02/23/05 — Boards agree to hold summit on schools

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Boards agree to hold summit on schools

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 23, 2005 2:17 PM

Members of the Goldsboro City Council, Wayne County Board of Commissioners and the Wayne County Board of Education agreed Tuesday that holding an annual education summit would help in-form the public about school is-sues.

The summit, organized by a county educational council, could also provide feedback from a cross-section of citizens throughout the county.

Though the three boards eventually reach-ed common ground on the issue of the summit, discussing other school is-sues remained a prickly process.

County Manager Lee Smith said he had looked at the 1996 Strategic Plan, as well as all the minutes of prior planning sessions between the school board, the county and the city over the past 12 years.

"The discussions have gone full circle four times," Smith said. "It's the same issues: Diversity, lack of communication between the boards and site locations."

Smith said the answers to the issues would require input from everyone, including citizens.

"I want to spur some ideas," he said. "What are we going to do at 8 a.m. tomorrow? I don't want to be back here in one year still discussing the same problems."

School board Chairman Lehman Smith said that the school board was against the proposal of closing Goldsboro High School and using it as a community center.

"We've discussed that, and selling it or closing it is not an option," Smith said. "It's not in the best interest of the children. We're looking at expanding the programs there."

City Council-man Chuck Allen said that he thought something had to be done to move off "center ground."

"I think y'all have shut that door before really talking about it," Allen said.

School board member Rick Pridgen said that he thought there were still some things that could be done to enhance Goldsboro High School and bring in additional students.

"We are looking at offering some exclusive programs there," he said. "I don't think we should can Goldsboro High School until we've tried some of those things."

Allen said that the 99 percent black student population at Goldsboro High School needs to be changed. He said that many of the high-achieving black students have left the inner-city schools.

"Any black child that can leave, has left Goldsboro High School," he said. "You've got to admit there's a problem."

Allen said that something has to change to bring back high-achieving students, both black and white.

School board member Thelma Smith took umbrage after Allen said he wouldn't send his children to Goldsboro High School, although he lives in the district.

"What other white person will want to send their child if you are saying you won't send your child to Goldsboro High School?" she asked.

She also said that students at Goldsboro High School were high-achieving, having received more than $2 million in scholarship money last year.

Ms. Smith, who taught most of her 40 years in Goldsboro, said that the boards needed to learn about the schools in what school officials call "the central attendance area."

"To stand outside is an insult to all in the schools," she said. "If you don't know the truth, you can't tell the truth."

School board member Shirley Sims said that the city's public housing did affect the inner city schools because low-income students were not dispersed throughout the system.

"If we don't like the community, change the community," Ms. Sims said.

Ms. Smith said that even though she lived in the city, she felt it was unattractive and had problems with crime. That, she said, might be the reason people weren't choosing to live in the area.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor clarified information about so-called "empty schools" in the city.

"It's not true," Taylor said. "At Goldsboro High School we have 172 spaces and at Dillard, we have 132 spaces."

He explained that having the space oftentimes is a bonus for those schools because special programs, or laboratories, can be added.

Pridgen said another misconception is that mostly non-certified or lateral-entry teachers are working in the city schools.

"There are more schools in the county with non-certified and lateral-entry teachers than in the city," he said.

School board member John Grantham said he has been involved in similar discussion about the schools for over a decade, and all he was hearing was that the "kids needed to be bussed."

"We've made dramatic improvements in test scores," he said. "What have y'all done to make it so people aren't afraid to stop at stoplights?"

Allen said he didn't think bussing or redrawing district lines would help.

"We need to try to attract more kids back to the inner city," he said. "And we are trying to work on our city problems. We can't change all our problems overnight, but we're working on it."

Commissioner Jack Best said he is concerned about the recruitment and retention of teachers, and suggested that the school board might need to cut parts of its budget to increase teacher supplements.

Ms. Sims said that the supplement isn't paid for out of the budget, but by money appropriated by the commissioners.

"You don't know our business," she said. "Someone needs to tell you about how we pay our supplement."

City Councilman Bob Waller said that school issues has been a controversial topic since he had moved to Goldsboro in 1962.

"We need to quit going back and forth blaming each other, and resolve the issue," Waller said. "God said to look after the poor, and what is the best way to do it. The school district is wrong, morally and socially."

And, he added, "Economically it's killing us."

Ms. Smith said the city council is "telling us what to do, not asking."

"I haven't told you to do anything," Waller responded.

Lee Smith said that there is a funding issue involved, and that it would have to be addressed. A penny added onto the tax rate generates $526,000, he said. But the school's needs would have to be balanced with the needs of all the other departments in the county, Smith noted.

Best said that the Wayne County citizens charged the commissioners with being good stewards of their tax money.

"Before we hand over any money, we need to get citizens involvement to sell the program," he said.

Lee Smith said that a fully comprehensive group, containing people from all over the county, should be formed.

School board members said the advisory councils at each school could serve as that group.

Smith said the advisory council s would be a good start, but that he believes the group should be more comprehensive.

"We need an overall plan, not just a facilities plan," he said. "Facilities are easy, but did we fix the issues?"

In addition to reconvening the advisory councils and working on an educational summit, the commissioners agreed to hold a one-day annual retreat with the school board.