A roster with ballast

“Fling … ends” read the headline in a local newspaper over a story about candidates running for office. And as I read through the profiles of the final candidates to file for Town Council – Loren Hintz, Jonathan Riehl, Amy Ryan and D.C. Swinton – and the school board – Andrew Davidson and Ignacio Tzoumas – I thought, “What a relief.” From their brief bios, they appear to have given serious thought to why they are running and what they can bring to their respective boards. The race is not just a fling with politics for them.

In the election this year, I’m looking for candidates who can recognize connections. Take one issue: affordable housing. If we fail to provide places where modestly paid people can live in town, we have to know how far they will commute. With growth throughout the Triangle, many service workers and low-tech employees can find employment outside of Chapel Hill, closer to affordable housing in Durham, Raleigh or Chatham County. Will businesses be willing to pay higher wages to attract ground-floor employees? Or will retailers decide it’s too expensive to do business in Chapel Hill and open instead in the vibrant commercial areas of neighboring towns?

As our town fills up with upper-income residents, what sort of commercial services will they patronize? Will they have to go out of town to find those businesses? How will the demands of the wealthy mesh with those of university students? Already council is fielding complaints from 140 West residents about skateboarders in the plaza. And this is before students return to campus, drink too much in Franklin Street bars, get loud, pass out or throw up in the plaza.

People generally expect that they will get what they pay for, and the more people pay for housing, the more demanding they are that their environment be safe, pleasant, and let’s face it, populated with people like themselves. How tolerant will they be of, say, the homeless?

Our good schools have kept real estate prices strong. People are willing to pay more to live within the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district. As wealthier families move in, will they pressure the school board to shift more resources toward enrichment programs for college prep and gifted students and away from remedial programs to narrow the achievement gap?

Is that really what we want to do?

I’m looking for candidates who can see beyond progressive ideology to the costs of implementation, candidates who understand there is one taxpayer-baked pie, and if you cut a bigger slice for one project, you have to cut a smaller slice for another. I want candidates with the backbone to ask the questions we need to know the answers to, even if their more unprofessional colleagues speak to them with disdain for not going along with the way things have always been done.

And that takes someone who is looking for more than a fling.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Nancy, I understand your focus on taxes, but let me say there’s a lot more to being on the school board than simply saying we’re going to spend less $. And don’t forget that we’re already getting significantly less $ from the federal govt and state, so the special district tax increase you’ll see this year only partly makes up for overall cuts we’ve had to make. The pie is already dwindling for our public schools as the NCGA gives us less and less of a share every year.

    I’m running because there is work to be done and I truly enjoy the work. Primarily work to increase the quality of instruction that happens across the board in our district. Sure we have pockets of excellence, but we need to ensure every student is getting that every day. Our superintendent has a history of using this focus on instruction to meet the goals that I think we all share for our district — ensuring that every student learns and grows every day. With the right focus on even greater learning for those behind, we will be able to close achievement gaps. Dr Forcella has put a team in place at Northside Elementary, for example, who will structure the class day differently and allow extended learning time for those who need it the most. This will be done with the same budget as other schools, and once we prove it there, we’ll see what can be applied district-wide.

    Change in public education is a given at this point. Difficult budgets are a given. Keeping Chapel Hill/Carrboro values front and center in that environment remains key to successful board members here. I wouldn’t count on 2 paragraphs in an intro article to communicate whether candidates truly are capable of that. Anyone who wants to understand where the CHCCS district is headed should read this doc — http://chccs.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=137&meta_id=8711 — these are the many things that need to change to accomplish our goals. To imply that the 2 incumbents on the school board, who were not given same opportunity by the CH News to be profiled this week, have less understanding of these challenges or willingness to push for change than the two later entries is a poor analysis of this race. I’ve pushed through some changes already in the year and a half I’ve been on the board (for example, we now have an associate superintendent focused on equity across the district) and am committed to doing things differently going forward as well, especially as it relates to how we look at data and engage with the public.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  July 22, 2013

    I’ll give a different example of how it is important for candidates to see the big picture. Right now, there are no specific, measureable guidelines for what constitutes a school walk zone. On Smith Level Road, the school board would not take a definitive stand on how they would/would not modify the walk zone for Carrboro High based on the road work proposed ( now underway). They don’t like roundabouts and did say they feel additional signage would be required. But what impact the roundabout would have, along with new sidewalks and bike lanes, they refused to say. It will be a financial boondoggle if after spending $6M to make SLR more walkable, the walk zone is unchanged.

    My understanding is that this same non-stance by the school board rep is also occurring on Central West.

    Elected officials have to work together . That coordination is more important that the courtesy of not overstepping another boards responsibilities.

    (In the school board’s defense, the roundabout is replacing $450,000 of our tax dollars that were mandated for intersection improvements during the SUP process about 5 years ago. Wasted money.)

  3. I can’t speak to Smith Level, as that was before my time on the board, but I can say this board has pushed administration on walk zones — making sure that Village West is included in Northside’s and that the emergency cut-through at the end of Cobble Ridge be counted as walkable to include those students at Scroggs.

    The policy is pretty clear — less than 1.5 miles and safe to walk is the short version. Of course, we do rely on administration experts to measure safe (need sidewalks, don’t cross 5 lane highways, etc). And I suspect the board will always be risk-adverse when it comes to student safety. There are some silly parts to how 1.5 miles is measured, but that is due to state law, not our work.

  4. Nancy

     /  July 22, 2013

    James — My post was not an endorsement of any particular candidates. I appreciate the excellent schools in this district and the board members who have made decisions to provide a good quality education to everyone. I realize the board made an unpopular decision in taking away money from dual-language programs to put it toward remedial education for those falling behind. But given a finite budget, I think you made the right decision. That is the sort of backbone I’m talking about. People do seem willing to pay higher taxes if the money goes toward schools. To Terri’s point, don’t let that fact make you soft on budgeting. Working together with other elected officials may prevent duplicating efforts or may allow some sharing of resources.

  5. jondehart

     /  July 22, 2013

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful replies.

    My children have been redistricted to Northside, we are excited about the new school.

    What I can’t figure out is how the bus and car traffic will work. Looks like it is going to be very tight every morning. What kind of traffic studies were used when buidling Northside ? What percentage of the children that are expected to enroll will be in the walk zone ? As we ride by weekly to see the school, it looks like most houses closeby are student rentals.

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  July 22, 2013

    My point James was that there needs to be coordination during the planning process. The community needs to know if a roundabout or added density or any other element of a new design will have a positive or negative impact on walk zones decisions/child safety before the new element is approved. Currently the number of seats a new development would add to surrounding schools is the only factor considered before an SUP is granted.

  7. DOM

     /  July 22, 2013


    “My post was not an endorsement of any particular candidates.”

    Oh, really? Then why did you fail to mention those with ideas you don’t agree with? A bit hypocritical, don’t you think?

  8. Nancy

     /  July 22, 2013

    DOM — I don’t know enough about any of the non-incumbent candidates to know whether I agree with them or not. The names I cited are those mentioned in the newspaper article. Really, I had no ulterior motive on this, other than perhaps to draw attention to the perils of cutting corners at a newspaper.

  9. Bonnie Hauser

     /  July 22, 2013

    I believe you Nancy – the candidates (mentioned and not) are diverse – Hopefully voters will take the time to understand the differences.

    I love this comment from Terri.
    “Elected officials have to work together . That coordination is more important that the courtesy of not overstepping another boards responsibilities.”