Hauser’s plan for schools

Bonnie Hauser, my choice for county commissioner-at-large, brings a fresh perspective to many important issues we face. In her words and from her experience working on numerous issues in Orange County for more than a decade, here’s her proposal for the county to reprioritize spending to address school funding needs:

In my “previous life,” I was a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I spent my career helping organizations become more efficient while improving customer service. Based on that experience and my work in our community, I believe that the same principles can be used to create a path to sustainable school funding for Orange County.

So, what are the issues associated with school funding? What steps can put us on a path to sustainable school funding?

Recent attention has been given to the needs for our schools and a possible voter referendum for bonds and increased taxes. I believe, however, that our real problem is that the county’s school funding formula is broken and needs to be fixed. That will take time, so I’ve offered ways to address short-term needs to alleviate immediate pressures and allow county and school leaders better plan for the future.

I’ve shared my ideas with leaders from both school systems, current and prior commissioners, and senior county staff. They all agree with my assessment: Business as usual is not working, and we can do better.

1. In the short term, commissioners can identify areas in which spending is not aligned with public need and make necessary cuts or changes. That includes eliminating non-essential items, consolidating county office space and redirecting funds slated for less urgent projects such as remote rural parks. Additional monies are available in the county’s well-funded reserves.
2. For the long term, we need a school funding policy that separates out buildings and maintenance, and funds them based on need, separately from the per-pupil allocation. This will clarify confusion around equity between the school districts and help the county anticipate long-term capital needs.
3. Also long term, we need to ask leaders from both school systems to work together to agree on a standard budget presentation and some simple measurements of performance to allow greater transparency – especially as both districts grow.

To me, this makes more sense than funding schools – capital and operating – based on a percent of property taxes. My approach will better prepare us for changing conditions such as population growth, curriculum changes and decreases in federal/state funding.

County commissioners can always choose to increase taxes to fund schools – with or without voter approval. The tradeoff is that Orange County is becoming less and less affordable, and our workforce, seniors and minority populations are leaving. I believe we can do better.

One last point: It’s easy to blame the state, but some of the problems are of our own making. Our facilities have been allowed to fall into disrepair, and urbanizing districts (Wake, Guilford, Mecklenburg) are all spending more to pay teachers and create excellence. Orange County needs to update its policies to adequately fund schools as a priority and give taxpayers confidence that we are preparing for the future.

Business as usual is not working, and sustainable school funding is one important way that we can do better.

Bonnie Hauser, candidate
Orange County Commissioner-at-large

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34 Comments

  1. anon

     /  April 30, 2014

    what is your position on raising taxes if that entire increase went to the schools? would that be OK? For example,
    raising the CHCCS district tax, but not the county tax targets that increased taxation to schools (at least for those in chccs)…

  2. Nancy

     /  April 30, 2014

    Anon — You’ve touched on one of the reasons I’m such a strong supporter of Bonnie. She has experience recognizing excesses that can be trimmed without cutting back on services. For instance, last year, when the county wanted to spend millions on building new ambulance substations, she got some commissioners and other people in authority to meet, and arranged for the ambulances to piggyback space at existing fire stations. That saved all of us taxpayers from a tax hike or from other services from being cut.

  3. Terri Buckner

     /  April 30, 2014

    “For instance, last year, when the county wanted to spend millions on building new ambulance substations, she got some commissioners and other people in authority to meet, and arranged for the ambulances to piggyback space at existing fire stations.”

    The people who were involved in leading this effort do not agree that Bonnie offered any kind of leadership other than what was already under discussion/on the table.

  4. anon

     /  April 30, 2014

    I think it’s clear that the folks in Raleigh are moving to defund public services as much as possible..
    I do not believe “waste, fraud and abuse” and “cutting” will be sufficient to maintain the level of service going forward. I think increases in fees/taxes will be required and I will vote for the person most like to raise school taxes.

  5. bonnie hauser

     /  April 30, 2014

    Anon

    We have to fund our schools to assure quality education – but before we pull the tax lever, we need to do better planning. Thats future needs (the job of the schools) and future funding (the job of the commissioners). For the short term, we need to look for excesses and sacred cows in the county’s operating and capital budgets. Isn’t that responsible government? If we have to raise taxes, we will, but not until we’ve first done our homework.

