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.

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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.

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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.

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


Photo by Gary Kueber; courtesy


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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Scrutinizing our schools: Parting thoughts on why this matters, and an opportunity for optimism?

This is the last in a six-part series scrutinizing performance, spending and priorities in Durham Public Schools.

We’ve seen this week a set of data that’s hard to stomach.

Despite an extremely generous comparative level of local funding -- and total spending levels that are, on a per-pupil basis, at the top of those in peer counties -- Durham students’ academic performance lags other North Carolina counties, by numerous measures.

We’d argue that this is no less than an enormous risk factor for the future success and well-being of the community.

Look at all the attention paid in recent years to finding ways to saving Durham’s “disconnected youth,” the tranche of Durham’s youngest residents who are not connected to schools, jobs, civic structures, and the like -- and, therefore, those most likely to find connection in gangs or other antisocial outcome:

Or look at the names, faces and ages of those who have been arrested in so many of the shootings and murders plaguing our community in recent months: almost all were young men, often accused of crimes at an age where one would hope they would be in school, not the detention center.  

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Carolina Theatre's Nocek resigns, effective immediately

So we're not saying that this was because of the big-ticket sales tax snafu that The Durham News broke late last year.

But, it's sure gotta be at the top of the speculation list given the timing -- i.e., soon after the announcement, and on a snowy Friday afternoon to boot.

We don't know any more than has been in the funnies about the tax issue (though I'm still curious how this squared up, IIRC, with the state changing taxability of theater tickets, museum admits, college meal plans and a range of other adjustments.) And we'd be remiss if we didn't give a tip-of-the-hat for Nocek's role in revitalizing both a facility and its programming, both much more vibrant since his tenure.

Update: Per the H-S, it was the taxes.

The theatre’s board of directors “felt new leadership was needed to restore confidence and get us back on track,” said Ellen Reckhow, who represents the Board of County Commissioners on the theater board. “Unfortunately, the board was not aware of the challenging financial situation until fairly recently,” Reckhow said.

The theater’s board of directors named businessman and philanthropist Dan Berman interim president and CEO. Berman served as board chair for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and is a board member and finance chair of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.


From local architect and Carolina Theatre board prez Scott Harmon:

Dear Theatre Supporter,

As chairman of the Board of Trustees of Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc., I am writing you today to inform you that Bob Nocek has stepped down as our president and CEO. His resignation is effective immediately.

Under Bob’s leadership, the Carolina Theatre has played a key role in the renaissance of downtown Durham. We are grateful for his service and wish him well in his new pursuits.

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Scrutinizing our schools: How does DPS allocate classroom and school resources?

This is the fifth in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today: a closer look at teacher allocation and school leadership services, and a wrap-up to our series. Later today: we'll wrap up our scrutiny with some closing thoughts.

Over the last two days, we’ve seen that DPS’s position of financial strength seems unbalanced in its uses within the system.

For instance, comparatively little of the district’s extra spending on instructional programs goes to the use of regular classrooms, with alternative/special population programs and administrative costs taking a much greater cut. And, DPS’s administrative costs well outrank the three school systems closest to DPS in size.

Today’s we’re going to drill in further to an analysis of classroom and school-level instructional resources -- since most people seem to agree that teachers and principals are the most essential and consequential individuals in a school system, it’s crucial to understand where DPS is resourced at the individual school level.

In the context of the student achievement crisis discussed in the first post in this series, today we’ll explore the following questions:

  • Does DPS prioritize classroom teachers?
  • Do high-needs schools in DPS have more teachers?
  • Is teacher and principal compensation sufficient to attract and retain high quality educators and school leaders?

Although many external factors affect student learning, an adequately staffed force of high-quality professional teachers supported by strong school-based leaders is the foundation a school system needs to provide a sound education for all students.

In some ways, particularly around socioeconomic allocation of resources, DPS seems relatively well balanced.

Yet some of DPS’s other decisions -- on elementary vs. secondary school teaching resources, allocation of per-pupil local teacher funding at some high schools, and principal/assistant principal supplemental funding and staffing levels -- defy as easy an explanation and are worth further scrutiny.

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Scrutinizing our schools: Little of DPS' surplus spending goes to regular classrooms -- so where is it spent?

This is the fourth in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today: a deeper dive into how Durham's spending compares with three close peers. Tomorrow: a closer look at teacher allocation and school leadership services, and a wrap-up to our series.

As we saw yesterday, Durham Public Schools (DPS) spends more per pupil than any of the other large urban districts in the state. Out of all 115 NC school districts, only Asheville, Chapel-Hill/Carrboro, and Dare County contribute more local dollars (per pupil) to public education.

