09/21/06 — Officials react to Goldsboro comments

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Officials react to Goldsboro comments

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 21, 2006 1:53 PM

Wayne County School officials say they are not denying the unequal racial balance in the schools in the Goldsboro attendance area. But until the series of community meetings across the county being held by the county's master facilities plan team are complete, there is nothing they can do about it.

Monday night's community forum to discuss facilities needs, held at Goldsboro High School, featured heavily charged comments about "resegregation" in the central attendance area. School board members said afterward that the meeting served its purposed -- to get people talking about the schools and the issues surrounding facilities needs.

This week's gathering was the third in the series. Meetings have been held at Charles B. Aycock High and Spring Creek High. Other meetings will be held at the remaining high schools in the county -- Eastern Wayne, Rosewood and Southern Wayne. Discussion at each will be centered around construction and maintenance needs at all of the county's schools. School officials have identified at least $90 million in construction needs across the county.

The five-year plan was developed based on recommendations made by Evergreen Solutions, a consulting firm hired by the commissioners to determine the school's building needs.

At the session Monday evening, several people expressed dissatisfaction over perceived inequities. Several noted that the $90 million plan contains proposals for new schools in outlying areas of the county but only $8 million in improvements to schools in Goldsboro.

But the bulk of comments from those in attendance veered toward racial imbalance in the city's schools. Suggesting that the central attendance area is bearing the marks of resegregation, several people recommended redrawing school district lines or halting the open transfer policy that permits students to move from one attendance area to another.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion about redrawing district lines, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said.

"This business of redistricting is an emotional issue and in my opinion, based on conversations I have had with people in the various districts, the majority of Wayne County is opposed to that," Taylor said. "I know a lot of people are opposed (to redistricting), but you heard the other night people who were for it."

Taylor said comments about redrawing district lines so that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is included in the city's central attendance area were unexpected.

"We have never been told by the base they would like to be redistricted. We'd have to call the base and see how they feel about it," Taylor said.

As for remarks about segregation, Taylor said there has been a decrease in the white population in the city, which has naturally affected the racial balance in the schools in the central district. It is wrong to suggest that the makeup of the population in the city is an accurate predictor of the racial balance in the schools.

Taylor said that fewer than 150 white children have transferred from the city schools, according to recent figures, belying the statement that there are droves of white children getting their education outside the central attendance area.

"Based on our statistics, it would stand to reason that the young white population of child-bearing years have moved out," he said. That lends itself to the notion that if the population in the city is equally divided, it could be because the white people who live there do not have children in schools."

"I certainly wish that our schools were more diversified," Taylor said. "But you can't control where people live."

Taylor said the views expressed at the latest public forum will be taken into consideration as school and county officials ponder decisions about the school districts.

"We expect to hear an array of comments and opinions when we're out at these community meetings," he said. "Our job is to receive input. Ultimately the board has to make their decision as to where we will go, and the county commissioners then make their decision accordingly."

At the same time, Taylor said, he still believes the two boards are trying to work together to solve problems with the schools and that he hopes the public will support the effort by setting a good example for students.

"Pointing fingers and personal attacks are counterproductive and does not serve as an example for our students with regard to resolving issues and problems," Taylor said.

School board member Thelma Smith said she was disturbed by the tone of the meeting, calling some of the remarks "unnecessary."

"Most people did a very good job in questioning and bringing out points and bringing things to the board's attention. But the name-calling and personal attacks I just thought were awful," she said.

"We serve our constituents well. To resort to that type of tactic ... I believe we are all out there trying to do the same thing, have the best system we can possibly have."

The central attendance area does have different concerns than the rest of the county, Mrs. Smith said. That is what the Goldsboro High meeting was designed to bring out, she added.

"We know that we don't need new buildings ... and I think the biggest issue is diversity and the transfer policy. That's what the central attendance area is concerned about. I hope it's something that we can address and to foster that, I think that would make the whole system complete if we could do that," she said.

Mrs. Smith said she was pleased to see city residents getting involved, as well as other communities where the meetings are being held.

"This is a serious time for all of us to put our heads together and bring ourselves together for the education of our kids," she said.

Board Chairman John Grantham said he was not surprised by anything said at Monday's meeting.

"There wasn't anything new brought up," he said. "This stuff's been going on probably 15, 20 years.

"We don't determine where people live, but we do determine where they go to school. As long as we do that, we're going to allow them to go to school where they live. We consider that to be a democracy."

The biggest thing that leapt out at the meeting, Grantham said, was "that we had a handful of people that feel that their voice counts more than the majority of the county. The board doesn't really subscribe to that opinion.

"They have a right to their opinion and we appreciate hearing it, but we don't necessarily agree with it."

Shirley Sims, board vice chairman, said it would not be appropriate for the board to comment. Members should be listening.

"It was a grand opportunity for people to say whatever they wanted to say. It's not the time for the board to respond or take action," she said.

Ms. Sims said that under the Evergreen Solutions plan, community input must be sought and then appointed committees will study the matter further before bringing recommendations to the school board for a decision.

"When these committees start to meet, they will be privileged with all this information, positive and negative. They'll pull from all the comments," she said. "If we were to take action immediately, we would in opposition with the community and Evergreen. "

Ms. Sims said she has attended all three sessions and is looking forward to hearing from the other three communities.