"The Bull-et List" -- what would you do if you had one year in Durham?
City proposes steering post-demolition vacant lots to affordable housing uses

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 7, 2010

DPS Budget Battle Brews: The school board last night agreed to $13m in cuts ranging from symbolic (a $300/mo. reduction in school board members' pay) to meaningful (classroom software, cell phones and the like). But the proposed budget still calls for cutting 263 teachers and 60 other staff members, increasing the average class sizes by 4 students. Board members couldn't agree on a resolution asking administrators to cut their own salaries failed, but they did freeze their pay -- and voted to ask County Commissioners for $16 million in give-backs, essentially exempting the system from this year's $3m cut and asking the County to step in for another $13m in state funding drops. (Herald-Sun, N&O)

Water/Sewer CapEx Down, Rates Up: The good news? The drop in construction costs is lowering this year's repair and infrastructure costs for the water/sewer system, from $60m to just under $46m. The bad news? An increase in the base rate for service of $0.77 per month to help pay for the work, which includes wastewater treatment plant improvements to reduce nitrogen outflow and projects like radio-based easy-read meters. (Herald-Sun)

Toll Choices: Some folks aren't going to appreciate the fact that the new Triangle Expressway is a toll road. But if you're going to pay -- about $0.15 per mile best-case -- it helps to have easy ways to pay. The N&O notes that the cashless causeway will accept both the EZ-Pass system used in the northern states and the southern-favored "sticker" tags in place in Fla. and elsewhere. Ah, North Carolina, there you go, bridging the putative Mason-Dixon line of toll transponders and bringing harmony to our torn nation. Whatever kind of tag you have, that estimated $0.15/mi. fee is still 50% lower than what you'd pay if you went tag-free and the toll folks had to mail you a bill based on photos of your license plate. (N&O)

City Stares Down Utilities over Inspections: City leaders are meanwhile seeking just over $280k from utility companies for City inspection expenses; Council passed the fees in '06 but some utilities have refused to cough up -- and just when city manager Tom Bonfield thought they had an agreement, utilities point man and lobbyist Steve Toler has decided to try do an end run around the administration and get the Council to try to bend back to a deal Patrick Baker offered when he was in the top seat. Developers, meanwhile, are concerned the plan sticks them with costs for inspecting their work in new subdivisions. (Herald-Sun)

NCCU Medallion: NC Central's centennial celebration continues with its debut of the new Shepard Medallion, an award named after the school's founder and designed to honor university affiliates who've impacted the school or the world. A number of former chancellors will receive one of the first half-dozen medals, along with legislator and benefactor Mickey Michaux and alum and one-time ambassador Mattie Sharpless. (N&O)

Early Childhood Faith Initiative: A new organization is working to try to engage churches and other worship communities with early childhood care and engagement, noting the impact that such has on childhood development and later success in life. The H-S covers their kick-off meeting. (Herald-Sun)


Page McCullough

But the proposed budget still calls for cutting 263 teachers and 60 other staff members, increasing the average class sizes by 4 students.

Kevin, could you please clarify? in the N+O, it says the board "voted 5-2 in favor of option D. Option D was: ask for the option A exemption plus $13 million, saving 237 teachers."


Kevin Davis

@Page: The budget currently adopted requires those cuts by necessity -- there is no money to save those teacher and central office jobs. DPS is planning to ask the BOCC to come up with $16 million to *avoid* those cuts. But that would require a significant shift in policy direction on the BOCC end.

Frankly, the teachers, parents and students involved -- and, I have an inkling I can in no way prove (but one I have heard from local pols, too), DPS -- have done a masterful job of turning out support for schools funding. It would be a massive, massive policy shift to ask the County to find an additional $16 million for schools; last year they were battling over a number about a third the size of that. 

Getting Bowser and Howerton out at the rally saying they back school funding represents a (largely unreported) chink in the County argument, since the BOCC has in the past said it would not back new funding for schools.

