10/29/04 — School candidates spar over city schools

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School candidates spar over city schools

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on October 29, 2004 2:04 PM

A political forum Thursday gave two Wayne County school board candidates the opportunity to air their differences on racial diversity and improving scores in Goldsboro schools.

Joseph Hackett and Pete Gurley, running for the at-large school board seat, disagreed on how well the school system has improved the disparity in scores in central Goldsboro schools with the rest of the county.

The forum, sponsored by the NAACP, also gave candidates for the at-large county commissioner seat and the register of deeds position an opportunity to voice their positions.

Gurley, incumbent school board member, said that eight years ago the achievement gap among the schools was at an average of 34 percent.

"That bothered me," he said. "We mapped out a plan."

The plan included remediation for students, adding teachers and offering bonuses to teachers in central Goldsboro schools.

The average went from a 34- to a 17-point difference, he said.

"That's not good enough, and we're continuing to work on it," Gurley said.

Gurley said that the board had recently received a letter from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights' Atlanta office, which said it was pleased to see the progress Wayne County schools were making.

Hackett said Gurley's figures and facts were misleading.

The bonus money given to the teachers, Hackett said, was supplied by federal and state money. "It's mandated," he said.

Hackett said there was still a 32.6 achievement gap between Goldsboro High School and Eastern Wayne High School.

"And there's a 31.5 gap between Goldsboro Middle School and Norwayne" Middle School, Hackett said. "The achievement gap is not 17."

Gurley said that he was concerned about diversity in the central Goldsboro school district and thought that the school board, the county commissioners, the Goldsboro City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission, should get together to discuss the problem.

"We need to have a dialogue of things to be done in the city to attract more white people to come to the city," Gurley said.

Gurley also said that when Goldsboro High School was rated "low-performing" two years ago, the school board gave students there the option of enrolling anywhere else in the county.

"We would provide transportation," he said. "But we had less than 50 students that participated, and some of those went back to Goldsboro High School."

Hackett said he didn't think that attracting white people to live in the city was the issue because the city population was evenly divided between whites and blacks.

"Part of the problem is the (student) transfer policy," Hackett said.

Hackett also said that Gurley was saying one thing, but doing another.

"The material he puts out says we don't have to come together," Hackett said.

Another point of contention between the two candidates centered on using money from unfilled teacher positions to buy materials for the schools.

Gurley said that the board was still trying to fill the positions and had not cut them.

"We used the money that was saved during the time the jobs weren't filled," he explained. "The unfilled positions have not been cut."

When asked why neither Thelma Smith or Shirley Sims, the board's two black members, had served as chairman of the school board, Gurley said it was because of protocol.

"There's always been a certain protocol," he said. "You serve as vice chair, then move up to chair."

Gurley said he spoke with Ms. Sims three years ago regarding the vice chairman's position, and she declined.

"So, she didn't become chair," he explained. "I talked to Ms. Smith about the position, but in her diplomatic way, she said that she wouldn't become chair before Ms. Sims."

Hackett said that he didn't understand why the women weren't nominated because of protocol.

"They don't follow protocol in a lot of other areas," Hackett said.

Hackett said that if he was elected he would work hard to make the system better.

"I'll be talking to parents, teachers, attending PTA meetings and hosting meetings at various schools," he said.

Gurley said he believed that he had the rapport with the board to get things done.

"All plans are for naught if you can't get others to agree with you," Gurley said.

County commissioner

Republican county commissioner candidate Hal Keck said he was running for the office because he thought Commissioner Atlas Price "had lost touch with the people."

Both Price and Keck emphasized the need to make sure Seymour Johnson Air Force Base stayed in Goldsboro.

Price, a Democrat, said the county had been working on zoning around the base to protect it from development that could hurt its chances in the next round of base closings. He said he was the co-chairman of a state committee working on military affairs.

"Without the base, we'd be in terrible trouble," Price said.

Keck agreed, saying that the base was the economic engine driving Wayne County.

"There's a wonderful relationship that the citizens have with the base," he said, "and we should let that be known in the Pentagon."

Keck said the county needed to make sure the area around the base was protected. Keck said that landowners' rights should be kept in mind when rezoning and that restrictions should be "as minimal as possible."

The county should also look at the possibility of buying land around the base to protect it, he said.

Keck said he would work with the Board of Education to make the schools better, as well as work with the Economic Development Commission to make sure businesses in the area stayed in the area.

"We want to make sure the money provided to the EDC is spent wisely," Keck said.

Price said he would continue working with the schools to get the negative news out of the television media.

He also said that the stoplights between Raleigh and the beach on U.S. Highway 70 were hurting industrial growth in Wayne County, and he would like to see that addressed.

When asked for two reasons that he would vote for a tax increase, Price said for education or to guarantee jobs.

Keck said that, at the request of the people, he would vote for a tax increase if it helped the school system.

Price said that he decided to run for re-election to continue his involvement with some of the state boards he is serving on and because he believed he had a vision for Wayne County.

Register of deeds

Lois Mooring, register of deeds candidate, said she wanted to have an efficient, knowledgeable staff with the latest equipment.

Her office would be professionally run, she said, and she planned to be a working participant.

Ms. Mooring, a Democrat, said she had supervisory experience through her work in the county Clerk of Court's office and said that she had worked well with the other 34 women in the office.

"I have the patience to resolve issues and to encourage open dialogue," she said.

Chris West, Republican candidate for register of deeds, said his business experience as manager of Wilber's Restaurant made him a good choice for the position.

"My style of management is upfront and to the point," West said. He said he expected his workers to be accountable, but that he maintained a friendly atmosphere.

"I think the transition will be smooth," he said.