    For the long term, its about better planning. Its more than teacher pay – its aging faciliities, and planning schools that can compete on the national stage. All of NC’s urbanizing centers are on the same trajectory – and know the state is not going to meet their needs for the future. (Of course, it would be better if the state was a bigger help)

    The long term issues wont be addressed in a budget cycle. Like we did for Emergency Services, its time to pull the professionals together -along with our communities to start planning for the future. It will take a few years to fix the funding policy -and we’re likely to see improvements soon after we start the conversation.

    These issues are too serious to politicize.

  6. many

     /  April 30, 2014

    As far as the candidate most wiling to raise taxes goes, I think even Barry will agree that that description fits him much better than it does Bonnie.

    As long as the schools are separate, I believe Chapel Hill voters alone own the decision about increases in the CHCSS tax. I seriously doubt that any commissioner or town leader would stand in the way of a school tax increase if the sentiment among Chapel Hill voters was that the schools were underfunded. So the argument made by anon seems specious.

    I for one, would like to see the inscrutable school system budgets more understandable and standardized. I would like to see better definition and separation of capital and expense. I would like to see the teacher pay raised and the confidence in, and quality of the schools improved at the expense of other dodgy budget items. It is just responsible leadership to examine the budget and eliminate unnecessary expenses as much as practicable before raising taxes.

  7. Terri

     /  April 30, 2014

    “For the short term, we need to look for excesses and sacred cows in the county’s operating and capital budgets. Isn’t that responsible government? If we have to raise taxes, we will, but not until we’ve first done our homework.”

    In other words, Bonnie is claiming that after several years of bare bones budgets, cuts to most departments, there is still more fat to be cut, and that the county staff and commissioners haven’t done their homework.

    I attended last night’s session of the commissioners with staff of the Department of Social Services where we heard about the all the challenges they have faced over the past several years, the needs that cannot be filled, and the creativity they have shown with moving around funds to keep people employed and with child care. I doubt if those staff would appreciate the implication that they have not done their homework.

    The school board came in as we were leaving but I wasn’t able to stay for that discussion. Like with DSS, it looked very much like professional collaboration to me. The school board/staff for both districts have gone through may long hours of exploring how to manage their budgets over the past many years. They’ve done a lot of homework to improve efficiency. I’d like to hear where Bonnie believes they can make further cuts. Or maybe she thinks that it’s only the other county programs that need to find efficiencies, like the staffs that are so very overworked due to RIFs.

    We should clarify that school funding comes from multiple department budgets. For example, DSS has been funding social workers in the schools with state funds which were cut this year. Either the schools will have to absorb those positions for next year, or there won’t be those services available in the future. Food programs also come through DSS. So if funds to DSS are not increased it will be the equivalent of school funding cuts. I *think* schools also benefit from public safety funds for School Resource Officers.

    My point is that government budgets are really complex. It’s one thing for a candidate to make simplistic claims of how to change the process (“eliminating non-essential items, consolidating county office space and redirecting funds slated for less urgent projects”) and another thing altogether to convince six other sitting commissioners to go along with a plan that carries such implied criticism of their work.

    Given the challenges of bringing a new county manager and sheriff on board and dealing with the new Raleigh government, I hope voters will understand the value of Barry Jacobs experience and leadership. We need a board that will be able to work together to carry us through the next several years. Barry has my full support for re-election.

  8. Nancy

     /  May 1, 2014

    Large, complex entities turned to Bonnie and her partners at PWC to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Bonnie has the experience and expertise to ask the right questions to find ideas for new answers. I’d like to put her sharp mind to work for the county to see how she can inspire other commissioners to think critically and creatively, instead of falling back first on raising taxes.

  9. bonnie hauser

     /  May 1, 2014

    Terri – Why would you suggest that my comments are critical of the new commissioners? From what I can tell, most of them care about the county’s finances and value my business perspective and critical thinking. They regularly ask for it. Its not always about cutting excesses. Its about good planning.

    Sorry I missed you. I went to the joint schools meeting – and both districts said they have “homework” to do to plan their future capital needs. Its not hard -just needs work before rushing to raise taxes through bonds or some other mechanism.

    Not sure what “collaboration” means to you. Last night’s meeting was cordial but not substantive. Several observers thought it appeared as though leaders were working “collaboratively” to avoid the subjects of budgets and bonds.

    Hey – tomorrow at 4:45 you can tour the new, bare bones $1.5 million meeting room. Not sure the bronze plaque is up but at least you can see the progress on the room.

  10. Terri Buckner

     /  May 1, 2014

    Bonnie–you are seriously claiming that ‘most’ of the new commissioners (Rich, Dorosin and Price) regularly contact you for your advice? I’ll check that claim the same way I checked your unsubstantiated claim that you initiated and gave direction to the emergency services plan.

