Durham Public Schools Board of Education passes resolution asking ICE to stop detaining students

It was just 37 degrees on the morning of January 28 when Wildin Acosta, a 19-year-old senior in his final semester, was warming up his car to drive to Riverside High School. 

That's when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials suddenly arrested Wildin, his sister Catherine told the Durham Public Schools Board of Education through a translator, "and took him and threw him on the floor." 

Tonight the Durham Public Schools board became the third government body — in addition to the Durham Human Relations Commission and Durham City Council — to ask ICE for prosecutorial discretion and to refrain from deporting Acosta back to Honduras. However, the DPS board's resolution contained stronger language than either Council's or the HRC's, stating that "ICE actions in our local community" should be "suspended and currently detained Durham youth be released to their families."

The two-page resolution adds that "law enforcement honor the policy not to involve schools and other sensitive locations."

Wildin, who came to the U.S. in 2014, is in a federal immigration detention center in Georgia, the last stop before deportation. 

"The 18th street gang was threatening him that he either join or they would take his life," Catherine said. "That’s why he came to the United States. If he goes back to Honduras, he will be killed."

ICE's actions have frightened many members of the Latino community, said Ellen Holmes, a Spanish and ESL teacher at Riverside High School, who knows Wildin. Eight of her 23 home room students were absent after Wildin's arrest, she said. "We've had a very large drop in attendance. Students are no longer coming to school because they no longer feel it's safe."

Even Latino students who are in the U.S. legally are afraid for their friends and families. Holmes said she had spent 45 minutes trying to console a successful college-bound student who was "scared that she would come home and her parents would not be there."
"I was trying to express to her that ’s it’s going to be OK, but I don’t know that it will be OK."

Board member Heidi Carter emphasized that the deportation activities "are not initiated by schools. Schools are considered a safe haven for children and families. We oppose these raids and the deportation of students."

Wildin still hopes to graduate from Riverside in June. "Yesterday I talked to him," Catherine said, "and he asked his teachers to send him his homework to the detention center so he could continue his studies." 


L'Homme, DPS on budget scrutiny: past budgets should be assessed in context; "fresh look" at spending to come

Ed. note: Durham Public Schools superintendent Bert L'Homme has provided the following response to BCR's recent "Scrutinizing our Schools" series. It is printed below in full and unedited. An accompanying document and spreadsheet from DPS are linked at the story's end. --KSD.

Bull City Rising has performed a public service in delving into and asking questions about our spending priorities in Durham Public Schools. In the last few years DPS has been able to produce much more transparent and understandable budget information. That helps hold us accountable as a district not only for our finances but our impact on student achievement—and we welcome that accountability.

There are some areas in the reporting that miss important context, however. We want to highlight one particular example and also talk about one of the assumptions in the series: that DPS’s spending priorities have changed significantly in the last decade.



The basic facts in Scrutinizing our Schools: A Decade Later Spending and Enrollment Up, But Fewer Teachers are accurate but miss an important point: when other districts have had to reduce the teaching workforce in the face of state funding cuts, during the last ten years DPS has been able to mostly hold the line on maintaining teaching positions.

Comparing the state’s “Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget” documents from FY 2007-08 to FY 2014-15, we see that the state funded 85,575 teachers just prior to the Great Recession. Today, the state only funds 81,702 teachers—3,873 fewer, despite the fact that our public schools served 25,271 additional students. (None of these figures includes charter schools.)

Most school districts couldn’t make up the difference, but DPS came close. From FY 2007-08 to FY 2014-15, the number of federally and locally funded teachers in North Carolina increased, but not enough to offset the cuts in teaching positions. As a result, there were 3,110 fewer teachers in North Carolina school districts, a decline of 3.18 percent statewide. Durham Public Schools, on the other hand, was able to keep our number of teachers relatively level. In FY 2007-08 we had 2,368 teachers (coincidentally the same number we had in 2006, as BCR stated). In FY 2014-15, the 2,347 teachers serving our students represented only a 0.9 percent decline.

