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April 2009

DPS faces 377 job cuts for next school year - including 226 teachers

The H-S and N&O both have coverage of the news that Durham Public Schools may look to cut 377 positions, 226 of which would be instructional, to meet a nearly $13 million state funding decrease projected in the coming budget year while also reducing the request for Durham County funding.

The H-S sez:

"I don't think there's ever been one [cut] this big," said Hank Hurd, chief operating officer for Durham Public Schools. "This is the most massive cut in school resources in the history of the district."

The overall school budget for the 2010 fiscal year is expected to be $401.2 million, including $172.2 million in state funding. The current year's budget was originally about $418 million but was reduced by about $6 million thanks to a combination of state and county cuts.

Worth reading, anew: our look at relative funding levels of Durham schools versus other large state systems. Suffice it to say, cuts hurt -- but we  here at BCR would like to hope that the school board (which will be briefed on the cuts tonight) will be taking a comparative look at per-pupil funding levels in peer systems in different instructional, enrichment, and administration areas to guide reductions.

Other key facts per Matt "Snapper" Milliken's coverage at the H-S:

  • Classroom sizes are expected to rise under any scenario per the General Assembly's planning efforts, as a way of meeting the state budget deficit.
  • Almost 80% of DPS' funding goes to salaries and benefits -- making it impossible to avoid layoffs with any significant cuts, as Milliken notes.
  • Federal stimulus dollars have limitations and are restricted from use for salaries of workers targeted for layoffs.
  • Look for a meeting on May 14 at 6:30pm, possibly preceded by a special work session, for the school board to vote on the measure.

No BCR updates today

I'm under the weather (no, not flu symptoms) and am staying off the keyboard as much as possible today, so no Fishwrap or updates today here at BCR. Be back soon.

Don't forget to tune in tonight at 7:30 pm for "Shooting the Bull" (7:30pm, WXDU 88.7 FM or when Barry and (health willing) my guest will be Jim Anile, owner and executive chef of downtown restaurant Revolution.

West End Wine Bar plans to open doors on Friday

Even as construction picks up on the W. Main St. streetscape and underground power project, it's wrapping up at one of the adjoining businesses at West Village.

Crews yesterday were putting the finishing touches on the West End Wine Bar, a Durham outcropping of a Chapel Hill favorite. A sign on the business' door notes an expected opening sometime on May 1.

Staff inside noted that the establishment is focusing on getting all their licenses set this week and getting ready for the initial launch of the business, which is located in the Walker Warehouse on the south side of W. Main St.

Walking in, a non-smoking bar takes up much of the first floor, with a loft-seating area above having more tables and seating. A dark glass door to your right leads into the Cellar space, where liquor is served (and smoking permitted.)

Despite the name, look for West End Wine Bar to eventually be open from early morning through late night, serving coffee, espresso drinks, and light fare like sandwiches and pastries all day long. Free wi-fi is also available in the space.

And speaking of the street construction: the intersection of Duke & W. Main is currently closed to vehicular traffic due to the streetscape project. If you're driving, take the Downtown Loop to W. Main and pass the "Local Traffic Only" sign. Take the first left to park on the east side of the Walker Warehouse; the entrance to West End Wine Bar is on the building's other side.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for April 29, 2009

The big news to come up in the Bull City on Tuesday was a health-care story -- but one which had nothing to do with the swine flu panic.

Duke's health system announced that it would lead a $1 million Durham Health Innovations initiative (funded jointly by Duke and an NIH grant) over the next seven months. The outcome of the planning effort, which will include the community? As the H-S puts it, a plan for "reallocating existing health spending" to provide new ways to focus on improving the overall healthiness of a community, not simply the acute response to moments of health-care crisis like disease and illness.

It's a long-held truism in health care, and one that I still remember as the centerpiece of David Cutler's teachings on the American health care system: we spend more on health care services per capita than any nation, yet many countries outpace us for life expectancy. Simply put, they're living healthier, or are providing more of a focus on longer-term preventative care and overall wellness.

And that seems to be the focus of Duke's efforts, which will focus on community outreach and treating patients in their neighborhoods, rather than waiting for much-sicker patients to come to Duke for care.

The H-S (#1, #2) and the N&O have very good coverage. It's worth a read. In other news:

