Announcing the 2012 OP Online Candidate Forums

The editors of OrangePolitics are excited to announce our live online candidate forums for the upcoming Orange County Board of Education general election and Orange County Board of Commissioners Democratic primary election. Local journalist Kirk Ross, former editor of the Carrboro Citizen and a regular columnist for both the Citizen and the Independent Weekly, will serve as the moderator of both forums.

Each forum will consist of a real-time written conversation between the candidates and the moderator. Questions for the forums will be solicited from OrangePolitics readers both before and during the forums. What questions would like to see asked?

As with our previous candidate forums, the moderator will have final say in question selection. The forums will take place online at, with one evening dedicated to each race covered.


  • Orange County Board of Education: Wednesday, April 11, 7:00-8:30 pm
  • Orange County Board of Commissioners (Democratic primary): Sunday, April 15, 7:00-9:00 pm

Readers will be encouraged to observe each forum and to participate in a simultaneous, separate blog thread where they can discuss the forum and propose follow-up questions. OP editors will monitor this discussion in real time and feed readers' questions and follow-up topics to the moderator. Candidates will also be encouraged to ask each other questions and to comment on each others' responses.

OP readers: Now is the time to start suggesting forum topics and questions. You can make your suggestions via comments on this blog post, the OP contact form (, Twitter (, and Facebook (

For more information about the 2012 election, visit the election section of OP for important dates and more at



OK, folks. What questions do you want to ask the candidates?Remember, we're hosting separate forums for the Orange County school board race and the Orange County Board of Commissioners Democratic primary. We'd love to have your questions for either or both.

What I really want to ask is: "What do you think 48.1% means?"But since I was accused of a gotcha question by saying "SAPFO" at a Town Council forum last year, I'll expand a little.The OC BoCC has a history of supporting K-12 public education very well - 67% higher than the state average, not even counting the CHCCS special district tax. This support is critical to our county as we face serious pressure from GOP legislators in Raleigh who have no interest in the "public" part of education. And we all benefit from our schools, as the CH2020 survey showed 88% of CH residents rated quality of schools important or very important in deciding to live here.This great support is partially codified in BoCC policy from 2001 stating that the target for school funding is 48.1% of the overall county budget (  Thus, 48.1 is a magic number.  But -- there have been discussions of other approaches to determining proper school funding levels.  What is your view for how the BoCC should determine funding levels for K-12 education?

I would like to know how the BOCC candidates feel about these two issues specifically that generally don't receive a lot of public discussion:1.  Is there an interest in bringing back dental services to the densest part of the county, Carrboro/Chapel Hill, within the near future (next 5 years as a start).  As you may be aware, the county closed the Carrboro Orange County dental clinic to consolidate and move their services to Hillsborough. Costs savings were estimated to be around $60,000 a year.  2.  How familiar are candidates with the Orange County Animal Shelter and have you been there lately to the new facility?  My question is related specifcally to the cats:  there is a lack of funding right now for increasing the size of many of the enclosures that cats are housed in (new shelter guidelines and recommendations are for more space, but not many shelters in the U.S. are meeting these new standards yet) .  Are you willing to look at increasing this funding to enlarge these cages (condos they call them) within the next few years?    (We all know that we can't predict budgets and have to weigh all items year to year).

The Orange County Democratic Women forum included questions about Amendment One, economic development, sales tax distribution, schools merger, charter schools, regional transit, and solid waste.The Sierra Club forum addressed the transit tax, protection of rural Orange, advisory board appointments, solid waste, interlocal collaboration, water supply, the economic development districts, illegal dumping, the rural buffer, and fracking.What would you ask the candidates?  

Below are the questions Kirk asked the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board candidates during last year's OP forum. Some of them are specific to the CHCCS system. Should any of them be adapted for the county school board candidates on Wednesday?