Yet DPS’ leadership in spending isn’t matched by high or even acceptable performance outcomes, relative to large districts, peer districts, or low-SES/high-need districts.

This paradox presents the linchpin of the troubling data we’re trying to understand in looking at DPS:

  • With such a striking lag in performance, and such a glaring difference in white vs. minority performance, how can DPS be meeting its requirement to provide an equal educational opportunity for all?
  • And, if Durham is outspending its peers for poor results, where are we “spending in the wrong ways,” or where could taxpayer dollars go to create better outcomes?

In today’s installment of the series, we’re going to drill in further to the spending question to try to explain the significant gap in spending between DPS and its most similar North Carolina peer districts -- Cabarrus, Johnston, and Gaston.

While 77% of Durham’s spending surplus versus those three systems does go to what the NC DPI calls “instructional” services, comparatively little -- only about one in every four dollars in this category -- goes to regular classroom instruction.

Nearly the same one in four dollars goes towards spending on in-school resources like principals, non-instructional school support staff, and other functions. And, the remainder goes to exceptional children and alternative instructional programs -- two areas where DPS spends much more than its peers, despite having almost identically-sized EC student populations.

And as to administrative spending?  The hard truth is, if DPS cut its spending in these central office functions to the average level of its three peers, it could fully fund universal Pre-K -- or alternatively, could recapture every dollar “lost” to charter schools.

Remember that rabbit hole? It gets murkier, and a bit more disorienting, the deeper we get.

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Scrutinizing our schools: How does Durham's school spending compare to other districts?

This is the third in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today:comparing DPS spending against other districts. Coming up tomorrow: a deeper dive into how Durham's spending compares with three close peers.

As we noted yesterday, Durham Public Schools trails many to most other North Carolina school systems in numerous standardized measures of performance almost any way we slice things -- by looking at the largest/most urbanized districts, or all systems, or isolated for demographic or income characteristics.

There’s another comparison that’s worth looking at: how much does Durham spend on its public schools, relative to our peers?  After all, given Durham’s bleeding-blue reputation and reality, it’s hard to imagine our community not being willing to pay any asked price for better schools.

The curious reality, though, is Durham’s last-place finish contrasts with the district spending significantly more local augmentation funding than any of its peers.

To me, the data that we’ll discuss over the next couple of days is hard to explain. (We’ve been trying to make sense of it ourselves.)  And it puts some of DPS’ challenges in a different, and important, context that we don’t always see.

For instance, many Durhamites have raised equity concerns over the amount of resources that leave public schools for charters.

And we concur that it’s a big figure, equating to more than $500 per pupil in 2014-15.

Yet DPS’ central administrative/system overhead costs far surpass the three NC large, urban districts closest to it in student population.  In fact, the difference in spending in this one category, per pupil, is greater than what Durham Public Schools loses per pupil to charters.

Ponder that for a moment. And then, welcome to the rabbit hole as we try to explain these numbers.

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Scrutinizing our schools: DPS student achievement lags most NC districts

This is the second in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today: evaluating DPS's academic performance relative to other NC school districts. Coming up tomorrow: comparing DPS spending against other districts.


First up: how does Durham’s academic performance compare against its peers?

The short answer isn’t comforting. If you’re white, the answer seems to be that you’ll do just fine -- if you’re not, you’re literally at the bottom of the pack.

Before we go there, let’s look first at the aggregate data.

With over 33,000 students, Durham is the eighth-largest school district in the state.  For a starting point, it’s useful to look at the ways in which DPS’ performance compares among the ten largest N.C. school districts.

Naturally, such an analysis depends on standardized test results from NC DPI. There’s plenty of reason to be worried about the testing-heavy regimes in school districts throughout the country, including in Durham, and some will argue this is a poor benchmark for learning achievement.

We’ve got a hunch this is not the method that DPS would choose to measure its performance by. In fact, based on the district’s response to the last round of test results, we’re pretty sure it isn’t.

Looking at school performance through a slightly different lens, the state uses complex statistical algorithms developed by SAS to measure growth for individual students and schools.  After N.C. DPI found 21 out of 53 DPS schools to be “low-performing” earlier this year, the district countered that 14 of these schools met the their yearly growth metrics, and that the “school performance grades do not accurately reflect the teaching and learning going on in each school.” (Of course, even among the schools that met or exceeded targeted growth from 2013-14 to 2014-15, half of them saw actual pass rates decline.)

There are good arguments on both sides of the question of school growth measures, and about standardized testing overall, but we think it’s worth stepping back and looking at the tests in a different light: what do they tell us about how Durham students perform relative to others in the state?

After all, the biases and failings in the test do not merely affect DPS students; they are also faced by students in every other North Carolina school. In this report, we want to see how DPS students perform relative to students in other districts.

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