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Wingspan Newsmagazine Design

Design. April 2016, Wingspan Issue 3.

This is the cover for the third issue of the Wingspan. The focus of the issue is racism at our school. We wanted to do something that would make a really powerful statement so we went searching online. I found a really cool photo composite similar to this and I thought it would be a cool thing to try. I used the yearbook to find the subjects to photograph, set up a studio in the back of the library, took the photos and then, with the help of my classmate Collin, used Photoshop to stitch the photos into a composite. 



Price to Play: Schools face challenge funding sports

Writing and Editing. June 2, 2015. Wingspan. 

This is a feature I wrote in high school about West Henderson sports teams. Before I started my reporting I thought that I would try to investigate the sports program. I assumed – wrongly – that the sports team was funded from the same money that the school was and that the sports team was taking money from the academics at the school. What I found out after I did my reporting was just as interesting. In fact, the athletics program is funded completely on its own, without any state or local funding from anyone and it was struggling to break even. 

A 3A state runner-up volleyball team. The North Carolina 100-yard backstroke champion. A football team with its most successful season in more than 30 years. A dozen or more athletes going on to compete in college.

These are just a few of the accomplishments of the sports program at West in the past year. People think of these accomplishments as a sign of success. But who pays the price for that success?

“The school system does not allocate any dollars for athletics,” John Bryant, the Henderson County Public Schools district athletic director said. “We contribute funds for the construction and general maintenance of the facilities and provide the dollars that pay and compensate the coaches.”

All other expenses of the sports program are funded by the school through gate receipts and fundraising.

According to the school’s athletic director, Assistant Principal Jeff Smith, the school spent a $108,000 on sports teams last semester with gate receipts of $115,000. The extra funds helped pay for spring sports teams. It is hard for the school to break even, Smith said.

“Athletics are very fickle. When you go through a down year, sometimes you need an influx of cash,” Smith said. “When it comes to refurbishing the track or doing major repair on our football field or practice field or basketball court, it would be nice to have some cash. Right now, we are forced to prioritize. Do we give our athletes new uniforms or paint or get new floors? I think our athletes deserve better. It would be nice to just have a base amount of money to start. About $10,000 to $15,000 would be great. It would help us keep better care of our facilities.”

Some sports teams cost more than others. Smith said football is the sport that costs the most, but it also brings in the most revenue and helps pay for other sports.

“The equipment costs for football are just unbelievable,” Smith said. “We have to recondition helmets every year. They have to be sent off to an inspector that makes sure they are legal. After a certain age they have to be thrown out. If there are any cracks or damages they have to be thrown out. It can cost up to $300 for one helmet, and we have 80 players. Shoulder pads are also expensive and can cost from $100 to $200 apiece. Football uniforms can also be really expensive. We bought football uniforms for the first time in eight or nine years, and they cost $9,000. But football also takes in the most money.”

The school is responsible for funding uniforms and equipment and for upgrading athletic facilities. These upgrades can have a high cost. “We are trying to buy a new scoreboard because the one we have is falling apart. We are trying to put a digital Jumbotron scoreboard down there, which could cost from $80,000 to $100,000,” Smith said. “We are also having some discussions with our central office about what it’s going to take to (Astro)turf our football field.”

Not only does the school pay to operate the sports program, it also has to pay the state and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. The NCHSAA is a private, nonprofit athletic association that governs high school athletics for the state of North Carolina. NCHSAA charges a $0.75 per pupil membership fee and takes 15 percent of all gate receipts for postseason games in exchange for providing locations and logistics for playoff and championship games.

The NCHSAA also has an allotment of additional funds which are partially returned to schools to protect against emergencies. Last year, NCHSAA returned $500,000 back to schools from its allotment funds.

“The NCHSAA doesn’t govern West or North or East other than the fact that our high schools choose to be members and they are participating in sanctioned athletic activities across the state. Each of our high schools pays a membership fee, and when they do, they are accepting the organization,” Bryant said. “I certainly think that our student athletes and our schools have found great value in being members. Like anything there are limitations, and there are things in which the organization can grow and be better. It would appear by the simple fact that all the schools in the county continue to be members that the value for our student athletes, the opportunity for them to compete against other schools in our state, that value exceeds the challenges schools face.”

Smith agrees that the NCHSAA is helpful, but disagrees with the way the organization structures the playoff games.

“The amount of money they (NCHSAA) take from our gate money really hurts,” Smith said. “For example, in the Kings Mountain playoff game (in November), Kings Mountain got a share of our gate, and we had to pay all of the expenses: security, ticket takers, even the rescue squad. That came out of our half, so Kings Mountain ended making more gate money from our playoff game than we did. The state also walked off with a good chunk of it, and they did nothing.”

Rick Strunk, the associate communications director for the NCHSAA, says it’s rare that an away school makes more money than the home school. He feels that these payments are more than fair because school officials come up with the fees, not his organization.