Continue reading "L'Homme, DPS on budget scrutiny: past budgets should be assessed in context; "fresh look" at spending to come" »

The golden rule of the Bull City Connector: He who has the gold makes the route

Note: A version of this piece appeared last week in The Durham News.

There's this guy named Joe. I haven't seen him downtown in a while, but last time I did, he was lost on West Chapel Hill Street, near the Marriott Hotel.

"Joe, do you need some help?"

"Lisa! I recognized you by your voice. I'm trying to find the bus station."

"Here, let me take you."

Joe took my arm with one hand and with his cane in the other, we started on what for him is a very long trip to the Durham Transportation Center, aka the main bus station.

I thought of Joe last week at the Human Relations Commission meeting, where the topic of discussion was the Bull City Connector route, which changed six months ago to bypass the main bus station. (I also wondered about the preparation by some members of the HRC — Ricky Hart, in particular — who knew nothing about the bus system, not even what the BCC bus looked like. Big hint: It's bright orange and says "Fare Free.")

The BCC, which unlike the other buses, is free, now runs along Main Street from Golden Belt east of downtown to the west, to the VA Medical Center and Research Drive near the north clinics of the Duke Medical Center.

Some routes, although they require a fare, overlap with or connect to the BCC downtown, but the southbound ones don't: For example, the No. 10 and the No. 7, which Joe rides to get to his apartment at the J.J. Henderson Center at Duke Street and Morehead Avenue.

“We struggled with this for a long time,” said John Tallmadge, director of GoTriangle’s Regional Services Development Department. “It’s a difficult decision to make. What people value about this is that it’s free. The reason it’s free is because there is money coming from Duke. That has some impact on the service design.”

Translation: Each year, Duke University contributes $350,000 toward the BCC, about one-third of the service’s $1.1 million budget. The city funds the rest. So if Duke wants faster service between downtown and the campus/medical center for its employees (even the non-tenured ones!) and students, the faster service it shall get. 

The new route allows buses to run every 17 minutes all day and evening, which helps Duke employees and students to travel more efficiently between West Campus, the Medical Center and downtown. Roughly 3,000 Duke employees work in the city center, said Phail Wynn, Jr., vice president of Durham and regional affairs for Duke University.

Since the change, the number of riders getting off the bus at Duke University stops has increased 12 percent.

“We want people to leave their cars at home,” Wynn added. “Our main concerns were that the bus was unreliable and not running on schedule. It was spending too much time at the station, and taking away from the linearity of the route. We saw a mutual benefit in encouraging students and employees to come downtown.”

Unfortunately, that benefit does not extend to people with disabilities, such as  Joe, who works on the north side of Durham in a facility for people with visual impairments, the new route adds even more time — and obstacles — to his journey.

“The BCC is not serving all populations equitably,” said Nikki Brown of SpiritHouse, which presented audio and video to bolster its case for returning the bus station to the BCC route. She also has a visual impairment and regularly rides buses. “That’s [the Downtown Loop] not a safe walk for me.”

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Reflections on the city's proposed rental subsidy program


Photo by Lisa Sorg

One of the common refrains over the past year has been, "Who is living in all these downtown apartments?" Well, apparently, hundreds of people. And they’re willing to pony up about $1,000 a month to live in the city center.

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, consultant Karen Lado of Enterprise Community Partners presented some data about the mayor’s proposed rental subsidy program, and the current conditions downtown. (For the blow-by-blow, see our live blog of the meeting.)

In essence, the city’s downtown rental subsidy program would likely get a lot of takers (but perhaps not many landlords). Yet, it would cost the city $277,000 to $403,000 a year to serve 50 households. That equals about $55,000 to $80,000 per household per year. Spit take.

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The survey of current conditions, conducted by city consultants Enterprise Community Partners, included 605 West on East Chapel Hill Street, but none of the Ninth Street complexes such as Berkshire and Swift Avenue.

Eighty-four percent of the 833 apartments — defined as those in buildings with at least 50 units — are occupied. And the 16 percent vacancy rate is concentrated in only two complexes: Whetstone, which is adjacent to the bus station, and Moore, which is the new West Village building. 

