09/19/06 — Resegregation, Goldsboro parents focus on inequities

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Resegregation, Goldsboro parents focus on inequities

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 19, 2006 1:57 PM

City residents blasted the school system Monday night -- not just about the proposed $90 million "brick and mortar" facilities plan up for discussion -- but about issues of segregation and inequities at schools in the central attendance area.

The third in a series of meetings about facilities needs for each of the school system's feeder patterns was held at Goldsboro High School. The master facilities plan team, which includes representatives from the school board and the county commissioners, held the open forum to present the proposed five-year construction plan for the county schools. An estimated $8 million of the plan has been designated for the six schools in the central attendance area.

The more than 150 people in the audience had plenty to say to the school board.

"I have had a problem with you from day one," said James Johnson, who said the Board of Education "needs to be revamped. All of you need to go."

His remarks were greeted with applause from the audience, as he went on to say that the school system previously had a "No. 1 superintendent in this county. (You) ran him away because he wasn't a 'yes man.' Now that you have got a yes man, you got everything screwed up."

Johnson, representing the Advocates of Goldsboro-Wayne County, said the group cannot give full support to the proposed plan because new schools and construction will be a waste of taxpayers' money. He said a better use of current facilities could be made by redrawing district lines, adopting a study assignment policy and abolishing the present student transfer policy.

Sandra Webb, a member of the advisory council at School Street Elementary School, said she did not think a bond referendum was needed for new buildings around the county.

"The central attendance area is part of the Wayne County schools, and it needs to be fixed. We're trying hard, but I think we need to try harder," she said.

Ms. Webb spoke of inequities in the school system, citing the example that Goldsboro is the only high school in the county without an advanced placement 12th grade English teacher. She said her child had to take the course at home on the Internet.

"Fortunately, I can provide a phone line, high speed Internet and a computer, but most of our children in this district can't," she said.

Ms. Webb said she would like to see advisory councils from across the county getting together to discuss some of the issues.

"I would like to see more unity among the advisory councils and see what we can do, making sure all our money is used wisely," she said.

The advisory councils are comprised of parents and staff from each of the schools. They meet periodically through the year as a group and are able to present individual school's concerns to the school board and administrators.

Tech. Sergeant Garry Phifer, advisory council member from Goldsboro Intermediate School, said he doesn't live in the central attendance area, but chooses to bring his children to schools there. Diversity is something he strives for, but it doesn't always happen.

"When I go to work every day, everybody doesn't look like me. When my children go to school, everyone looks like them," he said. "We shouldn't want any school to look like one color."

Phifer said in other countries, academic strength is applauded. He would like the same to hold true here.

"We celebrate because Starbucks is coming to town ... because another Wal-Mart is coming to town," he said. "But we shouldn't want our children to go to college to end up working in a Wal-Mart. We should want much more for our children."

Building new schools in other parts of the county means providing new opportunities for students in those areas, he said.

"You're not going to put old things on those new schools," he said. "If there's $90 million that we're talking about, we're talking about less than 10 percent for my children."

Phifer said the school system "keeps putting Band-Aids on problems. This wound is bigger than a Band-Aid."

Being stationed at Seymour Johnson for the past 20 years, he said there are not many military families taking their children to the city schools, some instead choosing private schools.

"Have you looked at bringing the base into the central attendance area?" he asked. "Are we afraid that the base might not like what's going on in the central attendance area and might speak out?"

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said school officials are aware of the declining white population in the city schools. The school board has looked at enhanced programming in those schools to draw people to them.

Some of the issues have been a problem for years and will not be resolved overnight, he said, such as the shifting housing pattern around the county.

"The Board of Education cannot control where people live," he said. "Housing patterns cannot be controlled by the Board or Education."

"You can draw the lines where you want to draw the lines," Phifer said.

Others also took issue with the "lackadaisical" attitude the school system had taken toward redistricting to create more diversity in the schools.

