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Kevin Davis
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Durham has seen an outstanding turnout in early voting -- just short of 120,000 souls made it to early voting, just over half of the county's registered voter base. And given our bluer-than-blue shade on political maps, it seems nearly a fait accompli that all four bond issues will pass, including that for the main downtown library renovation. Still, we noticed with some interest discussion on local neighborhood listservs wondering about the library's cost -- a $44.3 million project, about three quarters of which is allocated to construction. That is four times the cost projected in 2008 -- then, an $8 million construction budget out of a total project cost of approximately $11 million. (For background, see BCR's extensive July 2008 and September 2008 coverage, and Lisa Sorg's March 2016 update.) Of course, when the project was first under discussion back in '08, there was plenty of grousing from residents and elected officials alike about whether that number was sufficient to develop a first-class library for Durham, given that the renovation cost was only a bit more than the new-build cost of two of Durham's final new-build regional libraries. The project team at the time put their best foot forward, pontificating on the building's panel/curtainwall exterior, and noting that communities with strong regional libraries (like Durham) needed less space than others. Then that renovation project went away, only the resurface in the past couple of years with a new project team, a new library director, the departure of the former... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This guest post, written by Jason Baker, originally appeared at We're reprinting it here with permission. It's a full-throated response to the Indy Week's cover story last week on the Durham-Orange light rail project. As always with guest posts, the opinions expressed here are those of the original author -- but heartily seconded by your editor here. -KSD The June 29, 2016, “Off the Rails” INDY Week piece by David Hudnall, which discusses the Durham-Orange light rail transit project (DOLRT) is a poorly researched opinion piece that does a tremendous disservice to INDY Week readers, residents of Durham and Chapel Hill, and—most importantly—current public transit riders in Durham and Orange counties who stand to benefit greatly from a significantly enhanced bus and rail transit network with DOLRT at its core. Hudnall’s piece mistakes anecdotes for data, ignores significant differences between Wake County and Durham-Chapel Hill, ignores the ways in which current low-income residents travel today—and what that tells us about the usefulness of DOLRT—and, finally, skips reasonable fact-checking of anti-rail project critics’ claims with publicly available documents, including past INDY Week stories on DOLRT. In an effort to correct many of the misrepresentations of facts, and errors made by Hudnall, below are excerpts from his piece with added context, data, and information so that readers can get an accurate understanding of DOLRT, the benefits it will provide for our community, and why light rail will meet the needs of Durham and Orange Counties and move us forward. Hudnall: To... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Unless you've been trapped in Faraday cage these past couple of weeks, unable to discern the blue-light glow of your latest smartphone Twitter alerts, you've certainly heard about Jillian Johnson's famous Facebook fracas. The first-term City Councilwoman was apparently taken aback at the reaction that her post about police and the military being the "most dangerous people with guns," as the N&O's Virginia Bridges notes in today's very good summary of the matter: However, Johnson’s outspoken, activist style drew backlash last week after she posted a statement on Facebook as members of the U.S. House of Representatives unsuccessfully called for measures to curb gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists following the Orlando shooting in the Pulse nightclub. “I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people,” she wrote, “but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia.” Johnson posted a clarification Wednesday morning, saying “state-sanctioned violence causes more harm” than non-state sanctioned violence. Every action has an opposite and likely unequal reaction, and the comments -- circulated from her personal Facebook page to an audience far wider than she expected -- led to a predictable reaction from those in and related to the law enforcement community, some of whom called for her resignation. And, of course, the comments section of sites like the N&O's web site... Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2016 at Bull City Rising
My colleague Lisa Sorg had an article earlier this week on Moogfest and the Art of Cool Festival (AOC) that's generated a lot of dialogue and discussion here in the comments, and elsewhere online. Much of the discussion comes through a lens of equity -- around race, and around the (real or perceived) difference between a locally-generated festival, and one that's chosen to relocate to the Bull City. Lenses have a lot of uses. In the real world, they can serve to make things clearer -- or to distort things, like a funhouse mirror -- or, like a magnifying glass to a sun, to concentrate attention on one white-hot corner until it burns. To my mind, the view through an equity lens on the Moogfest/AOC debate is still a little foggy. After talking to parties on all sides of the issue, while I think the City could (and likely will) do more to support a wide range of events, I'm pretty convinced that this was never a process that expected or sought to create inequity. (And indeed, Moogfest's out-of-cycle request may have led to a level of data-driven scrutiny that will help AOC and other festivals.) It is, though, a reminder of the importance of contextualizing public decisions broadly, to consider their impact on all stakeholders, most particularly at a time when change has so many in Durham on edge. Unfortunately, in our current Best Durham Tradition, sometimes the view through one lens doesn't always give us all the context... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2016 at Bull City Rising