(Note that Whetstone is also adjacent to the city-owned parcel targeted for affordable housing. It’s unfortunate that Whetstone didn’t mix market-rate and affordable units. Call it karma.)

Contrast these numbers with a year ago, when the vacancy rate was 30 percent and unoccupied apartments were spread among all of the developments. 

Another 380 apartments are under construction, which will affect the overall vacancy rate when they are finished.

Now, the nitty-gritty: The current cost. The average monthly rent for a downtown efficiency apartment is $1,005; city-wide that amount is $828.

The gap between downtown and city-wide rents increases as the number of bedrooms does:

  • $1,270 for a one-bedroom downtown, compared to $883 citywide
  • $1,522 for two bedrooms, compared to $989 citywide.

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Live-blogging the INC Board of County Commissioners forum

DeDreana Freeman has called us to order at 7pm sharp, followed by John Martin introducing the ten candidates, in the order that they appear on the ballot -- which is something far from anything resembling alphabetical order.

Turnout is about two-dozen residents, INC forum members and media folks, which is not many multiples greater than the ten candidates.

This year's forum will ask all candidates questions on the same topics (like schools) but different questions to different candidates, preventing the repetitiveness that sometimes happens with fora of these size.

1 minute per answer. And each candidate gets a chance to give their view on the performance of the existing BOCC -- starting with the incumbents.

Q: BOCC good, average, fair, poor in the past four years?

Howerton: "That's quite easy, excellent job." Uses words conscientious and accountable, and says she's been a "very good steward" of the tax dollars.

Jacobs: "I believe our board has done a good job." Approved important projects, supported local services, worked in a respectful manner.

Page: "done an excellent job working together in the past four years" -- praises the "teamwork" of the board.

Reckhow: "I believe we've done a good job, I'm proud of what we've accomplished" -- AAA bond rating, new jobs, new courthouse and human services complex, Whitted School renovation, Rougemont clean water supply, among others.

Foster: "I would say we've done an excellent job," noting 1,600 jobs in community, working on drinkable water, completing projects, serving on multiple boards.

Hill: "Average to good job" -- 45 murders in the county last year; teachers assistants and support staff without raises in years; young men dying in jail while in county custody. "If that's a good job" would hate to see a bad job. Says "largess" of good jobs brought in are not evenly distributed; economic prosperity needed for all.

Hyman: Says she "would like to applaud anyone" who devotes time and attention to public service. Says the current board has made "significant progress" with the programs prioritized. "I do believe that more progress is needed, and sometimes it's necessary to think outside of the box in order to be able to focus on those issues."

Massenburg Beasley: Excellent job in some areas, good in others; calls it a challenging position. Feels BOCC could do better working with DPS, but have done well in other areas.

Carter: Believes BOCC members are "excellent public servants" and have done a good job with issues, but struggles with promoting "prosperity for all." Describes social services, public health services as excellent. Notes BOCC/BOE challenges working together, but believes they have done a good job working with BOE. Appreciated the 1% classified raise and smart-growth work.

Fikes: "Good job" of managing county resources and astute to county needs. "I say that, but there are also some areas" where work is needed, including school relationship and funding. "Encouraged" that the board is willing to talk about these things.

(Updates every few minutes, beyond the jump.)

Continue reading "Live-blogging the INC Board of County Commissioners forum" »

Affordable housing, body cameras, Duke union and more: Live blogging the City Council work session

1 p.m. Council member Jillian Johnson is bring up the resolution in support of non-tenure track faculty to bargain collectively.  She is citing facts about Duke, including average student tuition of $61,000 a year, and the students' dependence on non-tenure track faculty for their coursework. Cost of living in Durham is increasing, but these faculty have no job security or raises. City of Durham is stronger when citizens have secure jobs for the long-term. The decision to unionize is solely that of the workers and not to be interfered with. 

Mayor Bell is readjusting the agenda because he has to leave at 3:20. After the Duke unionization public comments, this will be the order. Don Moffitt is also adding a resolution regarding the Human Relations Commission.