    Everyone has homework before any budget is finalized. After having been involved in 5 OWASA budgets, I can tell you that the level of solutions you are offering are so general and vague as to be useless. Care to be more specific?

  11. many

     /  May 1, 2014

    Hmmmm. I wonder how many programs and employees could be saved for 1.5 million (plus the ongoing upkeep and carrying costs of the new meeting room)? What was wrong with and what is being done with the other ample meeting spaces this room replaces (and by the way are also off the tax rolls)?

    How many other tone deaf programs are there despite “several years of bare bones budgets, cuts to most departments”?

    The problem is you can’t really tell because the budget lacks specificity. Once that specificity is achieved, I think it should be fairly easy to build consensus around “eliminating non-essential items, consolidating county office space and redirecting funds slated for less urgent projects”.

    There is no doubt that costs are going up and additional tax revenue may indeed be necessary. However, I question Mr. Jacobs support for the significant tax revenue that is being siphoned off for light rail while Chapel Hill and county transit suffer. I also wonder where the additional sales tax increase we just had for schools and economic development is being spent. Yes, I see some of it in the budget for the Efland sewer, but where exactly is the rest being spent?

    I believe this is what Ms Hauser is referring to as “Business As Usual” and despite the best efforts of some of the commissioners, it continues.

  12. anon

     /  May 1, 2014

    @ Many
    most of the BOCC public hearings on the budget in Chapel hill town limits have people asking the commissioners to raise their school taxes – that’s what happened last year at least

    http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/anxious-to-pay-more-parents-lobby-bocc-for-school-funding/

    “I’m here tonight, with many others, to ask you to do what it takes to fund the school districts at their requested amounts,” said Margaret Samuels. “I would support an increase in the county tax and the special district tax to support both school districts.”

    “I’m a property owner, a taxpayer, a father and a citizen,” said Hunter Pendleton. “I’m anxious to pay more taxes.”

    “My parents said they’re willing to pay more in taxes so the schools will have enough money to keep things going the way they are now,” said third-grader Calvin Hinkle.

    “I honestly would be disappointed if I open my tax bill in September and I don’t see a tax increase in it that fully funds our schools,” said James Easthom.

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  May 1, 2014

    “how many programs and employees could be saved for 1.5 million (plus the ongoing upkeep and carrying costs of the new meeting room)? What was wrong with and what is being done with the other ample meeting spaces this room replaces (and by the way are also off the tax rolls)?”

    Here’s the problem with many’s observation. The newly outfitted facility will serve multiple purposes, including making it easier for residents of north Orange County to attend county commissioner meetings and to have those meetings recorded so that those of us in the south aren’t excluded. If the goal is really governmental transparency, an issue Bonnie raises over and over again, then making government more public achieves that goal. If the goal is to provide similar services for the rural areas of the county that are provided to the more populated area, then this project achieves that goal. So what’s the problem? If you don’t like the project, then offer suggestions for how to better achieve those two goals.

  14. many

     /  May 1, 2014

    @anon: If that is indeed the will of the taxpayers then it should be done. However do you not agree that there is waste elsewhere that could be better used in the schools?

  15. Nancy

     /  May 1, 2014

    Let me get this straight: The arguments of a third-grader are used to bolster the push to raise my taxes?

  16. many

     /  May 1, 2014

    @Terri (note the “i”)

    Oh please. The 1.5 million dollar new room is just “The Fog of More”….right down to its expensive bronze plaque. Are you seriously saying transparency is the excuse for spending 1.5 million on a room? Is that what Barry told you?

    Meetings already are filmed and recorded, the counties IT department is very well equipped as are the existing rooms, Living in the “south” myself the only exclusion I feel is from decisions.

    If transparency (and hopefully inclusion) is indeed the goal there are much better and less expensive areas for improvement.

  17. Terri Buckner

     /  May 1, 2014

    For those who aren’t informed on the issue, the county currently has two large meeting rooms where recording can occur. One is Southern Human Services in Chapel Hill, and the other is in Hillsborough. The new one will be used,not just for BOCC meetings, but also by town of Hillsborough, and the Orange County School Board neither of which currently has access to a facility where streaming can occur.

    The new facility will also serve as a performing arts center, another type of venue that does not currently exist in the northern portion of the county. I understand that many people don’t believe the arts are important, but I do. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have the local resources for supporting these types of facilities, but those same resources are not as available in the northern portion of the county. Serving all the needs of the rural areas of the county is the responsibility of the county commissioners. It’s sad to hear residents of the wealthier area of the county belittling efforts to serve ALL county residents.