With all 57 precincts' tallies in, the unofficial Durham County Board of Elections results are in. And it looks like two newcomers to the County Commission will take their seats after the general election in the fall. Heidi Carter (third place) and James Hill (fifth place) have bested incumbents Michael Page (sixth) and Fred Foster (eighth) to join the county board. Wendy Jacobs just edged Ellen Reckhow for the purely-symbolic first place win, while incumbent Brenda Howerton retained her seat with a fourth place finish. The race for fifth wasn't settled until all the ballots were in -- Hill held a 1,200 to 1,400 point lead throughout most of the evening as returns came in. Hill and challenger Elaine Hyman, both People's Alliance endorsees, saw small surges when PA strongholds in west and southwest Durham reported in the late evening hours, but at night's end, Page retained a sixth-place finish and Howerton bested Hill by a little over 1,300 votes, though she trailed Carter by about 2,700 votes. Meanwhile, veteran Riverside High teacher Steve Unruhe coasted to a win over Fredrick Ravin III, 62% to 37%. Technically, these results are still unofficial; we wouldn't expect to see them change in the final tally, though we'll be interested to see if the impact of voter ID led to any greater numbers of provisional ballots than usual. And, questions still remain as to the presence of very long lines at Forest View and especially the South Regional Library, where several hundred voters... Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2016 at Bull City Rising
By Kevin Davis & Lisa Sorg When we sat down last weekend to review our impressions from our Board of County Commissioners interviews, we realized that this election presented something unique to our nearly twenty combined years of Durham politics-watching: This is, stem to stern, the strongest group of candidates that we recall in any City Council, BOCC or school board election. Which is pleasantly surprising, given that the BOCC in some recent years has struggled to attract the strongest candidates. Out of the five incumbents and five challengers seeking seats, the strength of this pool is such that we'd be pleased to see any of eight candidates take seats on the East Main Street dais this fall. Two candidates -- Fred Foster and Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley -- are not recommended for election by BCR. We did not have an opportunity to interview either candidate; however, as we'll describe below, there are compelling reasons to select others from this extraordinary pool of candidates. Out of the eight remaining, whom to endorse? For two seats, it's no contest: Wendy Jacobs and Ellen Reckhow deserve unqualified, unfailing support and a sure return to office. The other three selections were much tougher, particularly since all of the other six candidates are qualified, knowledgeable and would be an asset to the community. (And perhaps should think about running for City Council -- cough, cough.) For a variety of reasons -- including the ability to bring diverse perspectives to the board, and to balance experience and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This interview is one in a series of conversations with those candidates seeking seats on the Durham County Board of County Commissioners. BCR thanks The Durham Hotel for kindly offering space for our interview series. Listen to or read a transcript of the interview in full at this link, or read our recap below. In our interview with Heidi Carter -- a twelve-year member of Durham's school board, and its current chair -- the candidate's passion for public education couldn't be more evident. And Carter made a strong argument for Durham's commitment to public schools in general, and a rejoinder to some of the concerns raised recently (including in these pixels) on administrative and support spending levels, too. But Carter is quick to note the BOCC's broader role, and her interest and concerns across a range of platform topics. "I don't want people to think, oh you know, she's all about schools and that's all she really cares about, because it's much bigger than that," Carter said. "Will we be able to grow and expand in ways that will bring opportunity and prosperity for all?" Carter asked, noting that she saw three interconnected and very tightly linked" issues driving the answer to that question. "Public education is the first one of those. And then economic growth, our economy. And public health. The three of those must go together." Carter argued that addressing concerns of the growing economic inequality required a focus on education to address the "huge area of inequality... