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The Daily Tar Heel

CHCCS Board discusses new budget and leadership changes

Orange County Board of Education member Sarah Smylie speaks at a joint school boards meeting between Orange County Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Board of County Commissioners. The meeting took place on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 at the Whitted Building in Hillsborough, N.C.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education reviewed the proposed budget for 2020-21 and discussed changing district leadership and plan alterations to CHCCS facilities at its meeting on Thursday.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board passed a motion to approve the resignation agreement for Superintendent Pam Baldwin. The resignation is effective June 30, and Baldwin will receive a severance payment of $106,099.98, the equivalent of six months of her pay.

Baldwin's resignation follows her taking a medical leave in late March

The meeting also included a proposed resolution to grant emergency authority to the superintendent, or in this case, Acting Superintendent Patrick Abele. The proposed resolution would have temporarily waived board policies to allow the superintendent to implement measures related to COVID-19, including policies related to school calendars, purchasing, distance learning and emergency management use of school facilities.

Several board members expressed concerns about the scope of the proposed resolution and timeline for informing board members of actions taken under this authority. While Abele said that the intent of the resolution was not to bypass board authority, the board did not support this resolution and moved to adjourn. 

The focus of the discussion and action at Thursday evening’s meeting was the 2020-21 recommended budget. Jonathan Scott, interim chief financial officer for the district, outlined four scenarios for the budget, ahead of the board’s meeting with the Board of Orange County Commissioners.

The board approved a recommended budget that included:

  • $230,000 to address compliance with Orange County Living Wage
  • State-mandated costs for retirement or hospitalization
  • $78,000 to complete Chapel Hill High School’s renovation
  • And $1,580,000 to reduce class sizes. 

The recommended budget also included $166,000 to remove the current 16 percent supplement cap on certified employees hired after July 1, 2016, as well as $568,000 for paid parental leave and $360,000 for two days of paid classified employee salaries in the case of additional weather. 

Finally, the approved recommended budget includes a $1,000,000 fund balance that may go toward support related to COVID-19 for students and plans for re-entry after at-home learning is complete.

After discussing the budget, the board considered the approval of two contracts for custodial services in CHCCS facilities. Per district policy, contractors are requested to provide proposals that include a living wage of $15 per hour.

At a living wage, the contracts are expected to cost $2,298,364, but at a base pay rate of those companies, the expected cost is $1,770,484. Abele said he did not recommend the living wage option for the contracts, due to present economic concerns.

"I don’t see how we can identify ourselves as a living wage employer when we’re contracting services for people who are not being paid a living wage," board member Jillian La Serna said.

Due to additional concerns from board members about Abele’s recommendation, the board moved to postpone the topic of custodial services contracts until the next meeting on May 7. 

In addition to the budget, the board approved:

  • Changes to a policy on reporting child abuse to reflect new requirements, including a new state-mandated reporting process for child abuse and neglect, two-hour training related to child victimization and additional responsibilities for volunteers and contractors to be trained.
  • Agreeing to continue evaluating recommendations for capital improvements to several schools within CHCCS — including Ephesus Elementary School, Glenwood Elementary School, Seawell Elementary School, Carrboro Elementary School, Estes Hills Elementary School and Frank Porter Graham Elementary School.
  • A motion to accept $150,000 in funding for Solar for Schools from the county commissioners — the funds will be appropriated toward a solar panel installation at a CHCCS facilty, roof or ground that is yet to be determined.

"We absolutely should be including the students," board member Ashton Powell said, encouraging that the solar panel installation be integrated with students' learning.

Abele and Lessley Saenz-Mader, executive director of the Exceptional Children Department, also provided an update on the status of the Exceptional Children Department and funding requests for the 2020-21 school year.

“IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was not written for a national pandemic,” Saenz-Mader said, referencing the importance of collaboration and compassion to support students with disabilities during the period of at-home learning.

Abele recommended the allocation of one full-time equivalent for each of the seven schools requesting an exceptional children position and three additional full-time equivalent positions to be implemented in the 2020-21 school year. Positions may be allocated to teachers and teacher assistants for behavior support and teacher assistants for general curriculum. 

The next scheduled work session for the board is May 7. The joint meeting between the school districts and the county commissioners is on April 28.

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