  18. many

     /  May 1, 2014

    Ha!

    “bare bones budgets” eh?

    “Department of Social Services [sic] facing challenges over the past several years, the needs that cannot be filled”, eh?

    ” moving around funds to keep people employed and with child care” eh?

    …..and the answer is building 1.5 million dollar conference rooms when many already exist? The answer is raising taxes for a 1.3 Billion dollar light rail to serve a privileged few?

    This is what you suggest are “efforts to serve ALL county residents”? Really?

    Terri, (note the “i”) you are quite talented at talking out of both sides of you mouth. Your flip flopping reminds me of the George Orwell quote: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”

  19. Terri Buckner

     /  May 1, 2014

    I love the way you are always so capable at criticizing but never coming up with anything concrete on your own. If you are so simplistic that you can’t or won’t understand that social services, schools, the arts, and government all share priorities for different individuals living in this community then you need to think about your own inconsistencies than worrying about mine. Governing is more than a series of yes/no decisions. It requires an understanding of competing needs and values.

  20. many

     /  May 1, 2014

    “bare bones budgets”, Solution: build a conference room….

    ”…moving around funds to keep people employed and with child care” Solution: Spend 1.3 Billion on a transit system to bring low wage earners in to UNC Hospital and take the rich to the DPAC on the weekends………

    That’s what I call “understanding of competing needs and values”

  21. many

     /  May 1, 2014

    BTW. Folks interested in the schools might be interested in this link:
    http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2014/04/29/3817961/michael-jacobs-why-our-schools.html?sp=/99/586/885/905/

  22. jeanne brown

     /  May 2, 2014

    Many,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you posted:
    “The problem is you can’t really tell because the budget lacks specificity. Once that specificity is achieved, I think it should be fairly easy to build consensus….. I believe this is what Ms Hauser is referring to as “Business As Usual””

    For me, the bigger issue for our county during this election is not the specific examples being used (ie. the meeting room) but the fact that important processes are broken.

    In the case of the meeting room, I recall concerns that the decision was made outside of or without a county facilities plan.

    In the case of the schools, lumping together operating and facilities, the more-or-less fixed 48% (whether real or perceived) and other factors has resulted in issues in our schools – including schools in desperate need of repair.

    For me, another example is the recent recycling discussion which was devoid of important information: service for the entire county vs separation of incorporated vs unincorporated or an in-between; side-by-side comparison of the options with trade-offs, benefits, costs, effectiveness; consideration of how other communities are handling recycling and what their costs are….

    After a year or more of discussion, we spent a lot of money on public hearings to address one of two bad options and find ourselves no closer to a plan but are still moving toward 5 year interl-ocal agreement for out-sourcing with the towns, which lessens the options for the county as a whole.

    During this process, I spent significant amounts of time talking and e-mailing with commissioners, the head of the Solid Waste Department, a member of the county’s Commission on the Environment, neighbors from various areas of the county and, most recently, a recycling expert who wrote a letter to the editor.

    My conclusion: a work group process like the one used for Emergency Services would have produced a plan or plans at the outset. Those plans could have been evaluated in terms of financial and sustainability measures and presented to the community. Had that been done, we would be implementing a solution at this point (or closer to it).

    I believe that is the type of change that Bonnie is advocating for.

  23. bonnie hauser

     /  May 2, 2014

    Thanks Jeanne – that’s exactly the point –

  24. Terri Buckner

     /  May 2, 2014

    Nancy wrote on Bonnie’s behalf: “we need a school funding policy that separates out buildings and maintenance, and funds them based on need, separately from the per-pupil allocation.”

    Then Jeanne wrote: “lumping together operating and facilities, the more-or-less fixed 48% (whether real or perceived) and other factors has resulted in issues in our schools – including schools in desperate need of repair.”

    Hopefully, Jeanne and Bonnie will spend a little bit more time with the budget or the professionals who understand the budgets. Current per pupil allocations are operating only and do not include capital funding. For CHCCS, the current year per pupil allocation (operating) is $10,662. The staff recommendation was for next year was $11,086. The board adopted $10,774 which will be presented to the BOCC.

    The capital budget request (CHCCS only) will cover improvements to 10 schools at a cost of $160.84M.

  25. many

     /  May 2, 2014

    Ummm……… Where exactly in the budget does it say per pupil funding is all “operating” …..tell the truth Terri (note the “I”) you made that up, didn’t you? He he! very funny.