Suddenly, you have a BOCC showing signs of weakening on the point -- and DPS steps in with a massive request. And it is really hard to overstate how big a funding increase this would be.  Historically the County has provided only about $100m for schools, so getting $16m extra from the County, which already provides some of the highest per-pupil funding in the state, would be a tremendous coup.

I do not think they will get all they are asking for, mind you. But DPS has just taken a major, major step in the ask. The question is, is the County backed into a corner on this one?

Page McCullough

Kevin, I was assuming that, per the vote last night, the board will approve a new budget request on May 13. I think the ask is too large and not strategic. The board has in effect, put the burden of laying off teachers squarely on the BOCC. I think $16m is about 5.5 cents tax increase. combined with the 3 cents already on the table, new water and sewer increases,and something, maybe?? for housing, well, we are talking real money here when a lot of people are hurting. I also noticed Bowser at the rally and I thought I read that he said he was willing to consider 2 cents. We have to lobby the state as well. I was pleased to see the board bite the bullet on their stipends, sorry they did not do much on executive salaries.

Michael Oeher

@ Kevin and Page,

I, too, was at the meeting last night. In particular, I was pleased to hear Kirsten Kainz, Heidi Carter, and Leigh Bordley speak so eloquently about what leadership is: one leads by example. While I commend all Board members for showing us, that they, too, are willing to give something to help the schools, I'm not sure elected officials fall under the same category as paid employees of the system. If I was cynically inclined, I'd say that forgoing a portion of the stipend was a wise political move. I was saddened that Davis, Forte-Brown, Curtis-Parker, and Martin did not support the motion to "ask" the ELT (those 8 people at the highest level of DPS administration... making six figures or more) to a salary reduction in addition to not recieving a cost of living increase. I wonder what Natalie Beyer's position would have been? SB member Davis made a somewhat cryptic comment that he hadn't heard people in his community complaining about the salaries of the ELT team. He then rubbed his head and smiled and said something to the effect that each of the Board members came from different parts of town. As a novice Board watcher, I came away thinking that while Forte-Brown is the public face of the Board, it might be Davis who is the power personality in the room.

I'd also be hesitant to make any judgment about the organized nature of this movement to request such a large sum of money from the County Commissioners. From my perspective as a parent involved in asking for funding, this process has not been organized at all. IMHO, it just seems as if many of Durham's citizens are frustrated and angry about their local leaders seeming lack of support and understanding. The people I met last night had come from entirely different places, but we all spoke together that cutting teachers is not acceptable and that we wanted to school board to understand that we want a shared sacrifice from all memebers of the DPS team. I believe, this is what the SB has been hearing, not just at last night's meeting, but in emails, phone calls, and conversations about town, and that this grassroots movement spurred them to action.

I mean, Ms. Kainz spoke courageously about how she had been personally hurt by the budget situation last year. She said something to the effect that she and the SB had fallen down publicy in front of the County Commissioners last year and it had hurt. She said that initially she had been concerned about the same thing occurring this year. She said that people's comments at last night's meeting spoke to her and convinced her that they needed to "respectfully" ask the CC for ALL they money needed to avoid laying off teachers.


After the meeting, I tried to corner both Ms. Kainz and Mr. Davis, with just your concern. Did they think this was a wise choice? Did they think this was a wise political move? Did they have a plan as to how to exert pressure on the CC? Neither one wanted to comment.

This is why I was saddened to hear you say at the meeting last night that the People's Alliance only supports a 1.5% tax increase. Is this on top of the 3% already proposed to cover debts coming due? If that is the case, my question to you is this? Why doesn't the PA simply ask that the CC fully fund ALL the teaching positions, whatever it takes. Period. What stake does the PA have in limiting a tax increase? While I realize that the property tax is not the most progressive tax in the world, I'm not sure what the PA would propose we do to maintain Durham's services without increasing our revenue? Should we wait around for the Feds to bail us out again? Does the PA really think that is going to happen? Does the PA really think Ms. Perdue and the State is going to fly in to the rescue? Raising taxes for the state legislature is political suicide.

