04/08/04 — Boards give differing responses to city letter

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Boards give differing responses to city letter

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 8, 2004 2:05 PM

School board sentiments ranged from resentment about the Goldsboro City Council's letter threatening a lawsuit if problems with city schools are not corrected, to outrage that it is being blamed for the racial imbalance problem.

Meanwhile, the Wayne County commissioners said they believe the differences can be worked out without legal action. In a two-page response to the City Council's letter, the commissioners threw their support behind the city's call for an outside firm to study the school system and its needs.

The county had asked for such a study to be done more than a year ago, but the Board of Education did not agree, says the letter signed by all six commissioners.

"We believed, and still believe, an independent consultant can analyze all needs of Wayne County children to ensure quality public education," the commissioners wrote.

By getting public input and gathering information, the consultant could help build support for a bond referendum, they said.

The commissioners plan to meet with the school board within the next few weeks to discuss the $82 million building plan.

"I think it's obvious that the City Council wants to go beyond their charter and run the school system," said school board member John Grantham. "We don't have any intentions of letting them do that.

"We're doing what the people want us to do and that's the way it should be."

Grantham also said he would encourage residents in favor of community schools to speak out.

"There will be more than just a few," he said. "There's a lot that want community schools and need to be vocal about it."

School board member Shirley Sims said she spoke with the mayor and others on the City Council on Wednesday night and that it became evident that all information has not been communicated in its entirety.

"I think the only way that we can get this issue clear is for all citizens on the three groups to meet and exchange what they think with each other and come away with one voice," she said.

She also said she favored bringing in a consultant to study the issue.

She said the school board cannot be held responsible for the housing patterns in Goldsboro.

"We're talking out of both sides of our mouths," she said of the governing boards. "We'll say that we want community schools but some of the people that are asking for communities schools are moving into areas other than the central attendance area.

"If the people in the central attendance area could move, then maybe the picture would be different."

She said she is a believer in public housing, but it is not doing what it was originally designed to do, which is serve as a transitional situation. She said she has long suggested at least one building be used to provide housing to senior citizens.

Ms. Sims said she would like the council to become involved in changing Goldsboro's housing pattern instead of continuing to build low-income housing in the same areas.

"If we're serious about making the central attendance schools diverse, stop building low-income housing in these communities in which these children live," she said, "so that they can go to another community school."

Ms. Sims said she was recently asked to be part of a task force about childhood obesity, which will require her participation until December. When that obligation ends, so might her involvement on the school board. She said she wants to continue to be part of the solution, but is willing to step aside if anyone feels she is not doing her job.

"If things are not better between now and December, I'm out of here because it's foolish," she said.

Board member Thelma Smith has also been concerned for the students in the central Goldsboro schools, particularly their morale. She said students and teachers in those areas are working hard but there is a lot of negative publicity that is affecting the efforts.

"Everybody is trying to make their point; everybody is trying to blame," she said. "All of us need to take responsibility for this situation, not just look at the school board as the culprit."

She said the school board is doing exactly what education is supposed to do, take children as they are and educate them.

"We need support for that," she said.

Board member George Moye said the board would probably prepare a statement of response soon, but feels what is being generated now has been extremely negative, especially regarding Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"People look at a school system when they come into an area," he said. "We have a very good school system.

"This seems to be an inopportune time for people to be negative on a school system that there's so much to be positive about. Apparently these people that are threatening lawsuits don't care anything about the base."

He said he had overheard comments in a restaurant this morning from several city and county residents about the council's threats to sue the school board.

"The gist of the conversation I heard was that this is really pitting city against county," he said. "We need to be improving relations.

"This was a really destructive thing and could really drive a wedge between the city and county."

Board member Lehman Smith was hesitant to comment until more facts and figures could be gathered. He said he feels there is a lot of misinformation circulating, but that the problems will be straightened out.

"It's not as bad as everyone says it is," he said.

"We're spending more money in the central attendance area than we are anywhere else, in terms of programs and extra teachers, whatever it needs." He said the test scores for students in the six central Goldsboro schools have been exemplary, proving that the school system is doing some right things.

"We just can't control where everyone lives," he said.

Board member Rick Pridgen agreed that the City Council needs to be involved in such matters as public housing. He has repeatedly said much of the problems with racial imbalance is a community problem, not just a school problem.

Pridgen said he was a little heated when he first read the council's letter, but was reassured by a follow-up letter sent by the county commissioners.

"The commissioners wrote a very positive letter back," he said. "They possibly want to look into hiring a consultant."

He said the school board has scheduled another work session for April 22 and will likely add the latest concerns to its agenda. He said the board will also meet with the commissioners, and it probably wouldn't hurt to include the City Council in that.

"I think all boards need to be involved in mapping out strategies to eliminate some of these problems," he said.

Ms. Sims was part of a school construction survey that had been done in 1994, but said she did not recall anything being brought back to the board for a vote.

She said that she has been concerned with recent comments that only $3 million was included in the proposed construction plan for the central Goldsboro schools. "All principals in those schools were polled and asked to send what they would like in their schools in order to meet their needs," she said. "We were told, 'We don't need any new buildings; we need programs and bodies."

She said the list was large and very inclusive, but were mainly programs that could not be funded under the construction plan.

Mrs. Smith said that there was another $2.6 million that was in the first $42 million proposal that was submitted, which brings the total closer to $6 million for the schools in the central Goldsboro area.