19. Poverty reduction task force

18. Rental assistance, affordable housing

20. Underground utilities permits

4. Body cameras for Durham Police Department


Jim Haverkamp: He is a non-tenure track faculty member. We want a seat at the table. We work semester to semester, year to year. We don't have opportunity to meet with administration and discuss this. If you'd be willing to add a voice to ours, that would be appreciated.

A man whose name I did not get: I stand in strong support of non-tenure track faculty, they provide excellent education for students despite having no job security. Their security is our security. Their stability is our stability. It's an important benefit not only for the students but the Durham community.

Mayor Bell: I've long supported the rights of labor unions. Unions tend to come in where companies refuse to provide benefits to workers. Even though we are a right to work state. However, when I look at this resolution, it's been the position of the council, if there are any figures or items that may be questionable, we want them verified. There are numbers in here, while I don't contest them, I'd like to see the source of the numbers. There are some statements that aren't pertinent, such as Duke's exemption from $8.5 million in property taxes because they are nonprofits. The gist of what I see is that the resolution that mayor and City Council support Duke non-tenure track to unionize. I support that, just not the entire resolution. 

We have a letter from Phail Wynn (vice president of Durham and regional affairs): Duke will support their legal right to unionize, but it will provide information and communicate with employees. [This is in reference to union supporters' statement that Duke has provided misleading information about the effects of a union.]

Bell: I think it would be more appropriate to have a letter from Council to Duke president supporting the right to unionize, not a resolution.

Moffitt has a question for Jim Haverkamp: I heard you say "contingent faculty," is that the bargaining unit?

Haverkamp: Non-tenure track, adjunct, lecturers. Many of us work year to year or semester to semester.

Moffitt: The resolution supports the effort to organize, but another line says "endorses the right to organize." There's a difference. I strongly endorse the right to organize, but I believe that the decision belongs solely to the workers. I would like to add a friendly amendment saying "effort."

Bell: I don't expect us to vote on this today.

Cora Cole-McFadden: Concerned about the unionization pamphlet being handed out because there is a lack of sensitivity to all races, lack of diversity in the photos. I haven't had time to read it. I'm troubled by the lack of representation.

Johnson: There is supplemental information about diversity and gender pay gap.

Steve Schewel: I'm a non-tenure faculty at Duke. I'm a visiting assistant professor. I have signed the union card. I asked Patrick Baker, city attorney, if I should recuse myself.

Baker: There's a conflict of interest if this would improve your position or financial relationship. This resolution doesn't do this. You may ultimately benefit, but none of your decisions right now would directly influence this. 

Schewel: I think there are many non-tenure track faculty at Duke who don't have the situation I do, so I'm very supportive.

Eddie Davis: Supports the unionization effort and collective bargaining. I would like to see this resolution polished.

Charlie Reece: For my own part, I would vote to approve the resolution as it is today, but I appreciate concerns of council, and look forward to voting on a revised revolution that reflects those.

Bell speaking with Johnson: Work with administration and city attorney's office to word the resolution. It should come back to a work session.

Cole-McFadden: I do want to say that I support unions.

Continue reading "Affordable housing, body cameras, Duke union and more: Live blogging the City Council work session" »

INC forum for BOCC candidates on Thursday, as endorsements begin

We're gearing up for election season! What's that you say? Yeah, we just had elections in November. No, we don't live in I-oh-way or New Hampster. And yes, we know the general election is in the fall. 

But given that Durham is bluer-than-blue, the Democratic primary in March will decide... well, straight-up, the Board of County Commissioners race, plus the one contested slot on the Board of Education.

Thursday night, Durham's InterNeighborhood Council (INC) will host a candidate forum for the candidates in next month's Board of County Commissioners race.

Ten candidates are invited to sit in the BOCC's seats; only five will be moving on to a seat on the county's legislative body.

The forum will be held in the County Commissioners Chambers, 200 East Main Street, second floor. Doors open at 6:30pm, with the forum starting at 7:00pm and ending at 9:00pm.

If you can't make it and haven't joined the legion of cord-cutters yet -- well, the Durham Television Network (DTN) will hold the forum live as well.

