By Heather Smith Craig
On the evening of July 22, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education met in person for the first time since suspending in-person meetings at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The three topics that elicited the most discussion during the meeting were recruitment bonuses for hard-to-recruit positions, the reorganization of School Safety Taskforces and the role of law-enforcement personnel — i.e., School Resource Officers — in the district’s schools.
CHCCS Director of Human Resources Benefits and Operations Dr. Quamesha Whitted-Miller and Senior Executive Director of CHCCS Human Resources Erika Newkirk sought approval to offer recruitment bonuses for hard-to-fill vacancies, such as teaching and support personnel positions. The bonuses, totaling $1.04 million, would be awarded to individuals hired on or after July 1 2021 and would be disbursed over a three-year period.
Board member Ashton Powell likened this proposal to a “bonus arms race rather than raising the wage” in the area and asked whether these one-time bonuses, “have the effect of maintaining staff — especially hourly employees — who are brought on under these conditions?” Newkirk indicated that staff could pull the data needed to answer Powell’s question. Powell then asked for the data to be put in the context of what other local districts offer, “given that we do not pay our staff enough to live in the district, which puts us at another significant disadvantage.”
CHCCS Superintendent Dr. Nyah Hamlett said that an upcoming salary study led by CHCCS Chief Financial Officer Johnathan Scott will examine salaries and bonuses in the district. The board unanimously approved the recruitment bonuses. A motion to approve a waiver of out-of-district tuition for employees for the 2021-22 school year immediately followed and was also approved unanimously.
The board then took up the issues of the School Safety Taskforce (SSTF) and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the district’s use of School Resource Officers (SRO). Superintendent Dr. Hamlett and Chief Equity and Engagement Officer Dr. Rodney Trice updated the board on the status of the task force. Dr. Hamlett announced that the task force, comprising community stakeholders and CHCCS staff and administration, will be reorganized into three groups: strategies for safer schools, mental health and trauma with community and family engagement, and student agency for safer schools. All three groups will be tasked with answering the central question of, “What do students and staff need to feel and be safe in CHCCS?”
Dr. Trice then noted that the School Resource Officer MOU for 2020-2021 has lapsed and presented the board with three options: 1) adopt the 2019 MOU; 2) continue without an SRO MOU; and 3) adopt the 2019 MOU with modifications that would, among other changes, spell out levels of student misconduct, publish monthly reports, and include language that SRO intervention must not be “excessive, arbitrary or malicious.” The administration recommended that the board adopt option 3.
Dr. Trice also said that student groups wanted clarity regarding the roles of SROs, wanted SROs to learn de-escalation techniques, and wanted to have access to trusted adults. Finally, Dr. Trice noted that within the CHCCS community there exist differences of opinion regarding whether SROs should be in schools.
Board members Mary Anne Wolfe, Rani Dasi and Deon Temne led the ensuing discussion. Temne disagreed with the task force’s premise and the administration’s recommendation to adopt option #3 regarding SROs. “My children go to school to be educated,” he said. “Not to develop a relationship with law enforcement officers.”
Board member Dasi expressed her frustration that this work is still ongoing but said she appreciated the proposed structure.
Board member Ashton Powell said that the district needs to develop a new MOU that includes modern, restorative practices and consequences that the local police will agree to, “so we know they are interacting appropriately with children in an educational setting.”
Board member Temne noted that the school system already has a high discipline rate for certain student groups and argued that we should not now be criminalizing student behavior. “We need to get out of the ‘call 911’ mindset,” he said, “and lead as leaders.” He recounted the case of a six-year-old boy in Durham who picked a tulip in someone’s yard and was put on trial for injury to real property.
We can have safe schools,” he said, “without traumatizing certain groups of kids by having an officer in a uniform at school.” The recently lapsed 2019 MOU contains 16 infractions that would require a 911 call.
A motion to adopt Option 3 passed, 5 to 1, with Board member Temne dissenting. The SSTF will provide monthly updates on its work to the board.
The next Board of Education business meeting will be held Aug. 3 2021 at 6 p.m. in a location to be determined.