Over the past several years, the number of students enrolled in the two public school districts in Orange County has declined 6% across both districts, with the more acute loss being felt in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which experienced a 7.5% decrease from 2019-20 to the 2022-23 school year.


The reasons for this are complex: the number of parents choosing private, charter or homeschooling options has increased since the pandemic and since more vouchers have been offered by the state; Carrboro and Chapel Hill’s populations have gotten older and wealthier and people are having fewer kids, and we don’t have a variety of housing options to fit people at different stages of their lifespan. Our population is growing very, very slowly – and what growth we do have is in our 65+ population.


This isn’t specific to our school district – the same declines and population trends  are happening nationwide – but they paint a troubling picture going forward if we want to maintain high quality public schools for all students in our district.

The average daily membership of a school affects school funding, which is explained really well in this video from the Superintendent of the Watauga County Schools.

And at last night’s school board meeting, we learned the schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are experiencing a budget crisis due to many different factors, many of which are out of the school board and superintendent’s control. Earlier in the week, the school district released a document with planned budget cuts – including a reduction on non-personnel expenses, reducing some PE teachers and teacher assistants in 4th and 5th grade classrooms, and reducing positions that create smaller class sizes and the virtual learning academy, which has an expected enrollment of 32 9th-11th graders next year.

Some of the take-aways:

This is an emergency response to financial and budget trends and some of these cuts have already been put in place.

If a teaching assistant in a 4th or 5th grade classroom retires or leaves tomorrow, a new one will not be hired. Each elementary school will now only have one TA per school to cover both fourth and fifth grade. This impacts our student:teacher ratio. (It’s always better to have more hands per student.)

We need additional operating funds from the county commissioners

Part of the school board budget is allotted from the county commissioners, and the school district then spends it down. The district plans to ask for additional operational funds as a stop-gap, and parent and community support will be key in ensuring that the commissioners also increase the revenue allocated to both Orange County Schools and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District. It’s been static for many years.

This day has been coming for a while

The board and leadership mentioned this last night, and also spoke about how they’ve been talking with school leadership and teachers about the budget.

A school bond will be on the ballot in November. We must vote for it.

The district annually receives two “pots” of funding from the county. One is operational, the other is capital (building maintenance and technology).  The school bond is a third stand-alone issue related to one-time replacement or major renovations of our oldest and most worn-out facilities.

We wrote about the need for a school bond last month. Many people wrote into the commissioners and encouraged them to go forward with a bond. (Thank you!)

In January, the county commissioners decided to put Option C on the November ballot, pending LGC approval. This would be a $300 million bond.


Please use your voice. Here’s how to help.

Write the county commission and tell them that you support the bond and increasing the amount of operational funds for our schools. We’ll share more ways to help as we learn them.

Graphs come from the Chamber’s State of the Community Report, 2023.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....