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This interview is one in a series of conversations with those candidates seeking seats on the Durham County Board of County Commissioners. BCR thanks The Durham Hotel for kindly offering space for our interview series. Listen to or read a transcript of the interview in full at this link, or read our recap below. Durham native James Hill has made disparity in Durham -- between wealth and poverty, and between a creative-class base of new jobs and the post-industrial disappearance of middle-class jobs -- a central theme in his campaign. It's not a topic Hill comes to abstractly. Indeed, as an interviewer, I raised the post-tobacco employers like IBM and Nortel to Hill by way of drawing out a different point, only to have Hill note his own very personal experience with that change. "I was in hardware debug and test for IBM, loved it," Hill said. "The PC division was sold, and we moved on but before that, it was like the sky's the limit. And they were saying, James, your division's going to be moving to Edinburgh and you're going to have international experience, but, you know, things change." Hill's post-Big Blue employment -- working under Mayor Bell at UDI-CDC as a staffer in a welfare-to-work program; as a child support agent; and as a job counselor, among other gigs -- all seem to have contributed to his awareness on both county programs and the economic chasm Hill sees in the Bull City. "We've taken away all those... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This interview is one in a series of conversations with those candidates seeking seats on the Durham County Board of County Commissioners. BCR thanks The Durham Hotel for kindly offering space for our interview series. Listen to or read a transcript of the interview in full at this link, or read our recap below. In making her case for re-election, first time County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs has little difficulty explaining what she believes in and what she supports. But Jacobs also asks to be evaluated not just in her votes, but in her deeds and accomplishments to date. "I work hard, I do my homework and I'm proud of the decisions that I make on the Board of County Commissioners and my work on the budget," Jacobs told BCR's Lisa Sorg. "But I'm also proud of the fact that I take action and actually get things done. And I think that's an important part of being an effective leader." While Jacobs held court on a wide range of issues that are at the front of public discourse -- including conditions in the county jails, breaking cycles of inequality, affordable housing, and water and environmental protection -- she also heralded her work on a less-discussed but, according to Jacobs, vital accomplishment: the creation of Durham's first sports commission. "I come into being a county commissioner from very much being a community person and grassroots person," Jacobs said, noting her work on the New Hope Preserve campaign before being elected to office.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This interview is one in a series of conversations with those candidates seeking seats on the Durham County Board of County Commissioners. BCR thanks The Durham Hotel for kindly offering space for our interview series. Listen to the interview in full, or read our recap below. Tara Fikes_interview First time Board of County Commissioners seat-seeker Tara Fikes is the first to admit she doesn't have all the benefit of all the details about the minutiae of issues that Durham's incumbents have plowed through on the board, but she doesn't hesitate to describe her experience sitting on the opposite side of a county commission hearing room: as a department head in county government. During our interview with Fikes, who retired in 2014 after three decades' work in Orange County culminating in directorship of the county's Department of Housing, Human Rights and Community Development, the longtime Durham resident expressed a strong appreciation for the work that county government staff do. Asked to note an area of county government that few appreciated, Fikes brought up a subject that itself might be minutiae to the uninitiated: environmental health staff and inspectors. Fikes described this as an area of county government that few citizens know much about, citing she had "always been amazed" by their knowledge on water quality, contaminated wells, failing septic systems, and the public health problems that these sort of issues pose. "Probably the average person who's getting city services, city water and sewer, doesn't even think about that. But it's a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Ed. note: Durham Public Schools superintendent Bert L'Homme has provided the following response to BCR's recent "Scrutinizing our Schools" series. It is printed below in full and unedited. An accompanying document and spreadsheet from DPS are linked at the story's end. --KSD. Bull City Rising has performed a public service in delving into and asking questions about our spending priorities in Durham Public Schools. In the last few years DPS has been able to produce much more transparent and understandable budget information. That helps hold us accountable as a district not only for our finances but our impact on student achievement—and we welcome that accountability. There are some areas in the reporting that miss important context, however. We want to highlight one particular example and also talk about one of the assumptions in the series: that DPS’s spending priorities have changed significantly in the last decade. TEACHERS The basic facts in Scrutinizing our Schools: A Decade Later Spending and Enrollment Up, But Fewer Teachers are accurate but miss an important point: when other districts have had to reduce the teaching workforce in the face of state funding cuts, during the last ten years DPS has been able to mostly hold the line on maintaining teaching positions. Comparing the state’s “Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget” documents from FY 2007-08 to FY 2014-15, we see that the state funded 85,575 teachers just prior to the Great Recession. Today, the state only funds 81,702 teachers—3,873 fewer, despite the fact that... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2016 at Bull City Rising
