07/11/08 — North Duplin parents speak against closing

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North Duplin parents speak against closing

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 11, 2008 1:46 PM

CALYPSO -- Storm clouds gathered over the Calypso Fire Station Thursday night while inside the mood darkened as a standing-room-only crowd of about 350 North Duplin Jr.-Sr. High School supporters protested the Duplin Board of Education's decision to consolidate North Duplin High School, B.F. Grady Middle School and James Kenan High School.

As people entered, they were asked to sign petitions opposing consolidation, seeking school Superintendent Wiley Doby's dismissal and asking for a state investigation of some school board members.

The anger and frustration directed at the school board was prompted by a surprise Tuesday night 4-2 vote by the board to consolidate the three schools.

The issue was not on the agenda, but was added by board member Reginald Kenan, said school board member Jennings Outlaw of Mount Olive who received a round of applause when he stood to speak. Outlaw and board member Willie Gillespie voted against consolidation.

Thursday night's speakers, as well as audience members, accused the school board of keeping the public in the dark about the proposal and urged those present to attend the next school board meeting en masse.

The school board's actions also called into question the ongoing mediation between the school board and the Board of County Commissioners over school funding. The two boards are in mediation to solve the impasse but Commissioner Cary Turner of Mount Olive said Tuesday's vote put the mediation in limbo.

"They have made it very clear, mediation is over," Turner said. "How do they expect the taxpayers to pay for this? They have a total disregard and lack of respect for the taxpayers."

Turner said commissioners had been cautioned by their attorneys to be careful in their comments in order not to jeopardize the mediation.

He said the school board vote was an attempt "to sweep the problem under the rug." A merger won't solve the problem, he added.

"Merging a low-performing school (James Kenan) with a high-performing school (North Duplin) -- the low-performing students will be forgotten," he said. "If there is a problem, it needs to be corrected. A new school will not fix the problems."

Turner said he has received many calls about the issue and that he had been opposed to the school board's consolidation plans from the beginning.

He added that there "has been nothing but contention since he (Doby) got here."

Commissioner L.S. Guy of Faison, a former school superintendent, said people need to get the facts regarding the schools and try to keep emotions at a low key.

"It is an emotional issue. But get all the facts you can and debate on those," Guy said.

Guy said that if the vote had happened as he had heard, then it was "completely inappropriate."

"The way they changed it was not the way it should have been done. It should have included the people," he said.

Turner said people in the northern part of the county had dropped their guard and "we got knocked on our backside" by the school board.

Turner said he had promised B.F. Grady School supporters that if they met as a group and reached consensus that would be his vote. He said the same holds true for North Duplin.

North Duplin guidance counselor Gloria Morgan spoke on behalf of Gillespie who could not attend, but who supported North Duplin. She said board member Chuck Farrior had said he would be willing to talk to supporters as well.

A number of speakers stood to oppose the move.

The Rev. Greg Day of Calypso said school board member Reginald Wells had said Tuesday that North Duplin "never wanted to come over to the other side of the tracks." That, he said, insinuated that the district was racist.

"That is totally false," he said. "What is true is that James Kenan and North Duplin want to keep their community schools. Only the Board of Education, rather some of them, want to make it a racial issue."

He said that Kenan and board Chairman Emily Manning contend students in small schools are deprived of some advanced classes they need to succeed. But the fact is that 34 of the 55 North Duplin seniors received college scholarships, Day said.

He said the board is making emotional decisions, not ones based on facts.

He called comments made by Mrs. Manning and Kenan "rude and disrespectful."

"These are the kind of comments that divide communities and cause people to lose respect for people in those offices," he said. "They said the decision had to be made that night, but it wasn't important enough to put on the agenda beforehand. They are willing to vote to do away with two high schools and it is not worth putting on the agenda ahead of time?"

Responding to an audience question, Outlaw said he had heard of no timeline for the plan.

In response to another question concerning how the issue was added to the agenda, Outlaw said there was nothing illegal about it, but whether it was morally the right thing to do was another issue.

Asked what their recourse was, Outlaw said he didn't know.

"The logical approach would appear to be to convince school board members the vote was not a good idea," he said.

Outlaw said he wasn't sure if the opponents of the plan would be allowed to speak at the next school board meeting.

"Maybe they can write us in," said Steve Jones of Calypso.

One woman said she had spoken with James Kenan parents who said children were not being considered at all.

It's not just North Duplin,
it is James Kenan as well, she said.

Outlaw said he was not sure that James Kenan was pushing consolidation even through he knew they wanted a new school.

As the meeting wound down plans were discussed to establish committees to have persons attend board meetings and help keep the public informed.

It was also suggested uniting with B.F. Grady and James Kenan.

Violet Goodson of Mount Olive called the school board "divisive and shortsighted" and said people need to attend every school board meeting to ensure that such decisions were not made with public knowledge.