Full Legal Name: Deborah Anne Piscitelli
Name as it Appears on the Ballot:Debbie Piscitelli
Office Sought/District: Member, Orange County School Board
Date of Birth: 06 January 1965
Home Address: 1822 Patrick Henry Lane, Hillsborough, NC 27278
Mailing Address (if different from home):
Campaign Web Site: www.debbiepiscitelli.com
Occupation & Employer:Pharmacist and Owner, Triangle Medical Writing, LLC.
Years lived in Orange County: 8 years on 01 April 2010
I am running for re-election to the Orange County School Board. While on the Board, I have worked collaboratively with my fellow Board members. My answers touch on District initiatives that I supported as well as my personal ideas and perspective.
1. What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the Orange Co. school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
1) Budget. The Orange County School (OCS) District has experienced a reduction in revenue of which the Federal Stabilization and Stimulus Funds have compensated for a portion of the reduction in dollars. Initial budget conversations indicate OCS District will experience additional reductions for this upcoming school year and the Federal Stabilization and Stimulus dollars will again lessen the burden. However, with consecutive years of reduction in revenue and no plans to receive Federal Stabilization and Stimulus dollars after the 2010-2011 school year, education in OCS District will be significantly affected when attempting to balance the budget for the 2011-2012 school year.
Orange County Schools experienced a reduction from local funding of $921,918 and a reduction from the State of $4,775,501 for the 2009-2010 school year. The District received $3,095,298 from the Federal Stabilization and Stimulus (Title 1 and IDEA) Funds, thus leaving an approximate decrease in funding of $2,602,121. Programs and positions were eliminated in order to operate during the 2009-2010 school year. Initial State conversations indicate an additional reduction in funding to public schools for the upcoming school year. The State planned for an increase of 2.8% in State revenues, yet experienced a 1.8% decrease. At this point OCS is projected to experience an additional reduction of $860,471 in State funding for the 2010-2011 school year. The Federal Stabilization and Stimulus Funds ($2,759,912) will continue to be available for the 2010-2011 school year; however, there is no plan to receive Federal Stabilization and Stimulus money after the 2010-2011 school year. Orange County Schools will not know the County’s allocation for a few more months. Considering the reduction in funding from last year and the anticipatory reduction in funding for this year, OCS may experience a cumulative decrease of $ 6,557,890 without consideration of the allocation from the County. The District has spent the last couple of years becoming more efficient and decreasing expenses. Central Office has decreased in size by 19%. Several positions have been frozen and responsibilities have been redistributed. Programs like French and Math Science Education Network (MSEN) at the middle schools have been discontinued. Stipends and supplements have been frozen. If the Stimulus money (approximately $3 million) is not replaced for the 2011-2012 school year, public education in OCS will be drastically affected.
My priority in addressing this issue is to raise public awareness and continue conversations with our State and Federal representatives. My involvement on the School Board Legislative Committee includes planning the Legislative Breakfast, correspondence with and office visits to our State Representatives: Speaker Joe Hackney, Representative Verla Insko, Representative Bill Faison, and Senator Ellie Kinnaird. The legislative committee also interacts with our Federal Representatives: Representative David Price and Senator Kay Hagan. The School Board is the recipient of tax dollars used to operate the school district; it does not have control of the quantity of money they receive.
In addition to the operating budget, the capital budget is also a concern. Orange County Schools do not have plans to build a new school until after 2020. Of the 13 schools in the OCS District, four schools were originally built between 1952-1956, two schools were built between 1962-1968, one school was built in 1974, two schools were built between 1991-1995, and four schools were built between 2000-2007. Additionally, the maintenance building was originally built in 1940. The District receives approximately $1.6 million in Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) money and approximately $1 million in recurring capital money (for roof repairs and capital maintenance items such as fire alarms, parking lots, bleacher/basketball goals, etc.). With older buildings, OCS cannot meet its Captial needs with $1.6 million per year. Health and safety items take precedent, yet items such as an auxillary gym, patio renovation, hydraulic lifts, athletic fields construction, covered walkways, playground shelters, and streetscape renovations are important yet continued to get pushed into the future.
My priority in addressing this issue is to continue to raise public awareness and continue to advocate for resources with Orange County Commissioners. Over the past four years, I have worked to foster a positive working relationship with the County Commissioners. With OCS not requiring a newly constructed school (approximately $28-38 million) in the next 10 years, it is imperative to invest in our older buildings.