  • How will you as a board member ensure a smooth transition to the Forcella administration?
  • Neil Pedersen was in the job a long time. What policies and programs implemented during his tenure do want to make sure continue to be maintained and supported? What programs and policies do you want to see reviewed, changed and/or discontinued?
  • There has been a long standing policy against having schools be substantially different from one another. Where are you on that? One concern I've heard over the years is that it makes innovation more difficult. So, how do we do innovation district-wide in a timely manner?
  • We’ve had a lot of people asking about how you’re going to deal with the state budget cuts. Concerns include arts funding cuts in elementary schools, teaching jobs, classroom sizes and whether cuts at the state level mean more taxes at the local level. Please spell out what will guide your thinking on the budget in what promises to be another challenging year.
  • Weigh in if you would on bullying policies. And specifically, as we look ahead to next May and the marriage amendment referendum we know from other states’ experiences that many LGBT students will face added pressure from their peers due to the intense political environment. What should the district do to counter that?
  • What are the top two or three strategies/programs the district needs to make headway in closing the achievement gap?
  • One of the real struggles that I saw as school reporter during the fast growth 1990s was getting the district more in synch with the towns and county in land use planning. As a school board member your mission is the education of our young people, but your decisions also have an impact on the rest of us, especially in how and where the community grows. What will you keep in mind in this regard?

Other topic ideas we've received from readers:

  • Dealing with rapid growth in enrollment
  • Problems with districting students
  • Areas of potential collaboration with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district
  • Do you believe the Orange County Schools are funded appropriately?
  • What should the school board be doing that it isn’t doing now?
  • Why are you running? Also, do you have children in the school system?
  • Achievement gap
  • Merger/funding equity
  • Implementation of the Common Core State Standards
  • Advocate for restoration of state funding
  • Thoughts on the recent laptop initiative:
  • Graduation rates
  • In-school suspensions
  • Bullying prevention

And a topic I would be interested in seeing discussed: The superintendent noted in his recent state-mandated consolidated data report that the percentage of students in Orange County Schools who access free or reduced-price lunch has increased from 29% to 40% since 2008.

Has this proposed laptop purchase been put out for public bids? Why or why not? Do they have the servers and etc. to support such an increase load? If a student and/or employee has one of these County School owned computers does that mean that an adminstrator can look at their computer without consent. I asked this question because adminstrator have been known to ask for student's facebook access in the past.I am sure I am getting ahead of the proposal but there are alot of questions that need to be decided before they jump in the deep in.We are talking about over 3.5 million dollars over 3 years. All we have heard from officials is the tight education budget and the need to fund the upcoming budget short fall. Where is this money coming from and what is going to be cut to make this proposal happen?

For years, those of us who live in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro ETJ have been pretty much ignored. Now with the Chapel Hill 15-501 discussion group where there is talk of annexation down to the Chatham Co line, the approved Walmart at the county line, and the expansion of Smith Level Road within the Carrboro city limits, many of us are feeling pretty disenfranchised. What, if anything, should the county commissioners do to ensure that the needs and wants of ETJ residents are fairly represented?

Thanks, Terri. Interesting question.By the way, can you say more about the "expansion of Smith Level Road"? My understanding is that the road will stay at 2 lanes with the only "expansion" involving a couple of medians and the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks.

The last plans I saw will take out a substantial portion of private property in order to support the roundabout. Then there was supposed to be a third lane added along with sidewalks and bike lanes. If that has changed, many of my neighbors and I will be thrilled.

I believe the road will have 2 travel lanes along the length of the project (see project information and current maps). There have been recent discussions between DOT and the town regarding the right-of-way/easement acquisitions, but I'm not sure about the current status.

How will the candidates support the arts and culture throughout Orange County? Research shows that a thriving, vibrant creative community leads to increased economic development and prosperity. Right now the northern part of the County, including our county seat of Hillsborough, does not have a dedicated performing arts space that is large enough to accomodate theater and larger concert performances, which could bring increased tourist traffic (and dollars) to the more rural portion of our County. Are the commissioners interested in supporting a performing arts space in northern Orange County, and if so, how?Elizabeth Waugh-Stewart(full disclosure: I am the new ED at the Orange County Cultural Center, which is a nonprofit working to find space in Hillsborough for a cultural and performing arts center, which would serve the entire county).

A reader proposes the following topic for the county commissioner forum:

Assuming the county goes through with revaluation next year and the results are as expected, the county staff has characterized the resulting rate increase to remain revenue neutral as a "tax increase." Given how the BoCC was criticized for "raising taxes" when the rate went down to stay revenue neutral in 2009, how will you as a commissioner educate the public on the math involved in revaluation that doesn't change the aggregate tax bill in the county?

After the IFC opens its new men's transitional housing facility, the current downtown men's shelter will close.  Do you think Orange County will need a homeless shelter (in addition to IFC's transitional housing facility)?  What responsibility does the county government have to provide for emergency shelter for homeless people in our community?


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