OP Live Candidate Forum: Orange County School Board

Candidates: Remember, you must respond using the reply button directly underneath the question or comment to which you are responding -- both to keep the conversation threaded and to avoid losing your words when the page refreshes. 

Thank you for joining us this evening. We have with us candidates Donna Coffey, Rosa Williams, and Michael Hood. Brenda Stephens and Tom Carr send their regrets. Greg Andrews did not respond to the invitation.  The format for our time together is as follows. I will post a question and each of you will have a chance to answer. I will give you heads up when we're moving on to the next question. Let's get started. 

1) There is overcrowding at Cameron Park and New Hope Elementary Schools while there is space for students at Central Elementary School. If you are elected, will you advocate for redistricting of the district’s seven elementary schools? Why or why not?

Not really knowing the numbers and how much overcrowding is in each school, I would need to look at the numbers and other options that may be available. I would try to find alternative solutions rather than redistricting.

I do believe that redistricting is an option.  In addition to redistricting, however, I also believe that we need to look carefully at in-district transfers as well as out-of-district transfers to determine if we will allow those to continue.  I am also a proponent of offering "focused" or "themed" schools such as our year round program at Hillsborough Elementary and our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) program at Central Elementary to determine if we can have more diverse program offerings for our students.  I do not think that we should look only at redistricting without exploring all alternatives.

Overcrowding has been a problem with Cameron Park for several years, which required the addition of a mobile classroom in August/September of 2012. The need to balance attendence will be necessary in ensure that classrooms and teachers are not overloaded. The will have to address this in the future with input from the public to ensure the least amount of impact on the students and parents.

2) Over the past ten years, Orange County Schools’ Central Office has been cut significantly. Do you believe Central Office should be cut further? If so, where would you make those cuts and why? If not, do you see the need to increase support staff?

I believe that past reductions have cut Central Office staff to a bare minimum, and I have said publically in the past that I would not support reducing it further.  On the other hand, while I would not make arbitrary decisions to make across the board decisions to increase staff, I do understand that we need keep up with constantly increasing state mandates. 

The staff at the Central Office did suffer cuts in staffing during the early years of the recession; but presently I see no further needs for cuts in the Central Office staff.

No, I do not feel that additional cuts should be made at this time. Instead of cuts I would recommend that we increase staff in essential areas such as Child Nutrition, School Safety and Social Work/Guidance programs to provide more services, which could help to improve the students' ability to learn.

3) Since the early 2000s, the chairs, vice-chairs, superintendents from the school districts along with their counterparts from the county meet and share ideas of how the two school districts can better share resources. Can you point to definitive progress this effort has made for Orange County Schools? If elected, what would you hope would come from future collaboration efforts?

I have seen the collaboration efforts from both the county side as well as from the school side.  I do believe that there has been progress, and the most recent effort has resulted in both school districts having "in hand" a very well vetted facilities report that documents sorely needed maintenance for our schools.  There have been productive discussions regarding many issues since the inception of the group in the early 2000s.

During the last 3+ years of attending Orange County School Board meeting, I have heard comments from the chair and vice-chair concerning the collaboration meetings. I have been impressed with the lack of concern by Chapel Hill - Carrboro City Schools has for the needs of Orange County Schools. I would hope the presentations presented in the future, at these meetings, would be much stronger to ensure that Orange County Schools have the resources to provide the best and most challenging education for the students of our district.

I am not able to measure the progress of past Board actions.  However, future collaboration is essential in order to meet the students' needs and overcome future budget cuts. 

4) Orange County Schools, like many districts has aging facilities. With shrinking budgets, how would you push for improvements to these buildings while maintaining newer buildings so they do not fall into a state of disrepair? 

The Orange County Schools older facility needs clearly surpass any amount of currently available money that Commissioners have. In addition, due to our student growth, it is clear that we will need additional schools and classroom space within the next ten-to-twenty years.  A well thought out and informative public education campaign to make County residents aware of the facility needs that we have is where we need to start. I have been instrumental, in the past, in working with citizen groups to make people aware of capital needs and seek funding beyond the Commissioners current pay as you go stream (for example, a bond referendum).

A facilities assessment have been conducted on our buildings this year. Maintainence has been deferred over the years and can no longer the ignored. The assessment will allow the board to prioritize the maintainence items needed, with safety and security being first on the list. Our previous bidding procedures, for some time, did not use a formal bidding procedure, or in many cases, work to executed without written contracts; both of which are in violation of board policies and state statutes. The board will have to become much more proactive in the control of major capital expenditures to insurance that the school system receives the most cost effective use of our limited funds.

I would suggest that there was a systematic approach to repairs on buildings.  First, I would recommend we request funds to repair the facilities that had safety related issues.  Secondly, I would recommend that the Board come up with a 5-10 year plan that would address the maintenance of known issues with older buildings as well as maintaining the newer facilities. It is critical to use available resources to provide upkeep to all facilities.  

5) Where does Orange County Schools focus most of its resources for student achievement? What suggestions do you have for changing how the district works to support students being successful?