2) Redistricting. The Orange County School District has schools that are over or at capacity: Cameron Park Elementary School has 625 students and is 111% capacity and New Hope Elementary School has 597 and is 102% capacity. Cameron Park and New Hope have more students than each of the middle schools (A.L. Stanback – 596, C.W. Stanford – 572, Gravelly Hill – 494). The problem with a school over capacity is that the core facilities are not built for the large numbers of students. Students have to begin lunch quite early and need a snack later in the school day or have lunch close to the time of dismissal. Scheduling special classes (music, physical education, art, Spanish) can be challenging and having one special teacher (i.e., music) responsible for teaching 625 students (in the case of Cameron Park) is not ideal. Redistricting will be addressed over the next several months and the District will need to decide if redistricting will be limited to capacity issues and involve only a few schools or will redistricting address diversity and involve the entire District. Orange County Schools has mean Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) population of 37% for the 13 schools. The mean value for the seven elementary schools is 45%. This value is higher due to the fact that as students move to middle and high schools, they are less likely to sign up for free or reduced lunch. For elementary schools, the range of FRL populations is 19.5% to 73.7%. Three of the seven elementary schools have FRL percentages over 50%.
My priority in addressing this issue has been in support of using Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) out of NC State which would bring objectivity to the process. Within ITRE, the Operations Research and Education Laboratory assists K-12 school districts with student reassignment and long range school planning. This group uses mathematical techniques and decision science applications. In 2005, I was on the District’s Redistricting Committee as a parent representation and witnessed first-hand personal agendas and power struggles. This new Board will have a significant impact on school diversity (or lack of) by prioritizing the criteria for redistricting. I would advocate for balancing the schools for capacity and diversity without significantly increasing travel time. In addition, it will be important to factor in the pre-K classes. The planning phase would occur during the 2010-2011 school year and implementation would occur during the 2011-2012 school year and last several years. The last redistricting was implemented four years ago.
3) Suspensions. In order to ensure every student graduates high school, students cannot miss much class time. Additionally, students need to arrive to class prepared and ready to learn. Orange County Schools should improve its support to students receiving in-school and short-term, out-of-school suspensions. Currently, students receiving long-term, out-of-school suspension are considered for attendance at Partnership Academy. The District is developing a plan where students who received a short-term (under 10 days), out-of-school suspension would have a location to serve out their term where the student would have academic support to continue with his/her studies. Especially with block scheduling, students cannot miss many days of school without falling behind and having a difficult time passing the class.
My priority in addressing this issue is two-fold: first, I support a location for short-term, out-of-school suspended students. Second, I believe that for both in-school and out-of-school suspended students, the District should have a special Professional Learning Community (PLC) which would include the principal (or associate principal), a core teacher, the nurse, the social worker, the counselor, the safety resource officer and perhaps others. This PLC would work with the student to identify issues and create a plan for support.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Over the past four years, I feel I have made a positive impact on the Board and the District. My background and training enables me to bring a scientific view to the Board. I come to the meetings well prepared and I ask many questions. I request data and I review the data in different formats. The Department of Public Instruction requests reports that are not always in a format that is easy to understand or provide detailed information that may benefit the District. I look at issues objectively and from all angles. Every issue has more than one side and I make sure to collect as much information as possible prior to making a decision. I do not get emotionally drawn into a conversation, instead I seek common ground or ideas that may most benefit the District. As an example of impacting the Board, I provided my rationale for hiring Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) to assist the District with redistricting, outlining why it would be worth the money instead of doing it ourselves. My fellow Board members agreed to have an ITRE representative give his presentation at the next Board meeting.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I believe the School Board should operate as a nonpartisan entity. It is imperative for the Board to work as one cohesive unit toward the common goal of preparing “students to be responsible citizens in a diverse world by promoting academic and individual success” (from the OCS vision statement). It is important to respect one another’s opinions, encourage discussion on issues, and take the time to look at issues from all sides in an open-minded, fair, and objective manner.
The ability to work cooperatively has led to a number of Board achievements over the past four years. These include pre-school classes, community learning centers, summer academic enrichment programs, a decrease in the drop-out rate, distant learning programs, professional learning communities, narrowing the achievement gap, and community partnerships. Further information on these efforts can be found on my website (www.debbiepiscitelli.com).
Orange County Schools is a public school district where every child who walks in the doors is “provided the opportunity to obtain a ‘sound basic education’” (from the Leandro Case). Children attending public schools should expect to go to school with the public. At times education of all students will cost additional money and at times it will be necessary to reduce expenditures.
4. Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district meeting the needs of these children? How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed?
Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG): The State has a funding formula that allocates money for AIG students up to 4% of the total district student population. No State money is given for AIG students over 4%. Orange County Schools has identified 11% of its student population as AIG. Given the limited resources, the District is adequately meeting the needs of these students. The OCS AIG District Plan is based on a research-based model. As required by the State, the plan is being rewritten to comply with the State’s three year cycle of monitoring and review of the plan. The District has a dedicated AIG teacher at each of the seven elementary and three middle schools in addition to a District Coordinator. The services provided include “pull-out and push-in” at the elementary level, direct services K-6, and consultative/collaborative at Grades 7-8. Orange County Schools has an array of opportunities at the middle and high school level for AIG students. Middle school offers Algebra I, Geometry, and online courses. Plans are being made to offer English I at the middle school as well. High School offerings include the International Baccalaureate Programme, Advance Placement Courses, courses through the Virtual High School, the Middle College High School at Durham Tech, and UNC-G iSchool.
