Leading from the Left

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why I Voted Against the Budget

Last night I voted against the county's budget. I did so out of a belief that we are not treating our schoolchildren equitably in this county. We have an obligation to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live in the county, receive adequate educational resources. We pay lip service in Orange County to equity and justice, but when the pedal hits the metal we choose perpetuate a system that provides some children with more educational dollars than others.

As I stated at the Commissioner's last budget worksession, I believe that funding the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools from the district tax puts Orange County schools at a disadvantage. This is easily avoidable and can be rectified without damaging the city schools. Further, I believe this disadvantage is only perpetuated out of inertia. It is time to change how we do business in Orange County.

The district tax warps education funding in Orange County and makes it hard, if not impossible, for the County Schools to keep up.

Let's examine the facts. Both school systems receive just over $3000 in per pupil expenditures. However, and this is key, because of the special district tax for the City Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro receives an additional $1400 per pupil. So, the Orange County School system receives just $3000 per student to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro $4400 per student. Under no definition I know of is this equitable or just.

And beyond that it's not in our best interest as a county to continue to operate two school sytems with a funding disparity of that magnitude. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating merger. The voters of this county clearly don't support merger, and I respect that. I simply believe we need to back away from using the district tax and instead fund both school systems from the county-wide property tax. Doing so would ensure that every child receives the educational dollars they deserve.

Why am I so committed to this? Here's why. One of our districts has hot water available in school bathrooms. The other district has some schools that don't.

The city school district has high school athletic facilities that are adequate if not excellent. The County district has a high school whose track is in such bad shape that the student athletes must train and compete in a neighboring county.

While the city schools have replaced their ancient heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, the county system has some schools with failing HVAC.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro has an AVID program for at-risk students; Orange County Schools does not.

I don't believe these disparities should continue. I believe we need to find a way forward, together, to end the differences between our two sytems. If we continue to use the district tax to fund the city schools, we'll never solve the problem. That's why I support funding our two sytems out of the property tax rate--equally, justly, and transparently.

Again, I believe we have an obligation to treat all schoolchildren equitably and I believe we can help the county schools without hurting the city schools. It's in our best interest as a county to change the way we do business. That's why I voted against the budget.