Some see the proposal for a special district tax for the Orange County Schools system, which encompasses almost two-thirds of Orange County's land and roughly 40 percent of its students, as a new tax on the generally less wealthy regions north of I-40. That's a knee-jerk response to a complicated fiscal and political problem.
Proposed by the county commissioners, but roundly dismissed by the Orange County School Board and virtually ignored in the southern part of the county, the district tax is more about achieving budget sanity than it is soaking the taxpayers. And it's a shame that the commissioners have been the only ones willing to stand up for something that makes so much sense.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district, the larger of the two districts, has enjoyed a special district tax--set each year by the county commissioners--to help pay for more help in the classroom, fund new initiatives and renovations and cover the cost of opening new schools. The county schools haven't had this additional funding mechanism, so in years with new schools or initiatives, commissioners and school board members go through the contortions necessary to get each system what it needs. While there have been lulls in the booming growth in the system, Hillsborough and most of northern Orange County are destined for huge population increases over the coming years. With a flexible district tax in both systems, commissioners and school boards will have a much better and complete set of tools for keeping up with growth and managing funding. Though it's no merger, which the commissioners examined and later rejected after public outcry, a tax in both districts is a significant step in balancing the two systems.