  • In the other big health care story, fifteen possible cases of swine flu in N.C. have come back negative, though public health officials continue to stress it's a question of when, not if, the puzzling new virus arrives. (N&O)
  • State employees, including teachers, will take a 0.5% pay cut this year and get ten hours of unpaid flexible time off in exchange. This covers about 6% of the additional $1 billion in shortfall the state government faces after April tax revenues didn't meet expectations (H-S, among other sources)
  • South Durham activists are working to raise up to $10,000 for an independent survey of the area where New Hope Creek flows into Jordan Lake in order to determine the so-called normal pool level. The Haw River Assembly's Elaine Chiosso claims that surveyors have different measures that could find different results, which in turn could impact the ability to develop a controversial assemblage of land near NC 751 and Fayetteville Rd. One anonymous South Durham resident is offering a $1,000 challenge grant to boost giving. (H-S)
  • Duke's globalization initiative moves forward with two Fuqua partnerships with two Dubai institutions, in one of the first actualizations of the worldwide strategy unveiled last fall. (H-S)
  • The American Lung Assn. gave Durham Co. a C grade for so-called 24-hour particle pollution, but a failing grade for its number of ozone days. From 2005-08, Durham had twenty ozone days and four dangerous short-term particle days; Orange/Chatham had none of the latter and got a top A grade in that category. (H-S)
  • A D.P.D. officer acquitted of criminal charges for an alleged assault outside a Raleigh sports bar in 2006, and who was still removed from his job after an internal investigation, is pressing for a settlement to a lawsuit he has pending against the City that would allow him to re-apply for a municipal job. (H-S)

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for April 28, 2009

[Due to a technology issue, today's Fishwrap is late in publishing.]

A story likely to evolve today: a "small number" of North Carolinians have been diagnosed with what is suspected to be swine flu; media reports note that they're being isolated at home, while public health officials await confirmation from CDC laboratories. NC and other states will have the ability to diagnose the disease by mid-week once a testing agent is shipped from CDC to our and other states' labs. (N&O)

Meanwhile, the H-S takes an interesting angle on the disease, talking with Duke superstar behavioral economist Dan Ariely, whose perspective is that given the natural emotional reaction people have to stories like this one -- and the drive of media to feed the panic -- we could be seeing an initial over-reaction to a situation that could become much more dangerous down the line. (H-S)

And, in an odd Triangle twist to the swine flu fear, one of the two anti-virals effective against the disease (Relenza) is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (which has its US headquarters in Durham), at the firm's Zebulon plant -- which is stepping up production as a "precautionary measure," though with no jobs impact at this time. (TBJ)

Not much else going on Durham related in the local papers:

  • Having received the formula-distributed grants from the Federal stimulus package, City Hall is now putting in for $54 million in discretionary monies. Most of that would go to water and sewer projects like upgrades and repairs to the E. Club Blvd. sewage treatment plant and radio-readable water meters; these have already been allocated in the City's budget as funded from revenue, but city manager Tom Bonfield notes that the use of Federal dollars here would allow next-level priorities to get City dollars. $4.4m is being requested to cover twenty-eight vacancies in Durham's police dept.; the City doesn't expect police layoffs but the funds could ameliorate a possible "partial freeze on police hiring" in the department. (H-S)
  • National Urban League CEO and former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial has been named NC Central's commencement speaker for this year's May 16 exercises. (H-S)
  • The BOCC made it through Monday night's agenda in just one hour, mixing its traditional honors and plaudits with only some brief discussion over other consent agenda items on department funding and intergovernmental transfers. (H-S)

One-school compromise proposed for Scott King Rd -- but will the BOCC bite?

Although last night's BOCC meeting was a blissfully-short one hour session, one of the key items originally on that agenda -- a discussion of plans for the Scott King Road school site -- had already been moved to the May 4 commissioners' work session.

A proposal by DPS to acquire a 46-acre tract along the road elicited controversy from some South Durham neighborhood activists earlier this spring after the school system proposed building two schools on the 46 acre site.

As the N&O noted earlier this year, the BOCC rejected a plan for a 71-home subdivision on the site, which neighbors consider ecologically sensitive, being transected by two streams bordering Jordan Lake. Additionally, Scott King Rd. has been proposed as a retrenched urban growth area boundary in a move that would pull back the UGA line from the Chatham Co. border.

DPS, the landowner, and representatives for Northeast Creek Streamwatch reached a compromise recently, however, which would call for only one school to be built on the property; an elementary and middle school were initially proposed.

Continue reading "One-school compromise proposed for Scott King Rd -- but will the BOCC bite?" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for April 27, 2009

