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Keep northeast Chatham High School in the capital improvement plan

By Jeffrey Starkweather
Posted Monday, February 14, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - Below is the written version of my testimony in support of keeping the Northeast High School in the capital improvement plan presented during the January 18 public hearing before the Chatham County commissioners. Folks who also support this position need to contact write the county commissioners because this plan will be decided in the next several weeks.

While I am on the board of the County Economic Development Corporation, I am speaking on behalf of my daughter, Emily Tinervin, a 1996 graduate of Northwood High School, who resides in northeast Chatham with her husband, Scott, and my two granddaughters, Ryan and Emery, ages five and three, respectively.

We are asking that you keep the proposed Northeast High School in the five-year Capital Improvement Plan, as well as consider adding a new elementary school. Moreover, we strongly oppose the alternative proposals that this new high school's opening be delayed as much as five years to 2020 when my oldest granddaughter, who is not yet in school, would be a high school freshman.

I hardly need to tell you the critical importance of high quality, community schools, particularly high schools, for promoting economic development, community prosperity, and job attraction. Quality public schools have positive impacts on wages, productivity, property values, community cohesion and social capital and human capital. This is the first aspect of a community that company CEOs and their wives/husbands look to in determining where to locate or start a business.

Your supporters testified that attracting jobs was their top priority, as have each of you. Thus, school investments should rank near the top of your Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) priorities.

The empirical evidence is overwhelming that smaller high schools, in the 600 to 1,000 student range, provide better student performance, lower drop-out rates, high percentage of student extracurricular participation, greater teacher satisfaction and performance, more community support, and at a lower-cost per pupil. Northwood's student population has reached the upper end of this range, with 973 students. Increasing the size of Northwood beyond the previously publicly promised 1,000 student body will negatively impact northeast Chatham property values and housing sales. It will also decrease student satisfaction and performance due to increasing long bus rides to school.

Finally, I have repeatedly heard the canard that the folks in the northeast are receiving a disproportionate share of county services and facilities. The truth is exactly the opposite. Beyond the existing schools and a part-time sheriff's outpost, there are no county-funded public facilities or services in northeast Chatham where one-fourth of the population lives, paying 54 percent of the county property tax revenues. Many parts of northeast Chatham are at least as far away from Pittsboro, as Goldston and Siler City are. Goldston and Siler City have libraries while the northeast is only served by a bookmobile, which county staff tried to eliminate when the new library in Pittsboro opened.

Obviously, this uneven distribution of public services is not a result of intentional policies but more of an artifact of recent growth. Still, I was offended that the northeast High School was singled out from all the items in the capital budget as the sole cause for a potential 1.2 cent property tax increase. I do not recall county staff raising similar concerns when the Bunkey Morgan administration increased property taxes to pay for the new Virginia Cross Elementary School and renovate Jordan Matthews High School in Siler City.

Thus, we would ask you to reject the staff recommendation that the northeast High School be again delayed or removed from the CIP; we also ask you to include a new northeast elementary school. We totally reject the proposal that the county again expand Northwood High School and again delay providing for our community's school needs. We were told by both school and county elected officials at the time of the Northwood expansion that this would not delay the building of our high school. We expect the county to live up to this promise.

Instead, we are asking that you first consider delaying some other large construction projects that do not have the same job creating impact of a new high school, such as the proposed new jail. You have agreed for citizens to pay more to ship our trash out of the county because of legitimate concerns for property owners. Thus, we can house our inmates in adjacent counties for the time being.

Secondly, if delaying other projects is insufficient or rejected, we are asking that you consider raising the school impact fee, rather than property taxes, if additional revenues are needed to fund all high priority capital projects.

Finally, if you reject both those options, we are asking that you go ahead and hold a school bond referendum this coming November at the same time as the municipal elections, with the following two conditions: 1) place all the other "as-yet-to-be-spent" school capital projects in the proposed CIP on this referendum such as bleacher replacements, auditorium sound and lighting upgrades, high school science lab renovations, and roof replacements, and 2) obtain a list of additional capital improvements needed in our two other middle schools to bring them up to the standards of the new Margaret Pollard Middle School. We do not want to have a two-tiered set of school facilities in the county, as all children in all parts of the county need an equal opportunity to succeed. Adding these items would mean improving the chances of passage of this bond referendum since its approval would impact every school and parent in the county. And this would be the only equitable approach to holding such a referendum. Moreover, this bond referendum would not significantly delay any of these additional capital projects.

Finally, we would ask that you undertake a study to determine the ideal location and timetable for a new elementary school for northeast Chatham.

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Keep northeast Chatham High School in the capital improvement plan

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