We'll be there and will have the highlights and lowlights after.

If its election season, it's also endorsement time, and local bodies are beginning to give their nods and recommendations for various candidates.

Continue reading "INC forum for BOCC candidates on Thursday, as endorsements begin" »

Scrutinizing our schools: A decade later, spending and enrollment up, but fewer teachers

This article was reported by and written with Alex Modestou.

One of the lingering questions for us at BCR after our week-ago series on Durham Public Schools performance and finances was how our analysis held up beyond the single 2014-15 point-in-time we analyzed.

So what happens when we look further back? DPS’ own Comprehensive Annual Financial Report sheds a bit more light on the picture.

In 2014-15, DPS spent more than $2,600 more per pupil -- a total of $110 million more than the district spent a decade before.

Once we control for the effects of inflation and increased charter outflows, we estimate that this translates to nearly $50 million in real (i.e., non-nominal) spending.


While there are about 2,300 more students in DPS in AY2015 than AY2006, however, the total instructional staff numbers are actually down -- with 21 fewer teachers in the just-concluded school year.

More students, fewer teachers, but a one-sixth increase in spending. We think that as DPS prepares to undertake a significant scrutiny of its budget, it’s more data suggesting that a very close look at administrative spending vs. classroom spending is needed.

Continue reading "Scrutinizing our schools: A decade later, spending and enrollment up, but fewer teachers" »

Durham CAN's public subsidy tour: a beginner's guide to tax incentives, diversity and affordable housing downtown


Photo by Gary Kueber; courtesy OpenDurham.org


This post has been corrected to reflect that the option on Fayette Place expires in August 2017, not this year.

It is only 1.2 miles from downtown Durham to the old Fayette Place, the former housing project at the gateway to the historic Hayti neighborhood. Last Saturday morning, about 40 people took a three-minute bus ride to see what many view only from the highway.

“It looks like an archaeological dig,” a man said.

“This is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” added a woman, who was trying to photograph the desolation with her smartphone.

But a camera cannot capture the blightscape of the 19 acres at Fayetteville and Umstead streets, near the Durham Freeway. Encased by a chain-link fence, the property is scarred with dozens of concrete slab foundations and crumbling brick steps that once went to front doors and now lead to nowhere.

From the highway, the land looks like it has been flattened by a bomb. From the street, it is a constant and embarrassing reminder of the neglect in this predominantly African-American neighborhood.

“If this were in any other neighborhood, there’s no way it would have been allowed to lay like this,” said the Rev. William Lucas, pastor of nearby First Chronicles Community Church. The group had disembarked the bus at Grant and Merrick streets, an eerily isolated block embedded between the abandoned property and the freeway. “This area can go from one to 100 in a second,” Lucas said of the crime in the neighborhood. “It’s real serious here.”

The occasion for the bus ride to this and other prime real estate in and near downtown was the Durham CAN public subsidy tour. About 200 people gathered to learn about the evolution of downtown development, its opportunities for affordable housing, and the market forces and the public subsidies and tax incentives that shape its future.

That future, everyone agreed, should include a downtown made vibrant by racial and economic diversity.

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Durham skyscraper construction is a go; traffic in some lanes could stop

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Photo from Austin Lawrence Partners

The Durham tower, 27 stories of glass and concrete that will redefine the downtown skyline (touché, Durham Clinical Research Institute!) is really happening. Yes, you’ve heard it before. No, this is not a drill.

On Feb. 15, construction workers will begin shoring up the hole and prepping the foundation, the first step in a 27-month process of building the skyscraper. When complete, the City Center will have ground-floor retail, 155,000 square feet of office space — 55,000 of it leased by Duke University. There will be 21 floors of residences and two levels of underground parking.

Last night at a neighborhood meeting held in the mid-century Modern offices of Austin Lawrence Partners at the SouthBank Building, ALP President Greg Hills told the 30 or so people assembled: “I’m not sure we thought this day would happen. The dirt hole that’s been there, I apologize if it inconvenienced or bothered anybody.”

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