    On page A-5 of the 2013-14 CHCCS budge is a page entitled ” Non Personnel Budget Allocations to Schools”. AT the bottom of the page are two line items under the heading “Capital Funds” labeled “per Student”. Are you the “professional” that can explain this?

    BTW does Orange County deliberately disable word search on their .PDF files to make budget analysis more difficult?

    http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2013/04/chccs-to-ask-for-5-4-million

    “Northside Elementary, which will be equipped with “green” features like a rooftop garden and bamboo flooring, will cost about $2.3 million to open in August — $1.9 million of which is still unfunded.”

    “We need to open this school, that is not optional,” said CHCCS Board of Education member Annetta Streater. “We could certainly be building a school for a lot cheaper, but not one that will meet all of our needs.”

    “She said the request balances out to an extra $400 per pupil.”

    Really?An extra $400 per pupil for a rooftop garden and bamboo flooring? Is that just a onetime “per pupil” or does it take that much to maintain the bamboo floor & roof garden?

    Interestingly that $400 is almost exactly the difference between the staff an board recommendations for per pupil allocations you quote above.

  26. Terri Buckner

     /  May 2, 2014

    Nope, I used my training as an educational researcher, verified with a school board member and then re-reviewed the budget. If you don’t believe me please use something other than your opinion.

  27. bonnie hauser

     /  May 2, 2014

    Just to clarify – the point is to separate the capital -including maintenance of aging facilities — from the per pupil allocations . Today its all lumped in the 48% (along with recurring capital). Orange County and CHCCS are requesting over $300 million in capital for aging facilities and expansions. It’s not been aligned to the county’s capital plans which already include over $150 million over the next 10 years.

    I’ve spoken at length with board members and professional staff from both school systems and from the county, and they all agree that the system is broken, and they are open to make it better.

    I’m trying to have a policy discussion which you are trying to turn into a budget discussion. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. With better planning, leaders can anticipate future needs for teacher pay, curriculum and facilities – before they commit to less important projects that are draining the county’s revenue and debt capacity.

    The good news is that the parents and professionals are tiring of the status quo, and agree that we can do better. It’s time to start the conversation.

  28. Terri

     /  May 4, 2014

    What’s the policy you want to discuss? The 48% is not policy; it’s a target used to keep county services beyond education in sight. The policy you should be focusing on is SAPFO which is a nice theory but doesn’t function as it should.

  29. many

     /  May 4, 2014

    Are you saying SAPFO was a mistake? Because Barry sure brags about it as a “principled stand” that he would take even if it cost votes.(see question #6)

    http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/barry-jacobs/Content?oid=4150338

    My take is that the major fundamental flaw with Orange Counties implementation of SAPFO is that it mandates school funding while at the same time maintaining the counties restrictive land use policy. This divergence in priorities is a recipe for either an exclusive enclave for the rich or a budgetary disaster and very possibly both……..and it has been going on for more than 10 years now.

    Which is exactly Bonnie’s point. We can do better. ……..

  30. Terri Buckner

     /  May 5, 2014

    No, I am not saying SAPFO was a mistake. The problems with it stem from relationships between the CHCCS school board and the Chapel Hill and Carrboro elected officials, which have nothing to do with Orange County land use planning.

  31. many

     /  May 5, 2014

    Heh. The problem is SAPFO as implemented requires just schools to be funded to the level of development, but does not require any other infrastructure to be funded in kind, for example road, water, and sewerage facilities

    In short, SAPFO implemented in isolation as a subset of APFO is a fundamental policy problem in and of itself. One, I would have expected an experienced leader with institutional memory to recognize and address. So SAPFO might not have been a mistake, but SAPFO in isolation was.

    But back you your response, OK. I’ll bite; what are the “problems stemming from the relationships between the CHCCS school board and the Chapel Hill and Carrboro elected officials” you refer to?

  32. Terri Buckner

     /  May 5, 2014

    Water and sewer are approved separately. SAPFO is school capacity only.not sure about roads.

  33. many

     /  May 5, 2014

    Terri SAPFO is an Ordinance. No such ordinance for other supporting infrastructure related to growth,

    You didn’t answer the question I asked……

  34. many

     /  May 5, 2014

    Terri, What is the matter?

    What are the ….“problems stemming from the relationships between the CHCCS school board and the Chapel Hill and Carrboro elected officials”…. you referred to above?

    You brought the subject of SAPFO up in the first place. Don’t you know what you were talking about?

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