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A Charter Place parable

I would like to tell you about my friend Joe. He is a good guy. Joe works hard, pays his taxes and always takes time to stop and speak. One interesting fact about Joe is that he lives in a subdivision called Charter Place.

Recently, Joe and his neighbors were at a kids’ soccer game and one of them mentioned how the Department of Transportation was wasting so much money building roads that none of them would ever use. Then Joe had the idea that what would be most convenient for him would be a new skyway that started at his neighborhood and ended right at his office. Since many of his neighbors worked in the same part of town, they unanimously agreed that this new road would be ideal.

In their planning, Joe and his friends also decided their new personalized road would not be subject to the same rules as other generic roads. Their road would have no speed limit, blinkers were not necessary and it would be okay to throw litter out the windows. There is one stipulation, however, that the group approved: only cars worth $40,000 or more would be allowed on this road.

Joe then petitioned his local elected delegation to pass legislation that would divert the portion of his tax dollars that went to the Department of Transportation back to Joe so he could use them toward this new road. After all, the other roads were not suitable.

Joe’s friends then took it one step further and asked for a portion of all Department of Transportation funds to be funneled to their project. So the budget for fixing pot holes would be divided, even though the new road did not have any pot holes.

Ironically, because taxpayer funds were being spent on the new road, Joe was calling it a public road – though it would be accessible only to a small segment of the community. However, since Charter Place was supported by a group of wealthy outside funders, the legislators quickly, and without debate, approved the funds.

A couple weeks later, Joe and his neighbors were hanging out at the pool. As they were talking, they realized they had something else in common. None of them had ever been arrested. In fact, none of them ever made a 911 call or had any type of emergency requiring police assistance.

This got them to thinking.

Just like the issue with the roads, this particular group of friends really had no use for the local police force – or so they thought. They decided to create their own mini police team that would serve their specific needs. Once again, they believed that their tax dollars, the portion used to fund the substandard local police force, should be returned to them and applied to the cost of the new police.

I realize that nobody reading this would ever expect legislation to be passed that would actually divert tax dollars from important public entities (which are already underfunded) – like roads, police and schools – to pay for projects that benefit Joe and his neighbors.

Joe and his friends from Charter Place are good people, but they have a very twisted view of the “common good.” Let’s hope none of them ever run for office.

Shouldn’t transparency and common sense prevail when it comes to funding public education?

Editor’s Note: This article was published in The Chapel Hill News/The News & Observer on September 25, 2015.




Thomas Forcella

Thomas Forcella is the superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.