Neil Pedersen To Retire in June

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Neil Pedersen has announced that he will retire at the end of the coming school year.  Dr. Pedersen has been superintendent since 1992 and has worked in the district since 1987.  The school system issued a press release with an overview of changes and accomplishments during his tenure.

It's absolutely stunning for any school district to have a superintendent serve for such an extended period of time.  It's probably difficult for our community to conceive of how things might be difference if we had a succession of 5-6 superintendents in the same time period. 

Any leader who stays in one position for so long is likely to have his or her strengths and weaknesses become abundantly clear over time, and Neil is no exception to that. But when I look at his tenure, I believe that he has made a tremendous positive impact on our community's children. While we still have plenty of work to do, Neil has always kept our district focused on the goal of improving student achievement and eliminating achievement gaps.

I would like to publicly commend Neil for one of his often unheralded accomplishments. He was among the first mentors to volunteer with Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocatewhen our program began in 1995. He still visits with his now 25year-old mentee regularly.  I have always been impressed with how Neilused his mentoring relationship as a way to understand the experiencesof students (especially black male students) in our school system.

I am grateful for his service and look forward to one more year of work under his leadership. 



The more I read about the mess in Wake County, the more I appreciate the quality and stability of our schools here.  My two stepsons did K-12 here and received excellent educations.  We all owe a debt to the school board, parents, and (now especially) to Neil Pedersen.  Thanks, Neil, we truly appreciate what you have done.

Don't forget the County Commissioners they provide the local money.

Perhaps if you lived in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district you would understand that there are more important qualities to a good education than just how much it costs.I have certainly not agreed with everything Dr. Pedersen has done, but I do appreciate his service and a great number of accomplishments. 

And Rude Ruby those accomplishments don't happen without funding to hire the personnel to make the programs happen for the students.There is a reason why Orange County is in the top 5 per student spending year in and year out in NC. Its the County Commissioners decision on the amount of money they provide the schools and the school boards decision on how to spend it.

It's been 10 years since my family moved to Chapel Hill, primarily for the schools, and I thank Neil for his hard work.  Given the level of expectation of our community for the schools, being our superintendent is no easy job.I do have concerns about the future of our school district.  I've watched 10 budget cycles so far and each year it seems that a few more resources are chipped away (fewer assistent teachers, fewer world language teachers) etc.  The basic dilemma tends to be the impact of raising the ad valorem and special district tax rates on fixed income residents. To my view we need two key reforms to ensure that our school district continues to prosper, both of which will require the consent of the state government, making them more difficult to achieve.  First, taxes to fund the schools need a progressive structure.  For example, the property tax rate on the first say $200 K of home value could be X and some larger rate Y for the value over $200 K.  The system could be structured to classify farms differently and be adjusted for older residents.  I had the chance over the years to discuss the possibility for this approach with both former commissioner Carey and Representative Insko.  To me this is a very rationale approach, but a bit esoteric to build much excitment.Second, like many other school districts around the nation, I think the taxing authority for school should rest with the Board of Education.  Any one who has been involved in the budgeting discussions over the years has heard the following two dynamics: citizen A will go to a County Commissioner meeting decrying the loss of a particular school program. The Commissioners will correctly state that they don't pick which programs stay or go.  So citizen A heads of the School Board to seek redress and is informed that they BOE had no choice but to make tough choices since the Commissioners "didn't fully fund" the budget request. Providing the BOE with taxing authority would align the responsibilities appropriately.  Further, I believe it would raise the level of discussion and debate in our BOE elections e.g. a candidate wanted more resources would be forced to address the question of raising taxes to provide them, a candidate supporting lower taxes would have to address which programs he or she was willing to part with. If all works out as planned I hope to live in Chapel Hill for at least the next 50 years or so.  I'd like our school system to retain it's luster over that time. For that to happen I think we need to make some course corrections. Thoughts? 

I know there is some push (from the likes of Bill Friday) to "reform"
our tax system in NC, but have serious doubts much will ever happen. Personally, I would love to see the state extend the wealth we tax beyond just real property into financial instruments as well.  I know not all of these holdings are easily priced (private companies, for example), but when I hear how much worse the wealth gap is than the income gap, I think -- how can we take advantage of that to create more progressive taxation.  btw, if Mark M responds to this thread with a statement about how this wouldn't be a problem  if we did away with the US military, I'm leaving OP for the rest of the year.  While I may agree with him, it adds nothing to the discussion here to keep repeating it.