  • The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, an annual confab for N.C. Democrats, will be held in Durham for the first time (and only the second time outside Raleigh.) (See the ad at left for details on tickets.) National party chair Tim Kaine will be the event's keynote speaker for the dinner at downtown's Marriott. (H-S)
  • As we noted here last week, the city has seen slow progress in completing parks & recs projects. A report from construction manager at risk Skanska -- which was hired to oversee a bundle of parks projects -- blamed the city's development review process (as expected) as well as the rampant rise in construction costs during the mid-decade building boom. The latter has led to cycles of re-approaching designers and architects for "value engineering" (cost-cutting efforts) given the fixed prices of projects, a cycle that Skanska claims has delayed projects significantly. Worth a read. (H-S)
  • A separate matter that is a bit harder to pin on a third party: the City's spending rate on the 2007 streets and sidewalks bond has lagged behind the schedule preferred by Federal officials, who prohibit cities from borrowing bond monies and then just collecting interest on them. 10% of bond proceeds have to be spent or committed within six months of a municipality issuing the bond -- but by December, Durham had not met that mark for the $20m streets and sidewalks bond issue. The phased 2005 bond issue is hitting its mark. (H-S)
  • The county's unemployment rate dropped from 8% to 7.7% in March, giving Durham one of the lowest rates in N.C. -- though still just less than twice what it had been a year ago. The H-S notes that the labor force size shrank for the Triangle in the latest report, suggesting that some of the decrease could be due to individuals opting out of the labor force, not finding work. (H-S)
  • The N&O's Elizabeth Shestak has a nice look at the filming of "Main Street," including words from Colin Firth on his pleasant surprise at life in Durham. (N&O)
  • An August crime mapping conference will feature a D.P.D. analyst's presentation on the impact of the Operation Bull's Eye effort in NECD. (H-S) We here at BCR will be curious to see whether by August the presentation includes data to address the lingering question of whether Bull's Eye reduced crime -- or displaced it to other venues outside the target radius.
  • Ann Alexander (a co-founder of the one-time Wellspring grocery stores) has taken over the executive director role at Durham Central Park on an interim basis, taking over for Camille Berry, who left the slot quietly several weeks back. (H-S)
  • As noted here last week, Steven Williams kicked off his long-shot mayoral campaign on Sunday with an announcement downtown. (H-S)

Duke's East Campus to be impacted by planned Main St. bridge replacement?

IMG_0916 For years, the stone wall around Duke's East Campus has served as a symbol of the occasional conflict between gown and town.

For the former, it's an architectural nicety that surrounds the one-time Trinity College's Georgian buildings designed before the arrival of the newer West Campus.

For the latter -- well, you don't have to be in Durham long to hear the jokes about Duke's desire to find a way to somehow fence itself off from Durham, to make that wall a bit higher. (The fencing-off joke, to my mind, understates by a good measure the university's commitment to a better Durham, something that the Big U doesn't help itself to demonstrate through errors like Maxwell/Sumter.)

Still, the wall touches both worlds, fitting in that its 1916 construction came about "as part of a joint effort by the college and the City of Durham to beautify the neighborhood," according to Duke's archives.

Well, a tenth-of-a-mile stretch of that wall is about to get taken away, but don't look for either town or gown to be particularly thrilled about it.

The culprit is something known as TIP No. B-3638, which in NCDOT jargon-speak means that the state's gonna step outside its North Duke St. Division Five office and build somethin', dang it! And that something would be the replacement for the unimaginatively-named Bridge No. 316, which carries U.S. 70 Business traffic along Main St. over Duke's own Campus Drive.

Continue reading "Duke's East Campus to be impacted by planned Main St. bridge replacement?" »

Shooting the Bull podcast: unit publicist David Linck talks "Main Street"

I had a chance recently to ask two of Durham's most senior civic leaders about the revelation that the movie "Main Street" wasn't just shooting in Durham, but that the Bull City was in fact the setting for the story about a purportedly-moribund Southern city that's fallen on hard times.

The fact that neither leader was really certain how Durham would be portrayed was one of those kinda-chilling moments. (Not that, of course, there's much anyone could do about how one's city appears in celluloid. Please see Exhibit A, "Welcome to Durham." I mean, what're you going to do, block the streets to filming?)

Barry and I got to pose the question this week to David Linck, the unit publicist for "Main Street," in Thursday night's episode of "Shooting the Bull" on WXDU:

David's takeaway? Durham's the place where the film takes place -- the pic's original name was "Durham Grill" down to the fictional tobacco heiress played by Ellen Burstyn. But not to worry, it's an uplifting story, and no one really fixates on the place, anyhow. Besides, it's prescient given the bad economy, because we're all suffering with the economy, right? (And "Bull Durham" did show us as a bunch of Southern rubes, anyway, and didn't do much damage.)

Maybe. As I said on air, personally I can't imagine the town of Fargo, N.D. without thinking of bad accents and woodchippers -- so I'll be curious to see just how things look when the movie finds a distributor... something not expected to happen until after Cannes.

Check out the podcast, and see what you think.

Willie, Cougar, Dylan to play DBAP as part of MiLB ballpark tour

What does Durham have in common with Pawtucket, R.I.; Dayton; and Round Rock, Tx.?

All are home to minor league baseball teams. And what's more: the parks those teams play in will all see something other than baseballs blowing in the wind this summer.

Bob Dylan's taking a third pass at a tour of minor league ballparks, this time bringing along Willie Nelson and John Cougar Mellencamp for the ride. (Nelson played the neighboring DPAC earlier this year, and we trust his memory of the town won't be so, er, hazy as to impair his finding his way next door to the ballpark.)

It'll set you back $67.50 to get a ticket to the Tuesday, July 28 show. Hat tip to Grayson Currin at the Indy Weekly for the breaking news on this one.