"We cannot determine where people live. Everybody has the right to move where they want to, (but) you do not have to put a school building where people live," said Phyllis Merritt James, the mother of three children in the central attendance schools.

She said when she graduated from Goldsboro High School in 1983, it was one of the last diverse classes. Students today are graduating from the school to go to college and a world that is full of diversity.

"We need to treat our children equally all over the county," she said. She said that, four weeks into the new school year, her child was having to share a math book with other students.

"Our children want to learn. Our children can learn, and we have to supply them, to make sure all the supplies are there for the teachers and students to be successful."

Sylvia Barnes, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, likened living in the city of Goldsboro to living in the center of apartheid.

"We already know that the schools in the central attendance are segregated. We know that the Wayne County school board is not receiving all the money it could receive from Title I," she said. "It's sad that we're living in the 21st century and are still living in a segregated school system."

She said that at a recent meeting of the NAACP with students, the group decided it will not support the $90 million plan, calling it degrading.

"If the schools remain segregated, no bond; if 31 teachers are not placed in the schools, no bond; if all students are not given the same education, no bond," she said. "We are not satisfied with the current transfer policy. We must fight for justice for all people."

"All" means everyone of every race and every color, she said. And if the school board cannot serve everyone equally, she added, "we strongly suggest that we look at legal action and steps to remove each and every one of you."

"The audacity of this board to ask us to support 10 percent of $90 million but 100 percent of segregation," said the Rev. Dr. William Barber, the current state NAACP president.

Perhaps, he said, some did not understand integration because even the master facilities team was 90 percent segregated.

"I'm trying to find an answer to the question, who is it that wants us to pay for their racism and what has been done to shut down the voices of people who remember past 1954?" he said.

He said the resegregation going on in Goldsboro is not due to poor people living in public housing.

"We are segregated because of the designed shrinking of the central attendance area to no longer include all the Goldsboro city limits and the withholding of resources and buildings to accommodate the attendance lines that would produce diversity," he said. "Every time this board has built a school, it has redistricted, just not in the central attendance area."

Local attorney Glenn Barfield suggested it's time to acknowledge segregation exists in Goldsboro.

"The first thing that needs to happen is that you need to stand up and admit the central attendance area is segregated," he said. "That's the first step."

He said the board should also ask, does it matter?

"Because if you tell us that you know it's segregated but it does not matter to you, we'll stop haranguing you and find another way around it."

Barfield also took issue with the free transfer policy, which he said was a misnomer.

"I don't believe you get transportation, so the net result of that policy is that there is segregation both by race and socio-economically," he said.

He told the board he realized they could not control where people reside.

"You're not a board of zoning, that's right. You're a board of education. You control where people go to school," he said.

Janice Wooten, a 1976 Goldsboro High graduate with a son currently in the central attendance schools, asked, "How can we implement changes when everything you have in place is set up for failure?"

In addition to redrawing district lines, she suggested teachers be rotated very three years to serve in the low-performing schools and provide bonus incentives to them.

Chuck Allen, a city council member, also voiced his concerns and asked that the city be a part of the resolution process. He said he was particularly bothered by low test scores and the large percentage of low-wealth students in the city.

"This school's been a low-performing school for three years," he said. He said that highly qualified people from the central office could be assigned to work in the struggling schools.

He also suggested the board implement a policy that no school in the school system have more than a 30 percent low-wealth population.

As for the proposed facilities plan, Allen said the county as well as the school system have not shown sufficient growth in recent years, nor is it expected to in the next five years.

"You have to ask, do we really need to build any new facilities?" he said.

Commissioner John Bell was the only member of the facilities master plan team to speak after public comment. He said he appreciated all the input received.

"The county commissioners, and I'm sure the school board, want to see the best educational system we can have," he said. "At the same time, we have got to respect the taxpayers of this county and keep you informed of what we're going to do."

He also invited Goldsboro High School principal Patricia Burden to attend Tuesday morning's commission meeting, noting that "we might have a gift for you."