DeDreana Freeman has called us to order at 7pm sharp, followed by John Martin introducing the ten candidates, in the order that they appear on the ballot -- which is something far from anything resembling alphabetical order. Turnout is about two-dozen residents, INC forum members and media folks, which is not many multiples greater than the ten candidates. This year's forum will ask all candidates questions on the same topics (like schools) but different questions to different candidates, preventing the repetitiveness that sometimes happens with fora of these size. 1 minute per answer. And each candidate gets a chance to give their view on the performance of the existing BOCC -- starting with the incumbents. Q: BOCC good, average, fair, poor in the past four years? Howerton: "That's quite easy, excellent job." Uses words conscientious and accountable, and says she's been a "very good steward" of the tax dollars. Jacobs: "I believe our board has done a good job." Approved important projects, supported local services, worked in a respectful manner. Page: "done an excellent job working together in the past four years" -- praises the "teamwork" of the board. Reckhow: "I believe we've done a good job, I'm proud of what we've accomplished" -- AAA bond rating, new jobs, new courthouse and human services complex, Whitted School renovation, Rougemont clean water supply, among others. Foster: "I would say we've done an excellent job," noting 1,600 jobs in community, working on drinkable water, completing projects, serving on multiple boards. Hill: "Average... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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. Durham's People's Alliance (PA) has released their County Commissioners endorsements, and to no one's surprise, the progressive action committee has endorsed a slate that would bring significant change to the board, if elected. Incumbents Fred Foster, Brenda Howerton and Michael Page all failed to earn the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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. In her 2015 book The Prize, Dale Russakoff tells the story of how Facebook-chairman Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to Newark schools was spent. The bottom line: in the absence of a clear plan for how to use the money to meaningfully improve student outcomes, the infusion of cash to the public school system was largely unsuccessful. When discussing her research on... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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. As MDC noted in their report on disconnected youth: Young people who fail to complete high school earn lower wages and are much more likely to become long term unemployed than their more educated peers. In 2006, the median weekly wage for high school dropouts 25 and older was $419; for holders of an associate’s degree,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Durham’s public schools often feature in the headlines and the editorials of our local papers. There’s a range of tropes that we hear frequently, and often without debate: Charter schools, we are told, are draining funds from Durham Public Schools’ educational resources and impacting the quality of DPS’ education, while not having to offer the same services that public schools do; An unfair conservative state regime seeking to destroy public education through encouraging charters and by a death-of-a-thousand budget cuts at the state level; A perceived tension between the school board and Durham County on schools funding, with seeming annual debates and disagreements between the boards, culminating in some years with marches on the County Commission to fight for funding; Scrutiny over discipline and suspension rates, with the district recently pledging to curtail out of school suspensions; The demographics of DPS, sometimes used as an explainer in some folks eyes, an excuse in others; The local and national focus on standardized testing, under attack and likely to see some reform in the post-NCLB era, yet still seen as crowding out classroom time and impacting learners. Reasonable people may agree with some or even all of these tenets -- or disagree with them. Still, it hasn’t escaped my notice that all too often, we seem to spend more time in these meta-conversations around our schools than in asking perhaps a more important series of questions: Setting aside the politics of debate, are our schools performing as well as we can expect?... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2016 at Bull City Rising
City of Durham staff updated downtown residents and business stakeholders last night on the ongoing replacement of water mains in the city center and nearby downtown areas. It's been a necessary but controversial project, one that's brought a new wave to business owners inside the loop -- many of whom opened shop after memories of the downtown streetscape rebuild had faded. As Virginia Bridges noted in The Durham News a few weeks ago, several businesses complained to City Council about the level of noise from jackhammers and equipment, blocked streets, impact on peak hours, and the occasional instance of roads closed without work going on. City water management staffer Bryant Green updated downtown's Partners Against Crime - District 5 (PAC5) group last night on a project he noted was now 80% complete, but which would continue to impact downtown off and on until summer 2016. Greene sympathized with the concerns businesses and residents had raised, and shared both some of the rationale for project decisions along with steps the City was taking to minimize impact where possible. Still, in replacing infrastructure that was more than a century old, surprises abound and some disruption is inevitable, according to Greene. "Unfortunately, with a lot of these [closure] decisions we can't pick... something that adversely impacts only a small number of people," Greene said. While many sections of waterline were replaced in the late 2000s on those streets most impacted by the downtown streetscape and traffic realignment -- including much of Main, Corcoran,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2015 at Bull City Rising