My thoughts: Where is it most politically possible to increase taxes? On the local level where political power isn't as removed and tax benefits (save our schools) are clear. I mean, who wants to pay taxes for a "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, but I have YET TO MEET one person, rich or poor, black or white, young or old, who wouldn't support a tax increase to help Durham's children. So, Page, I hope the PA won't sell itself short-- demand that the 13million to restore teacher jobs be budgeted from the County. If that means a tax increase, so be it.

Michael Oehler

Todd Patton

There are just 3 places any extra money for the schools could come from - Congress, the NC Gen Assembly, and the Durham BOCC. It's an election year for 2 of those 3, and there is little chance Democrats in charge of the Congress or the Legislature are gonna lead the charge for a tax increase this election year.

That leaves the BOCC as the sole source for any additional funding for the schools. The BOCC does not face the voters until 2012, when President Obama will again be atop the ballot to help pull Democrats to wins up and down the ballot.

The BOCC wanted 4 year terms so they could make the tough, long-term decisions without having to worry about running for election every 2 years. They got what they wanted.

Now it's time for one of those tough decisions - support the schools with a tax increase, or cut 260+ teachers - more than 15% of the workforce, and about 20% if you count last years' cuts.

Tax increases are never popular - I get that. But one of the biggest problems faced by our community - failing schools - will only be made worse by cutting 263 teachers. Those failing schools are linked closely to many of our community's other big problems - poverty, homelessness, crime, and drugs.

It is time for the BOCC to make a tough decision - raise taxes and protect the schools. If you do, the voters will have your backs 2 years from now. If you don't, you will have a lot of company in the 2012 Democratic primary. I can think of 263 potential candidates right now.

Rodrigo "El Justiciero" Dorfman

This is my statement to the Board - it speaks to the public trust and the importance of gestures and necessity for the community to come together.

Good evening,

My name is Rodrigo Dorfman. I've been in Durham for 25 years and I am actively involved working with the Latino community. I have two children at EKPOWE and I am married to a DPS teacher. I would like first of all to lend my support to a tax increase in order to close the budget gap. This is a time for sacrifice and a time for leadership. I appreciate the hard work that you do even if often times I disagree with it. With that said….

I’ve come here today to talk about the budget.

Not from the perspective of numbers or statistics but from the point of view of the public trust. I believe this trust has been broken and it’s essential that we fix it - if we’re going to find a way to work together as a community and overcome the terrible crisis that we’re in.

I stood here, last fall, with dozens of parents and warned you that the draconian imposition of the curriculum known a Reading Street was a mistake. It’s implementation and the consequent efforts to fix it did not address its major flaw: it robbed teachers of their intellectual freedom and their creativity. It went against every good teaching practice they knew. They were being forced not to serve the needs of children but to serve needs of accountants, statisticians and their phd’s.

All you had to do, I suggested, is a simple gesture: say you’re sorry to the teachers and find a way to work this out. But you and DPS did not listen to their concerns. And stayed the course. Just like the Titanic.
And so, you can imagine why I took The Chairwoman to task when she publicly declared that the allegations against Dr. Becoats were – first she said baseless, (which was false) then she corrected herself and said that he was "exonerated" which was even more false.

We have a serious problem here. It’s called governing through impunity.
I offered the Chairwoman the chance to sit down for coffee. No answer. I asked her to correct her false and misleading statements. Silence. So what are we to do when the Board or DPS comes to the public and gives us numbers, interpretations of surveys, statistics…. why should we trust you when you can’t even recognize a simple mistake.

Well, here’s one way out. It looks like you’ve spent most of the fed money targeted to the implementation of Reading Street. You won’t have the resources to mandate it anymore. And there is no way you’re going to take money away from teachers and give it to literacy coaches. So, here’s a blessing in disguise. Teachers and principals are going to need every resource available to them to deal with the budget cuts. Make Reading Street what it should always have been: a targeted program of remediation. Do this, and you will see how the negative energy will dissipate, channels of communication will be opened again, parents and teachers will feel like that have a stake in the system once again.

Do this and you will find me and many of us to be ready to work together to overcome our differences and our challenges. Do it because teachers need, it but most of important of all, do it because the children are watching.

