Why should we care about who serves on the school board?
Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools face challenging district budgets as state funding rates continue historic reductions. Maintenance and repair needs have long exceeded available funds, resulting in shameful disrepair.
It is increasingly difficult to attract, retain and reward great teachers able to meet our district’s diverse needs. Instructional quality does not consistently meet our high expectations, as indicated, for example, by the frustratingly perennial issue of achievement gaps.
Significant discipline disparities persist along racial lines. Inequities exist among the schools. The board and administration make major decisions without the transparency this community desires.
Those are just a few of the concerns that the groups we represent – the Chapel Hill/Carrboro PTA Council, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Special Needs Advisory Council (SNAC) – hear from our members. And with eight candidates, including only two incumbents, running for the four seats up for election on the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Board of Education this fall, we know our members will be paying attention. We want to know why these people want to serve and what they hope to accomplish – so that all our community’s voters can make well-informed choices. On Oct. 12, our diverse groups and WCHL will hold and broadcast a forum for school board candidates from 7 to 9 p.m. in the council chambers of the Chapel Hill Town Hall.
The high level of interest in our district’s education issues is clear from meetings of the PTA Council. The council is composed of representatives of all the district PTAs who focus on advocacy and district-wide issues that draw vigorous conversations about a host of parents’ concerns.
And it’s clear to the NAACP that the many community members who support it continue to feel alarmed at the district’s deep disparities. For example, the most recently available data show only 39 percent of economically disadvantaged students achieving at even the minimal standard of grade-level proficiency on end of course/grade tests. Only 42 percent of African-American students and 47 percent of Latino students are proficient – compared with 90 percent proficiency for the district’s white students, among the best in the state.
African-American students are more than three times more likely to be disciplined than their white peers. These and other disparities take a terrible toll not only on the students involved, but also impact the quality of the educational climate for all students and their families.
And it’s clear from SNAC meetings that parents of students with special needs want to ensure that their children’s instruction remains a district focus. Only 32 percent of students with disabilities test as proficient. The schools need to continue expanding co-teaching, training for all teachers and assistants, and other supports to inclusion that help students with disabilities have access to mainstream education. And students in separate-setting classrooms need to have a structured curriculum to ensure consistency and educational growth among all students with disabilities.
This is already a long list of concerns facing the school board, but it only begins to touch on all the issues we hear discussed – and this community wants them all addressed with urgency and deep thought. Every election is crucial, but this year is even more so, given the high profile of education issues in the county and state in the past few years.
What issues facing our schools do you care about the most? As one of our pastors used to say, Chapel Hill is an opinion-gifted community; we invite you to share your gifts with us! We want this forum to ask pointed questions that will give voters deep insights into the candidates’ thinking and plans for the school board. Through Sept. 25, you can submit questions you’d like us to ask atgoo.gl/forms/Nj00wRuQEu
Drawing from the questions submitted, the PTA Council, NAACP and SNAC will each choose a third of the pre-planned questions for the evening; additionally, audience members may submit written questions during the forum, and several of these will be used in the final segment of the forum.
The NAACP, SNAC and the PTA Council have joined forces previously for a forum; we’re pleased to have WCHL involved this year as well, providing input on questions and broadcasting the forum live. It will also be broadcast on Chapel Hill’s Gov-TV and posted online. We look forward to receiving questions and seeing you at a lively forum in October.
This column was submitted by Sarah Silberstein and Sharon Kebschull Barrett of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro PTA Council, Barbara Foushee and Greg McElveen of the NAACP and Amy Fowler of the Special Needs Advisory Council.