoting minority achievement.

Thanks so much for participating in this online forum. If you’d like to offer a closing statement or add to previous responses, have at it. We’ll be closing the forum at 8:30 pm. You won't be able to add content after that time.

Thank you for this opportunity to share a few thoughts and please vote on May 8. Please also do what you can to encourage our county commissioners and our state legisltors to save our public schools.

Thanks again for the opportunity. Please visitwww.sandersforschools.com to learn more about me. Not only am I passionate about this, but I am qualified as well. Check out my site, please. Thanks again. Lawrence Sanders, Sr.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the residents of Orange County.

Pencils down everybody.Thanks to the candidates and our readers.See you on Sunday at 7 p.m. for a two-hour forum with candidates for the Orange County board of commissioners. 


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