At tomorrow's City Council work session, Karen Lado from Enterprise Community Partners will share a housing profile report developed as part of her company's contracted work to help Durham with its strategy on affordable housing. This first step in Enterprise's work gives intriguing details and data about the state of Durham's demographics -- and demographic change -- along with the nature of Durham's affordable housing stock. We'll summarize some of its key findings here, though I'd very much encourage readers to dive through themselves, as it's a fascinating read. (The document is available on the City of Durham's web site.) A note of caution: this is my first-pass interpretation based on what's in the report, and doesn't benefit from the consultant's presentation, which will take place at work session tomorrow. (The errors of the interpretation lie with me, et cetera.) With that said, the report raises some intriguing findings about the need for and supply of affordable housing. Population Change in Durham Between 2000 and 2013, the study period in the report, the City's population grew by 26%, outpacing both the overall County growth rate (19%) and the state's (20%). This jives both with recent findings that Durham is one of the fastest-growing US cities, and that most of the community's growth is happening in the urbanized, incorporated city limits. Of the nearly 75,000 households in the City in 2000, the data suggest 52.2% of them had incomes greater than 80% of the area median income (AMI), the threshold for... Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2015 at Bull City Rising
I've been trying to make sense of this odd story emerging about Cocoa Cinnamon's recent, and quickly regretted, partnership with the Durham Police Department to reward folks obeying crosswalk rules. As part of the operation, bike officers gave a coupon for a free coffee from the popular Durham business for those it spotted obeying the law -- a positive reward, instead of the usual warning or citation. The response was... swift. On Instagram, for instance, many of the comments to Cocoa Cinnamon's partnership announcement were apoplectic. "This post is problematic," said one. "Disturbing, insensitive, and harmful," said another. "The police are terrifying," said a third. "Get woke. This is supremacy," said a fourth. Which led to a Herald-Sun article capturing the backpedaling of Cocoa Cinnamon in the wake of the criticism, and to this post from a Cocoa Cinnamon barista/brand-new Clarion Content editor. And, most unfortunately, a tweet from an Indy Week writer, which manages to use a popular, problematic porcine pejorative in referring to Durham's police, a line I'm surprised to see crossed. So let me be direct. It really seems worth stepping back a bit from the rhetorical extreme to put this campaign in context. The Durham community has been extraordinarily vocal, and effective, in expressing its disdain for the D.P.D.'s leadership and behavior in recent cases -- disdain that's driven the City to turn out its police chief, and which is driving moves towards reform in drug enforcement prioritization and conditions for those incarcerated. And more voices... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2015 at Bull City Rising
A team of Durhamites has partnered with Y.E. Smith Elementary to bring a pioneering anti-poverty effort to the Bull City -- creating savings accounts for kindergartners in one of Durham's lowest-wealth schools to encourage families and children to plan ahead for their post-high school education. And as part of the kick-off, donations made today (Tue., Dec. 1) are matched 2-for-1 by the 1:1 Fund, a national platform linked to the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a non-profit championing the model. The idea stems from research that finds low-to-moderate wealth families who manage to save even small amounts for college -- as little as several hundred dollars for a student -- are several times more likely to attend and graduation from post-secondary educational programs as those with no savings. And given that only one in ten children from low-income backgrounds graduate college by their mid-twenties, any innovation that increases access to this crucial opportunity is welcome. Kids Save Durham, an initiative linked to the Mayor's Poverty Reduction Initiative and which is a program partner of the East Durham Children's Initiative, is aiming to raise $10,000 today -- seed funds that will be trebled to $30,000 thanks to the 1:1 Fund's matching pledge. Donate up to $500 today via the 1:1 Fund's web site to help Durham Kids Save earn the maximum match: With these funds, every kindergartner at Y.E. Smith, a school where every student qualifies for free or reduced-rate lunch, will receive a $100 deposit into a Self-Help Credit... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2015 at Bull City Rising