Our district has a strong history of efforts to help all children.  For example, we have strongly supported efforts to promote Literacy at all grade levels.  The ability to read and write in a coherent manner is critical for successful learning and for remaining in school. We have also actively pursued the creation of pre-Kindergarten classes, after school learning programs at all levels and implementing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program.  Much focus has been dedicated to efforts for minority and disadvantaged strudents and preventing drop-outs.  We also recognize the importance of technical and vocational programs and dedicate resources in those areas as well.  I have supported all of these programs and will continue to do so.

Our focus should be on raising the achievement level of all students and closing the achievement gap. There is a need to increase the number of Advanced Placement courses and make sure they are the most challenging courses we can make available with our limited resourses. The school system must strengthen the Career and Technical Education program to guarantee that students, not seeking a college degree, have the skills necessary to secure a good paying position in the marke place.

Attention is focused on reading, math, science and technology.  These are all great areas.  I would suggest that more attention is placed on closing the achievement gap to help all students become successful.  There should be more literacy programs to identify at-risk students. In addition, a strategic team comprised of parents, community representatives, teachers, and school administrators should be formed to devise a long term plan to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to excel.

6) So that voters can learn more about you, could you please share your website address? If you don’t have a website, why did you decide against communicating with voters in that way? 

My website can be found at: www.hoodforschools.com 

7) Staying with technology, what are your thoughts about the district’s technology plan, specifically its participation with NC 1:1? Has it been successful? What would you say are the next steps in moving forward with technology in the schools?

Orange County Schools' 1-to-1 laptop initative has been successful in my opinion - if for no other reason than it has placed technology in the hands of all of our students - some who did not have access to technology at home. I have also seen and heard how technology is working in our classrooms.  It has become an essential, fundamental tool for every student and prepares them for the digital, global world into which they are going.  As for next steps and challenges, we must keep up with the ever-changing digital environment.  

I'm aware of the NC 1:1 program and have heard both pros and cons concerning this.  The pros surround moving students further into the 21st century and the cons have to do with cost, replacement, and other equipment expenses.  I am not sure how successful this has been, however, this is something I would like to explore further as a Board member.  I would suggest that the Board explore the success of this program before moving forward with additional technology in the schools.  I would not want the cons to effect a student receiving a quality education.  

As we are only in the second year of our 1 to 1 laptop initative; there are has not been enough time for any "real" positive results to be reported. Most of the studies I have read, state that any improvement in graduation rates and test scores (SAT & ACT) will not become apparrent for 4 to 5 years after the introduction of 1 to 1 laptops. The school should be surveying the teachers to make sure that they have the software programs required to support the curriculum in their classroom and the the network infrasturcture has the bandwidth to support reasonable access times. My background in the computer industry will allow me to bring expertise to the discussions.

8) What is the district’s total operating budget and what percentage of that comes from local funding? Is there anything different you would advocate for as it relates to how Orange County Schools moves through its budget process?

The current year approved budget was just shy of $88 million in local, state and federal dollars.  About 34% of that amount comes from local dollars.  Our Board is currently in the midst of discussing our budget proposal that we will send to County Commissioners.  Our priorities for the upcoming year include providing safe environments for our students, maintaining our facilities, further addressing the Achievement Gap, and determining best ways to retain the excellent teachers and other staff that we have here in Orange County. 

For 2013-2014, the total funding for the school year was $84,243,633, where approximately 35% of this came from local funding.  After receiveing the achievement gap analysis, I would advocate that more resources be considered in this area. I would suggest that all educational program goals and objectives, including technology, in the district be evaluated for effectiveness in achieving student success.

Total budget is $84,000,000 with 34% being derived from local funding. Orange County Schools must ensure all expenditures are fisically responsible and are the best value for out limited funds. All expenditures for public bids must follow board policies and NC State Statutes. The most important is the need to implement zero-based budgeting, where each department must justify expenditures to ensure continued funding.

9) There is a lot of talk about the Excellence in Public Schools Act which passed in 2012. What do you see as the pros and cons of this legislation? 

The pro is literacy for Elementary students in grades K-3, which could help to improve the achievement gap.  The cons consist of ending teacher tenure, some portions of the Pay for Excellence program, and other areas are questionable. 

The idea is great, all students should be able to read at grade level to be promoted. However, the amount of testing required by the Excellence in Public Schools Act will take away instructional time in the classroom and will increase the stress on students, teachers and parents. Students should be encouraged enjoy the learning process, not to scared by the a consequences of a state mandated testing program. The results of failing the test are summer school, which is not funded by the state government, or being held back. This is an example of politicans writing questionable laws without any input from education professionals.

And before our last question of the evening, please note you will have a few minutes to go back and answer any questions you may not have had the chance to answer the first time around. Thank you for your time this evening. 10) While you are one person, school board members are expected to speak with a unified voice on behalf of the district. What in your career – professional or volunteer – has helped prepare you to work as a team in promoting the interests of our students and teachers?  

As a business professional, I have worked on many teams in which we needed to have a unified voice.  In my current position, it is imperative that a unified voice is presented to the citizens.  In addition, I have worked on many church boards or teams where we presented a single voice. Although there were differences, we were able to work through them. 


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