Candidates for school board get far less attention than the mayoral and town council races. Yes, yes, providing quality education to the next generation, those who will be in charge of generating revenue to fund your dotage, is important to all of us, whether or not we have children. But the decisions the school board makes could directly affect your wealth.
We’d like to think, perhaps, that people want to move to Chapel Hill because of our independently owned restaurants or our art galleries or our soon-to-be-fancy library. But what motivates many people to spend $400,000-plus for a house in Chapel Hill is the reputation of our schools. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools consistently show a higher percentage of students achieving proficiency at or above grade level on state end-of-course exams than the state average and Durham public schools. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools also record higher graduation rates than either the state average or Durham schools.
Good schools keep our property values high and in demand, even when homes outside town limits where property taxes are lower are selling for less. Parents with high-paying jobs and high expectations for their children’s success flock to our district, filling the schools with students who are genetically loaded for brains and create peer pressure to do well.
But the school system has navigated budget cuts that require the board to make tough choices. And more choppy waters are ahead. Parents have filed suit over allegations of bullying at Phillips Middle School. New No Child Left Behind standards kicked in this year, and only four schools in our system met the mark. The achievement gap between white and minority students is closing, but very slowly. New schools can’t be built fast enough to alleviate overcrowding. A new superintendent was appointed recently to succeed Neil Pedersen, who held the post for 17 years, and change at the top always brings a certain amount of turmoil.
Current board chair Jamezetta Bedford, a CPA who has served on the board since 2003, is running unopposed for a two-year term, so she will remain on the board and provide continuity, among other strengths. But four four-year seats will be on the ballot. Bedford’s four-year seat is open, and the three board members who hold the remaining seats now – Mia Burroughs, Mike Kelley and Annetta Streater – are running for re-election. They will face challengers James Barrett, Kris Castellano and Raymond Conrad. Brian Bower is also running, but admits that his campaign is a stunt to convince the UNC bursar that he is a Chapel Hill resident and should be eligible for in-state tuition.
Look closely at all the candidates, and choose wisely. Your future is at stake.
– Nancy Oates