04/15/05 — Legislators asked to end schools' racial imbalance

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Legislators asked to end schools' racial imbalance

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 15, 2005 1:51 PM

Goldsboro residents asked state legislators Thursday night to intervene in the "re-segregation" of Wayne County public schools.

"It's not reasonable, 50 years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, for anyone to look at our schools and say that's all right," the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber Jr. said to members of the N.C. General Assembly's Black Caucus.

"This is a moral issue, and it's an economic issue," Barber said. "We need to see how foolishly holding onto segregation is affecting our community."

Bob Hawkins, a retired teacher, said the school system has allowed Goldsboro High School to become a hostile environment for teachers. The school lost 26 teachers last year, he said.

"Does the State Board of Education have any authority over local boards when the local units are so blatantly prejudiced?," Hawkins said.

The schools were just one of the topics raised during the caucus' public policy forum meeting, held at Greenleaf Vision of Faith Center. But it drew the most comments.

Barber told the legislators that the student population of every school inside Goldsboro is "100 percent black." Those schools have a large percentage of students who fail end-of-grade testing, he said.

The community has tried to come up with solutions -- converting Goldsboro High into a magnet school or appointing a blue-ribbon committee to study the situation -- but the county Board of Education has rejected them, Barber said.

The situation is likely scaring away industries that might otherwise consider Wayne County, he said.

"Nobody wants to relocate to a county that's living in the dark ages," Barber said.

Goldsboro resident Charles Wright said that his research shows that the city's schools have some of the highest short-term suspension rates in the state.

The legislators did not comment extensively on the speakers, saying they were in Goldsboro more to listen to concerns.

But N.C. Sen. Charlie Dannelly of Charlotte noted that schools in his home district also have high suspension rates of black males, even preschoolers.

"All over this state, we have work to do," he said.

Re-segregation "is a statewide problem, not an African-American or black problem," said N.C. Sen. Katie Dorsett of Greensboro.

The Black Caucus includes seven of the 50 N.C. Senate members and 17 of the 120 N.C. House members.

"We're a small group but a real team and a network," Mrs. Dorsett said.

The legislators are committed to working for a moratorium on the death penalty for at least two years so that its fairness could be studied, she said.

"Once people are dead, it's too late to bring them back."

The caucus wants to ensure that minority-owned businesses can still compete for and receive governmental contracts.

The representatives continue to monitor developments in the Leandro lawsuit, which was brought against the state by low-wealthy school systems.

"All young people have a right to a good education," Mrs. Dorsett said.

Also, the bill to create a state lottery, now before the N.C. Senate, will have an effect on education, she said.

Legislation was introduced in both houses this session to guarantee state employees a "living wage," meaning that all would at least make enough money to cover basic expenses, she said.

Finally, the caucus, along with the rest of the Legislature, is working to prevent any military base closures or reductions.

"We feel this state has suffered enough with the loss of other industries," Mrs. Dorsett said.

Dorsett presided over the meeting, along with N.C. Rep. Larry Bell of Sampson County, whose district includes parts of Wayne County. Others in attendance were Rep. Bernard Allen of Wake County, Rep. Edward Jones of Halifax County and Rep. Marvin Lucas of Cumberland County.