09/13/08 — Distracted again: War of the words doesn't help schools

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Distracted again: War of the words doesn't help schools

The debate over school funding in Duplin County is not really over.

The $4.8 million verdict in the case brought by the school district against the county commission is only one step in a continuing battle over how much money the schools need and what the county is going to have to do to provide it.

And lest you think that Wayne County's battles are over, pay attention to the undertone of the discussions this past week or two between the county commissioners and the members of the board of education.

Perhaps that trust is not as all sewed up as we thought it was.

Commissioner Jack Best's comments about the quality of education in the county, as referenced by his decorating "the outhouse" comment, suggest that there is still at least one person who is not convinced there is a reason to have confidence in the school board or some school officials.

His point, of course, is really that the facilities issue is just window-dressing, that the real problems in the schools cannot be solved with a new gymnasium.

And, as unfortunate as his choice of words was, he is right -- in a sense.

The schools are dealing with much more than deteriorating buildings -- allthough that is a real concern.

Some of the most troubled children who enter the doors of some Wayne County schools each day come from families where the least of their concerns is education. And those same children, after a day of school rules and inspiration, return to those same homes, with the same lack of supervision, concern or inspiration to seek any kind of future.

Teachers, administrators and others fight every day to overcome those limits and prejudices, but it is not easy -- and sometimes can be downright discouraging.

So, Jack Best might be right, new buildings might be dealing with the outside and not the crux of the problems that face Wayne County schools, but there is so much more he needs to say if he is serious about improving the quality of the education students receive here.

This should be his crusade and that of anyone who wants to see change:

Fund the basics. Get the school buildings in a state where they are acceptable and amenable to learning. A change in attitude can sometimes begin with your surroundings. The county spent money to creat a new animal shelter for that very reason -- to make the facility more conducive to adoptions. So why isn't that a good idea for our schools?

Then, after the basics are handled, commit to investing real money in programs. Provide incentives to attract -- and keep -- the best teachers, give them resources to reach children who need extra help, and make sure there are enough hands in place to give those children the attention they need. Support them with policies and funding that indicate that this county is serious about providing quality education for every child. Hold them accountable on an even playing field, and back them when the going gets tough.

Computers, textbooks, special programs, new workbooks or seminars, whatever it takes -- that's how you solve a problem with education. Not by ranting, raving and name-calling. You should already know after years of the same behavior -- that solves nothing.

And just in case everyone did not get the message the first time, this county does not want to hear anymore cheap shots, double talk or anything else that smells of political maneuvering rather than really working for the education of this county's children.

We are all much too busy to try to figure out what is more spin and what is the real story.

And when election time rolls around, we will remember who was part of the solution and who just started back along the same old, tired road.

Published in Editorials on September 13, 2008 11:56 PM