A few days ago I wrote about a report and slide deck released by the school district regarding plans to address two critical issues facing our schools: outdated buildings in need of major repairs, and our declining elementary school population.

In the proposed slide deck, the district outlined one way that these issues could be addressed, using funds from the proposed school bond.

After the slide deck became public, many people raised concerns about elements of this plan. We encouraged the school board to take these concerns seriously, and to work collaboratively with all of our school communities to ensure that the plan would be both equitable and address the backlog of major repairs that are needed for many buildings across both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Orange County Schools. Some schools have flooding, mold, broken HVACs, plumbing that frequently breaks, and one school caught on fire this past year — forcing a grade to work from the cafeteria for weeks. The overall long-term plan is set into three stages, with the schools with the most prioritized needs going first. In some cases, replacing a school will be cheaper than repairing it due to the nature of the repairs.

We had hoped that those opposed to the plan presented in the slide deck (which, again, represents just one possible way to address the dual challenges of outdated facilities and low enrollment facing our district) would approach this conversation from the same collaborative standpoint. We pointed out that the school board has not even discussed this proposal yet – it’s on their agenda for this week.

But then these signs appeared today around McDougle Elementary School and McDougle Middle School.

The signs don’t say who paid for them.

Reducing a complex issue to a soundbite designed only to incite outrage is a fundamentally bad faith argument. (Is CHCCS really motivated by a desire to prevent some kids from walking to school? Of course not.)

There is also precedent for bond plans changing – in 2016, the initial bond plan suggested consolidating all of the district’s Pre-K classes at Lincoln Center. That didn’t happen and it wasn’t part of the final plan. These things change.

But walking back yard signs or a campaign that tells people to vote no — even before the school board has discussed this issue (!) — is very, very hard to do. And we have tough challenges ahead of us – challenges that are the result of complex structural factors, like decades of underfunded schools and an aging population. Instead of demonizing our district officials and our school board members, we need all stakeholders in our community to work together to address these challenges without holding hostage a rare opportunity to support our chronically underfunded schools.

Update 6/3/24: I received an email from the McDougle Elementary School PTA President, Heather S. Thompson. She writes. ” Just to clarify, these signs were not created or placed by the McDougle Elementary School PTA. While we respect everyone’s freedom of speech and the sharing of ideas and opinions, the MES PTA ultimately supports the Bond, as we know some of our school buildings are in dire need of replacement and/or improvements, but we are pushing for a different Plan that is better for our communities, students, staff and families. Our hope is to work with the CHCCS School Board, District and other community members to find the least disruptive, collaborative, equitable and environmentally thoughtful solutions to our schools getting the improvements they need. Our issues are directly related to the CHCCS Bond Referendum Proposal Plan and not the Bond itself.”

Update 6/3/24: The Orange County Board of Elections is reaching out to Aron Woolman, a local resident who told us he placed the signs around McDougle. Anyone who spends more than $100 in an election cycle about a political issue must file an independent expenditure with their office. The forms must be filed within 30 days once $100 is spent.

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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....