“The athletic organization is governed by a board of directors with equal representatives from each of the eight regions of North Carolina. The representatives consist of athletic directors, superintendents and other school officials,” Strunk said. “The board of directors determines the formula for the travel allotments for different sports.”

Strunk said that many state athletic organizations take 100 percent of all funds from postseason events, so the 15 percent they take is minimal.

Some of the costs for sports teams fall on students. Members of the volleyball team said that without fundraising the equipment and uniforms required for the sport can cost up to $500. Student-athletes are also responsible for the transportation fee which in Henderson County is $20. Smith said the cost is minimal compared to what other school systems charge, but that sports should be free.

“We are fortunate in Henderson County that our transportation fee is very minimal for our athletes. In Buncombe County that fee is up to about $100 per student per sport,” Smith said. “I don’t think students should have to pay to participate in sports.”

By Ari Sen

Photo illustration by Analyse Wilkins. 

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Developer’s complaint to cost schools, community millions

By Ari Sen

Ask any high school or college student and they’ll tell you that one late paper or homework assignment doesn’t carry to large a penalty. Ten points off or perhaps the difference between an A and a B.

But one local apartment owner’s late paperwork might have led to proposed legislation that could cost local schools and taxpayers millions of dollars.

The bills, House Bill 406 and House Bill 436, would eliminate impact fees for municipalities across the state. HB 406 specifically targets impact fees for Orange County whereas HB 436 would ban the fees in several municipalities including Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro, Raleigh and Wake Forrest. HB 436 also applies to Catawba, Chatam and Orange counties.

“It’s probably a good sign in that there’s not a whole bunch of people signing onto these and saying, yes, we support this,” Orange County Rep. Graig Meyer said in a Board of Commissioners meeting.

Despite Meyer’s comments, both bills have cleared their first procedural hurdles by making it to the finance committee of the General Assembly. Seils said they were told it was unlikely the bills would be voted on this week, but they could move to the House floor as soon as next week.

Impact fees are fees paid by developers to the local town or county government that help to fund social programs such as infrastructure projects or schools. Orange County currently receives $2.8 million in revenue from these impact fees, which goes to support both Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools budget is roughly $144 million for the 2017-2018 school year whereas the smaller Orange County public schools requested roughly $44.5 million for the 2017 fiscal year. Alderman Damon Seils said the only ways the county could make up the lost funding is by cutting spending or raising property taxes by at least two cents.

“If we are looking at a shortfall caused by loss of revenues we are talking about needing to make up that revenue some other way, notably by increasing property taxes,” Seils said.

“Of course the community is not going to support cutting spending—that would be a pretty major hit on the school system.”

Seils said the bills were likely brought on by a single development in Orange County. Orange County Rep. Verla Insko told the News and Observer that the development in question is likely the Chapel Hill complex currently known as Townhouse.

Townhouse apartments are currently owned by A.P. Segar, and are located on Hillsborough Street, roughly a half a mile from downtown Chapel Hill. In 2014 Segar submitted a proposal to update the apartment complex, adding additional recreation facilities and 204 new beds putting the total for the facility up to 850. The complex would also be renamed, changing from Townhouse to Grove Park.

The impact fees increased for some developers recently when the town underwent its re-evaluation process which became active on January 1. After the re-evaluation, Grove Park’s impact fees would rise from roughly $300,000 to more than $1 million.

The Orange County commissioners passed a grandfather clause that would cover Grove Park and other developments from the new impact fees, but only if they were to submit the paperwork on time, which Seils believes Grove Park didn’t.

After the late filing, Segar hired four lobbyists including former lawmaker and attorney Bill Faison. Documents show that Faison lobbied the bills’ primary sponsor, House Speaker Pro-Tempore Sarah Stevens.

“I think you have to look at who benefits from (the bills),” Seils said. “In this case who introduced the bill, who was lobbying for the bill, who benefits if the bill passes.”

Campaign finance reports show that Stevens accepted campaign contributions from real estate and construction companies that opposed impact fees in the past. Stevens also operates S&E Properties, a Mt. Airy real estate leasing and rental company, with her husband.

Both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have spoken out against the bills. Carrboro’s resolution opposing the bill was drafted by the Triangle J Council of Governments, a group of local governments, stakeholders and partners that attempt to solve problems in the Triangle region. Triangle J said the bills could cause up approximately $28.9 million in lost revenue across the region.

“That really affects rural communities that use this revenue particularly for infrastructure and it does not spare communities that are Republican-led or Democrat-led—progressive or conservative it doesn’t matter,” Carrboro Alderman Bethany Chaney said in Tuesday night’s work session. “Everything really is damaged by this bill and we think because the regional impact is so great and our region is interdependent we need to support our colleagues’ cause to let these bills fail at the NC General Assembly.”

Seils feared that the bills represent an attack on Orange County and its values.

“In the case of this impact fee bill it’s pretty clear based on the history of the bill that it was meant to benefit particular people,” Seils said. “It had a very clear motive.”