07/15/07 — Supreme Court ruling has ripples in Wayne

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Supreme Court ruling has ripples in Wayne

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 15, 2007 2:02 AM

The Wayne County Public School system doesn't divvy up its students based on race, so the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring such a practice to be unconstitutional isn't expected to have any sort of real impact here. But that doesn't mean that local educators and community leaders weren't paying attention.

"We've never actually made any placements in our school system due to race or color so that decision doesn't affect any practice we've ever had," county school board member Rick Pridgen said. "Everything that we've ever done has always been in compliance with the (federal) Office of Civil Rights.

"All our schools are open to whoever wants to attend."

Still, the Rev. Dr. William Barber, state NAACP president and pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, was delighted that while the court's split majority rejected the use of race as the sole measure of diversity -- as it was being used in the Seattle and Louisville, Ky., school districts -- it did not reject racial measures entirely.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy left open the possibility of race being taken into account as one factor in achieving diversity -- particularly in terms of deciding where to build new schools and how to draw attendance lines.

"In reality, the decision from the NAACP's perspective is a 4-1-4 decision," Barber said. "Kennedy's opinion is hopeful because it says you can still pay attention to race."

Kennedy also encouraged school systems to take into account other factors, such as socio-economic levels and student achievement levels when trying to create diverse schools.

All, Barber said, are tools that could be used to address what he sees as deficiencies in the Wayne County central attendance area.

That area includes Goldsboro High School, which has come under close scrutiny for its performance in both the state ABCs of Public Instruction and the federal No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress measures.

"Goldsboro is unique. You have a city that is 50/50 black and white, so it makes no sense that our city schools are 99 percent black," Barber said. "The base is integrated, the mall is integrated, the city is integrated. Our schools ought to reflect that."

The problem, he explained, is that over the years as new schools like Eastern Wayne High were built, district lines were redrawn and students living inside city limits were no longer part of the central attendance area. In addition, other families have opted to move or transfer schools.

"In Goldsboro and Wayne County we're not talking about busing. We're talking about folks going to schools in the communities they live in," Barber said. "Let the central attendance area be the city limits. Over the years the central attendance area has shrunk. You don't have to bus. In fact, you're already busing folks out of the city."

He blames the re-segregation of the former city schools for Goldsboro's low-performing status.

"We know empirically it's hard to provide the best in terms of resources when you're providing the least in terms of integration," he said. "Integration is good for everybody. We don't have to have a failing high school. We can do better than that. We ought to do better than that.

"We should be ashamed of ourselves, having central attendance area schools that are almost 100 percent re-segregated"

But county school board Chairwoman Shirley Sims said they are not responsible for the lack of diversity.

She explained that much of it can be attributed to families moving primarily into the northern end of the county.

"I feel like if you move, you move to where you want your children to go to school," Sims said. "But all these who want us to diversify, if they had stayed where they were supposed to, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

The bottom line, though, county school Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor emphasized, is that the school board does not control housing patterns.

According to data from the 2000 census, he explained that between 1990 and 2000, the city of Goldsboro saw a 31.5 percent decline in its white population, accompanied by only a 0.7 percent drop in minorities.

He also said that in 1965, Goldsboro City Schools had a white population of 4,545 and a minority population of 3,431. In 2006, however, the central attendance area had a white population of only 50 students, as compared to a minority population of 2,609.

And of those students leaving the central attendance area in 2006, he added, minorities accounted for about 200 more transfers than their white counterparts.

"We see the value in diversity and we wish our schools were more diverse," Taylor said. "But this situation was not created by the board. We can't control where people live. That's been created by the housing pattern and the point is, white students just don't live in the central attendance area."

But, he said, the board's not likely to redraw district lines to just re-create that racial diversity.

If any lines are adjusted -- something that's a possibility depending on how the board's long-range facility plans play out, Pridgen said -- they are likely to be based solely on geographic factors.

Beyond that, Taylor said, the board will simply continue to work to encourage diversity through programs like the new Wayne County School of Engineering, which will draw students from across the county to the campus of Goldsboro High School this year.

"The board has not looked at redrawing lines. What the board has done is put in programs that will promote and attract diversity," he said.