I would like to see improvement in two areas: first, the District should increase its multi-disciplinary AIG opportunities. In addition to offering an AIG opportunity in math and/or in language arts, AIG opportunities should also incorporate math, language arts, social studies, science all or in some combination. The District has started offering multidisciplinary opportunities, but I would like to see them expanded. Second, the District must provide opportunities to students who may not be identified as AIG, but have the ability to do advanced work. These students, with support of the District, should be considering honors courses when they enter high school. This effort would aid in growing the number of minority students enrolled in honors and AP courses.
The District could better meet AIG students’ needs by continuing to increase advanced coursework opportunities and increase multidisciplinary experiences. The main obstacle is financial and the District must stress the importance of adequately funding the total number of AIG students in the District to our State Representatives.
Exceptional Children (EC): Orange County Schools has 1031 (15%) identified students with disabilities whose needs are funded primarily by Federal and Local dollars. The District provides services to students from 3 years old to 21 years of age through a variety of service deliveries. These services include speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, self-contained classes, pre-K, K-12 pull out to resources classes, and inclusion into core subject classes with an EC teacher co-teaching. The difficulty with meeting the needs of these students is that the District never knows what student will walk in the door. Specifically, what needs a new student requires. The District has limited resources yet is required and is committed to providing appropriate services to each student with a disability. A student enrolling two days before school begins, may require a teacher and a full –time assistant in a room by themselves; that is a different cost than say a student who requires speech two times a week.
The District could better meet the exceptional students’ needs by improving continuity of services, improving communication and responsiveness to parents, and having additional services available to students. One obstacle is money. Additional money may allow for the availability of additional services and may allow for additional personnel to facilitate paperwork and scheduling Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, which could in turn improve communication and responsiveness. Over the years I have been on the Board, school employees attempt to balance finances with IEP requirements with parent requests. It is a difficult balancing act when dealing with the education of peoples’ children which is one of the highest priorities for parents. Thus, it is critical for the District to operate in a professional manner with clear communication and timely responses.
5. NC School Report Cards In 2008-09 show 79.1 percent of white students and 79.4 percent of Asians passing both reading and math EOG tests compared to just 44 percent of black students and 48.4 percent of Hispanics (lower than the state average). How will you work not only to close the achievement gap but to raise standards and produce results for all students? What specific plans and strategies would you implement to reach at-risk students and how quickly would you do it?
Orange County Schools has made improvements in closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap in the District is smaller than that of the State. According to the District’s Two-Year Data Progress Report, the achievement gap between African-American and Caucasian students has decreased in 12 of 14 tested areas in Grades 3-8 and in Grades 9-12, the achievement gap has decreased in 7 of 10 tested areas. The achievement gap data for Latino and Caucasian students are currently being generated. The District is moving in the right direction, but until there is no gap at all, there is still work to be done. I support the efforts of the District’s Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Committee (RACG). This group provided a report and recommendations in November 2007 and OCS created an Oversight Committee which includes OCS staff, parents, and the Northern Orange Education Task Force Chairman.
This Oversight Committee has created seven subcommittees and monitors advancement on the seven goals: 1) Hire a new superintendent with extensive experience improving the achievement of African-American and Latino students. The committee is happy with Patrick Rhodes. 2) Raise the achievement of all students while closing the achievement gap and eliminating racial predictability of achievement. Each school has a group of minority parents that meet to discuss data, issues as it relates to minorities, available support, and provide input to the schools. In addition, the District will host PACE (Parent Advocates for Children’s Education) Minority Summit on April 13, 2010 which will provide a guest speaker and an array of informational workshops for parents and guardians. 3) Increase the number of minority students taking advanced level classes. Each school has evaluated its student data and created a strategy specific for its students. 4) Reduce the disproportionate number of minority students assigned to Exceptional Children classes and increase the number of students who have opportunities for acceleration. The District has reduced the number of minority students assigned to Exceptional Children classes. Gravelly Hill Middle School has a week-long, summer program designed to increase the number of students who have opportunities for acceleration. Also, the District has a Summer Enrichment Program for elementary students in an effort to support students academically and free afterschool is available to all middle school students. 5) Increase the percentage of students of color who are graduating and enrolling in post-secondary education. Decrease the number of students of color who are failing courses and dropping out. Last year the dropout rate decreased by 22% (2.46% OCS vs. 4.27% NC 2008-2009). Orange County Schools has increased literacy support at K through 12. Also, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a college-readiness system, is offered at the middle schools. 6) Recruit and retain more educators of color. The District has continued to recruit teachers at historically black colleges and universities and has sent recruitment teams to National conferences. 7) Develop professional development opportunities on culturally competent methods for education students of color. The District has had Dr. Bonnie Davis provide development to the Leadership Team along with approximately 50 teachers. She will come back in April to provide development to all Elementary staff. In addition, Tony Asion will provide professional development to the Leadership Team.