The overwhelming majority of Americans don't give a rat's ass about death & destruction of brown people for resource procurement on the other side of the world. So it apparently doesn't add to the discussion of taxes to mention such things as 96% of taxpayer money spent for Iraq reconstruction is unaccounted for by the U.S. government. Yawn... we can't change that. Hey, should we pay school bus drivers $10 an hour or $10.25 - hold on we can't afford to give that kind of raise! Our funds are limited! By the way James, I never said do away with the military - just end the useless, tragic wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. I'll leave it up to you if I've been utterly offensive and off the topic of taxation and funding by writing this. I guess if you leave OP, then being reminded of the incredible drain on U.S. taxpayers represented by the devestating wars was just too much for you. You would then be a model citizen for the schizoid nation that we have become.P.S. You must have known I'd at least respond to your quip. Well, go back to looking for local "couch change" to meet our needs. Trust your government & don't worry about the glorious little wars.  

at least I got you to be a wee bit humorous this time. 

Jeff, I agree with your first idea to make the property tax more progressive, though I also agree that it has a snowball's chance in hell to pass the legislature without the blessing of the NC Association of Realtors and other real estate interests. I disagree with giving the school board the authority to tax, even though many states do this.  Indeed I wrote an editorial on this subject; here is part 1 of the link: 2 of the link is in my next post; I could't figure out how to put the links together. My basic message is simple:  Schools are a special interest group, a very important one and a very large one, but a special interest group nonetheless.  Every special interest group says "My special interest is so important that I am sure that the taxpayers will accept a tax increase to fund my special interest".  Some board of elected officials must be above all the special interest groups, to weigh one group versus the others and to allocate funds to each one.  They balance school needs versus the needs of the aging, health, judicial, etc., all the services that counties provide.That's what the county commissioners do.  Finally only about 23 pct of the households in CH have kids in schools at any one time.  Most people get only an indirect befefit of the school system.   Over the years our county commissioners have been extremely generous to the schools, and I agree with what they have done.  The editorial also covers the argument that since school board members are elected, if they tax too much they'll be replaced. 

Joe,Thanks for the thoughtful response and for posting the links.  To me the key point is to find a way to adopt a progressive taxation system to fund local programs, schools and otherwise.  I take your point about the benefits of the schools being an indirect benefit to the other 77% of residents but this does not make the schools unique.  For example, I am, I am sad to say, only an infrequent user of the free bus system, but I highly value the indirect benefits that I receive from it being a part of our community.  I also take your point about the County Commissoners balance resources and needs in the county, but there is still something suboptimal in the way that the Commissioners are insultated from the rammifications of the school funding decision and the difficulties presented by the current bifrucated system of responsibilites for citizen to address their concerns about the ~48% of the budget which is typically allocated to education.A middle ground approach could be to find a way to have the Commissioners remain in control of setting the county-wide ad valorem tax and allow the CHCCS BOE set the special district tax.  Similar authority could be granted  to the Orange County BOE if voters were to reconsider this issue.  I confess I have not thought through this approach completely. 

I totally agree with Joe. It would really create political problems throughout the county if the Commissioners could not balance the needs of the schools with other needs.I have seen Neil Pedersen ask for the moon on many occasions. And that's an understatement. I have also noticed that his views have been generally adopted by whatever school board existed at the time. I don't really know why this has been the case, but the school boards have been highly deferential to him. It's hard to imagine that allowing school boards/staff to set rates of taxation wouldn't get ugly.

Mark,I think your "ask for the moon on many occassions" comment requires a bit of substantiation.  I have watched the budgeting process very closely over a 10 year period and find your statement not to be accurate.  I have linked Dr. Pedersen's 2010-2011 budget request as an example.  Each year he details out the mandated increases such as health care costs, state mandated raises, etc. which he cannot control, recommends adding a couple of programs and cutting a few.  This year after going through this process he recommended an increase in per pupil funding of $62 on a baseline of $3096, a 2% increase.  The commissioners approved an increase of $46 per pupil.Then like every year in the last 10 the Superintendent and the Board got together and figured out which resources to cut.  Year after year we have fewer resources, fewer teachers, we lack enough text books for the kids to bring one home at night.  All of this at NC flagship school district.I submit that if we could have a progressive taxation system and direct accountability of the BOE for funding and taxing decisions, this would not get ugly, they would get pretty.  We'd fix leaking roofs, hire back our elementary school assistant teachers, prepare our children for an uncertain future, and help to ensure that Chapel Hill continues to be a remarkable community. LINK 

You're right - Pedersen has been more conscious of the overall budgetary problems lately. My sense is that he also realized he would get nowhere if he continued to ask for the moon like he used to do. I remember when impact fees were being discussed in the late 90's (I think) and he suggested some amazing number in the vicinity of $16,000 (can't remember the exact number but it was so off-the-wall it affected the whole debate negatively.


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