Thank you for your time.

Rodrigo Dorfman

Michael Bacon

I sympathize with those rallying to DPS's defense here, but to say that $16 million in tax increases has no downside is being myopic.

While Durham has avoided the worst of the housing slump, it hasn't avoided the unemployment bug. There are a lot of property owners out there living on savings, and raiding those savings with a whopping $.055/$100 valuation is not, I think, in the county's best interest. An 8.5 cent increase in the property tax rate would be a $170 annual increase in taxes, at a time when 1/10 of the city is out of work. This leaves nothing for increases in public transportation (which would help us decrease our very high per capita greenhouse gas output), nothing for active living improvements, nothing for neighborhood development, and nothing for increased public safety. I agree that schools are probably at the top of this list of priorities, but I have to say I think fully funding the DPS request is probably not the best solution.

I could get behind an additional 3 cents on top of the 3 cents already proposed. But I think letting class sizes drift up by a pupil or two, if those cuts are flagged by everyone as temporary, and eliminating some vacant teacher positions, may be the best course of action right now. The budget as it stands is unacceptable, but I can't see clear to closing the full $16 million gap.

Michael Oehler


I hear you, but I think you fail to see the crucial problem. The DPS budget and County budget will be worse next year-- are we to keep saying YES to increased class sizes and teacher layoffs? Not only is sales tax revenue slated to incerase only marginally, do you really think we should be funding schools with such an unsustainable tax as a sales tax or lottery? Federal AARA act funds will run out nex year. This is problem is not going away.

I mean, come on. If we are honest, we must come back to the simple fact that while we in Durham have been paying more in property tax than other NC city/counties, this rate is still FAR lower than our neighbors in Chapel Hill. Has it hurt their Real Estate prices? Has it hurt their community? Have people fled there well funded school system?

Now, Durham is on the map of best places to live in the US; imagine if as the rest of those places on the list cut Kindergarten out of their schools, go to four day school weeks, and had class sizes of 35 or more (see today's NY Times article), while Durham actually said YES, we believe FULLY FUNDED SCHOOLS will lead to a better community, now and in the future. Now, the REAL GREAT RECESSION will hit, and it is going to hit the neediest hardest and first. The most progressive tax we have in Durham is the property tax. If you can't get behind this, because you think an out of work person in a $200,000 dollar house can afford another $160 dollars, heaven help us.

Finally, what I find most interesting is that everyone I have talked to liberal or conservative alike has supported the idea of a tax increase for our schools. We are used to spending $80 just to take our families to the Bulls. The thought of contributing $160 so that the schools will be able to function is a drop in the hat. It seems the only people who aren't supporting this idea are the "progressive liberals" who feel this will force poor people out of their homes. Wow. Who'd have thought the progressive liberals and the Glenn Beck consevatives could be so closely aligned... only in the Bull City... I mean seriously?

Michael Oehler


Where do I sign up to pay my extra $160? My kid's teachers can't cram another four students into the classroom without sacrificing instructional quality. Class sizes are too high as it is.


The problem is that the incremental cost for a kid isn't $160.

Are you willing to pay the incremental cost for a kid which is around $491 ($16M/32,551 students)?

The school board is asking the BOCC to make everyone pay significantly more money to maintain results that aren't particularly good in the first place even though a lot of money is already being spent.

The school board is asking the BOCC to provide more money when there are other worthy programs that aren't being funded or could also use more money.

I don't know what the answer is, but I don't believe giving the school board everything they request is it.

I think that was a pathetic political blame shifting move by the school board. If they seriously wanted more money, they should have made a reasonable request and provided evidence to show why the amount they requested was necessary.

I've read quite a bit about education and I've yet to see any study that shows a correlation between spending and results.

I'm not even confident there's a good correlation between class size and results.



Our class size, in a DPS school, will increase by 8 children, from 22 to 30. Our grade level will no longer have 4 teachers. We will have 3 educators on our grade level. Insane.

Thank you for being a positive voice for so many.

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