Coordinated efforts to reach at-risk students already implemented in the District include: creation of pre-K classes, after school learning centers for elementary students, free after school programs at the middle schools, summer enrichment programs, Whole-to-Part Literacy efforts in K-8 and additional literacy support at the high school, the General Diploma (21 credits), Professional Learning Communities, and Pyramid of Interventions for academic and behavioral support. I believe a structured and coordinated effort to support the students assigned to in-school and short-term, out-of-school suspensions would provide additional aid to at-risk students.
6. What can the Orange County Board of Education learn from the Wake County School board’s recent move for neighborhood schools and ending busing to create racial diversity? What’s your position on this issue?
Orange County Schools can learn lessons from Wake County. First, the school board should be a role model to the district on how to interact, communicate, operate within the rules, and make decisions in a group setting. The school board sets the tone and expectations for behavior, and the students, staff, teachers, and administration are all watching. There is concern when a nationally recognized program is dismantled and many are watching for the consequences which will not be fully realized for a couple of years. I believe “public schools” means you go to school with the public. If you live in a county with 37% Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) population or have increased your Limited English Proficient students (from 220 to 550 over a five year period), you should not be surprised if your child is in class with students from these populations. Secondly, parents cannot be expected to have their children attend a different school every year and have their children on different schedules from one another. I believe the OCS District can have a reasonable balance of diversity without redistricting every year or increasing the length of bus rides since many of the schools are centrally located. The District already has students who have a one-way bus ride of approximately one hour and 40 minutes, due to the fact that the area of Orange County is large, approximately 300 square miles.
7. What method would you use to determine how resources should be allocated within the school system? Do you believe that resources are well now? If not, what would you change? Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What’s one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut?
Allocations are made to the schools using several methods including formulas which may incorporate one or more of the following: number of Title 1 students, number of at-risk students, per pupil (average daily membership (ADM), one position per school, Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) numbers, and number of students at Academic Levels 1 and 2. In general, I believe the resources are allocated well. However, one allocation I believe needs improvement is for technology facilitators. Orange County Schools has two elementary schools that share a technology facilitator and two additional elementary schools that have part-time technology facilitators. The District has invested approximately $2 million dollars in technology and several schools and teachers are moving forward incorporating technology into instruction. In order to get the most out of the District’s investment, the District needs to invest in the people to support the teachers and facilitate the use of technology. I don’t feel comfortable having some schools having full-time technology facilitators while other schools have part-time ones. I believe that the State should fund one technology facilitator per school especially since part of their Race to the Top application involves technology.
Currently, the Superintendent has presented a balanced budget that would not require additional programs or positions to be eliminated. However, the State and Local budgets have not been approved so it is unknown the exact amount of money OCS will receive for the upcoming school year. I do not believe anything is overfunded. A couple of years ago the District had an efficiency study and an audit of all major divisions. The District acted on the cost containment recommendations which included decreasing Central Office positions and trimming local personnel expenditures. Last year, OCS trimmed program funding, phased out under-enrolled programs, and lowered payroll costs by freezing salaries and reducing positions. Reductions included District supervisory/administration positions, non-instructional support, textbooks, professional development and transportation. Thus far, Central Office has been reduced by 19%. This year OCS has not filled several non-instructional positions that are currently vacant, decreased the amount of contracted services employed, and shifted two expenses to different budgeting streams (i.e., transportation fuel costs shifted to State funds and staff development shifted to Federal dollars).
9. The Independent‘s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
As a Board member, I have consistently attended and supported an array of community events that help build a just community and connect to the classroom. Examples include: The Human Relations Month Kick-Off Celebration, The Pauli Murray Awards Ceremony, The Martin-Luther King Jr. Commemorative Activities, and The Sankofa Minority Student Achievement Program. In addition, OCS has created “Hands for Habitat” this school year which is “A Community Partnership between Orange County Schools and Habitat for Humanity”. In addition to high school students learning to design, construct, landscape, and fund a green-certified Habitat home for the community, students throughout the District participate in learning and service projects focused on issues of housing in our community and world.
10. Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.
A couple of years ago, the Board discussed balancing schools using socioeconomic status (Free and Reduced Lunch). As a member, I voted that our schools should be balanced based on the mean of the District plus or minus 10%. Also, I supported the measures that would increase diversity at the year-round school and restrict the negative impact the year-round school has on two elementary schools as it relates to socioeconomic status numbers.