Al Hartkopf | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Al Hartkopf

Candidate for Orange County Board of Education


Name as it appears on the ballot: Al Hartkopf
Date of Birth: June 28, 1957
Campaign Web Site:
Occupation & Employer: Project Manager – Soundside Management
Years lived in Orange County: 7

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. School Safety: This is a wins by a razor margin over funding. They are, in essence, tied for first place. The fact is that all the funding in the world will not be effective if we do not provide a safe environment for learning.

  2. Funding: I have established and maintained a positive relationship with the County Commissioners and lobbied the General Assembly for more and more consistent funding for schools

  3. Respect for and involvement with our community. Over the past 4 years I have consistently been approached by community leaders and parents who no longer feel welcome by the system. We must bring our community back into our schools. This is key to holistic health of our students and provides the base closing the achievement gap, curriculum expansion, and making schools and education the centerpiece of our community.

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.

As a member of the Orange County Board of Education, I have a record of support for our students, parents, and teachers, that is well known. I have consistently stood up for the rights of all students, parents, and teachers and have worked hard to assure the school system is more responsive to the needs of its clients.

I am a fellow of the Institute of Political Leadership at UNC. The Institute is a force for positive political discourse and training that actively seeks to create effective and ethical politicians. I support the Institute in their mission.

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 that governments are formed to serve the needs and interests of its citizens. I believe that the people elect their representatives to cooperatively assure government employees fulfill that charge.

Labels, sung to Edwin Starr’s “War”. Labels, hoo, what are they good for? Abolutely, nothing: I work on both sides of the aisle and maintain a working relationship with leadership of both parties in the General Assembly. I have worked for issues near and dear to both parties and to both ends of the political spectrum. I can’t play the politics of partisan division. It is not in the interests of the greater population.

4) How many Orange County Board of Education meetings have you attended in the past two years?

In the past four years, I have missed two meetings. In the past two years I have missed one (flu).

5) 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?

I think we are doing a good job, but we can always do beter. I am not hearing as many concerns from AIG students now that we are on the “four-by-block” at high school. Right now I am working with the Superintendent to restructure our system to become more efficient and realign some of our curricula. AIG is part of that realignment, as is implementing the items presented by the “Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” committee.

Obstacles: Large, overarching obstacles seem limited to class availability in the desired study area. To remedy that, I have been working to introduce distance learning to permit students from each high school to have access to the teachers at the other high schools. Under this program, a few students with common interests at each school can come together under one teacher and there will be enough students to form a class.

Obstacles: Individual obstacles should be brought to the attention of staff for resolution. If the student or parent is not satisfied by the actions of staff, they should contact their board members and we should become their advocate for resolution. We should. I will.

6) What are your thoughts on the “Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” report presented to the Board of Education in November? As a board member, how would you address the achievement gap?

See question 5. We have already addressed many of the concerns. Children are unique and it is reasonable that they need different things. It will take different resources to reach them individually. Conversations of equity aside, we cannot expect all children to excel when given the same opportunities. Those opportunities need to be as diverse as our community.

I continue to have members of the task force on speed dial and reach out for formal and informal conversations.

7) The Orange County Board of Education recently decided to address an imbalance in economic diversity between Central Elementary and Hillsborough Elementary by setting a cap on the number of students from a given attendance zone who can be enrolled in HES. The board also chose to use federal Title One School Improvement money (available to the district because neither CES nor Efland-Cheeks Elementary made Adequate Yearly Progress in math last year) on pre-K programs. Both decisions have proven controversial. Do you agree with the board’s actions?

The accuracy of the predicate statements not withstanding, I disagree with the Board’s action. My reasons are well documented. I was there for the genesis of this action and I understand all too well why this was proposed. Hint: It had little, if anything, to do with achievement at Central or Efland Cheeks.

8) Three Cedar Ridge High School students were sent to an in-school suspension classroom after refusing to take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery in February. That school requires all juniors to take the test; Principal Gary Thornburg was quoted as saying, “I don’t have a lot of patience with people” who refuse to do so. Do you think any Orange County students should be required to take the AFVAB? Should the district make a greater effort to protect the privacy of families who do not want their information made available to military recruiters?

The accuracy of the predicate statements not withstanding, Orange County students should not be required to take the ASVAB. Prior to this incident, they were not required to take the ASVAB and that condition remains.

When this story broke, I contacted the Superintendent and asked, “Do we not run an Option 8 system?” Option 8 says that students can opt-in to sending their ASVAB results to recruiters. Unless they opt-in, their results are withheld from recruiters. We are now an “Option 8” system.

9) 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?

Resources should be allocated dependent on need and in reflection of the values of the community.

Resource reevaluation is underway at present (see question 5a). Once this new deployment is complete, I will continue to reevaluate. I believe in continuous improvement cycles.

10) In 2005, a report identified inequities between the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems. How well do you believe those inequities have been addressed or remedied in the three years since? What more should be done, and how?

I do not believe they have been addressed and I am not sure the Independent has enough ink to fully address this issue. In short, there will always be differences in available funding between any two school systems. The only way to prevent that is to prohibit local funding of education and let all school funding fall to the state. That cure is worse than the disease. I have worked to implement collaboration between OCS, CHCCS, and Orange County to optimize our resources in ways I think are rational. Some few of these have taken root. However, the big things that could really help get stalled in the bureaucracies of the three entities. It will take politicians of exceptional stamina and strength on all three Boards to really make these things happen. Examples: recreational facilities, combined purchasing, transportation.

11) How would you like to see school funding and other county needs met: Property taxes? Impact fees? Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods? Do you personally support the land transfer tax as a county funding option?

After reviewing the results of transfer tax increases and projections done within the state, the transfer tax does not provide a steady revenue source. It places an inequitable burden on members of our community.

I think our County’s financial position is untenable at present. Our debt is high and the level and number of services we provide are pressing us into an unenviable position. I think we need to reduce the rate of growth in some service areas so schools and other critical community needs like fire, police, medical, and assistance to the needy can be more fully funded.

12) The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

Among the definitions of just are, “lawful, fair, righteous, equitable.” For a community to encompass these values, its government must be represented by members of that diverse population. Those representatives bring the full wealth of diversity to the table and the entire community benefits. The entire exercise is for naught if those representatives cannot or do not reason among themselves with the ultimate goal of service to the people clearly in mind. There has to be a give and take to obtain consensus. Again, this is one of the many traits that I have honed through years of experience. I accomplish little alone. Only by team synergy can I assure success of a project, a product, and my company as a whole. This modus operandi applies fully to better representative government.

13) 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.

As a person elected to represent the people, why would I do something that runs counter to their interests? Much more likely that I might take a stand that the people support, but the bureaucracy might not. Most recently, the bureaucracy became infuriated that I championed a motion to permit students in two failing elementary schools to transfer to Hillsborough Elementary. It was right to facilitate access to the highest achieving elementary school in the system. It was fair and equitable, but it was unpopular with the staff. My experience has been that this situation presents itself far more often, and with far more impact, than the question posed. I think a good public servant realizes who they serve and refuses to permit the bureaucracy to substitute its judgment for that of parents and the greater community.

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