07/15/08 — Duplin parents will protest consoldidation

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Duplin parents will protest consoldidation

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 15, 2008 1:51 PM

FAISON -- When the Duplin County Board of Education meets tonight in Kenansville its members can expect to have to wade through a sea of school colors worn by upset parents, grandparents and other school supporters.

About 50 people met at the Presbyterian Church in Faison Monday night to organize committees and to map out strategy, including tonight's show of strength and unity, to protest the board's vote last week to consolidate North Duplin Jr.-Sr. High School in Calypso, James Kenan High School in Warsaw and B.F. Grady Middle School near Albertson.

No money has been appropriated or land purchased for a new consolidated school that would be built in the Westbrooks Crossroads community in the James Kenan School District.

Tonight's school board meeting is being held to discuss the ongoing mediation between the board and the county commissioners over school funding. Most of the meeting is expected to be conducted in a closed session.

Meanwhile, protest organizers are planning a large-scale demonstration from 4 to 7 p.m., complete with signs and picketing, prior to the school board's Aug. 5 session. And they don't plan to leave once the meeting starts -- they are organizing a contingent of speakers.

Organizers said they need to speak not only to protest the vote, but to let school board members hear the facts that Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby is not telling them and to let them know how dissatisfied they are with what is going on with the board.

Monday's meeting was the outgrowth of a hastily arranged meeting last Friday that attracted a crowd of an estimated 350 people at the Calypso Fire Station. It was at that meeting the supporters said they needed to ensure a presence at all future school board meetings.

Supporters are angry over the school board's vote and the manner in which it transpired.

Facilities were not on the published agenda, but were added by school board member Reginald Kenan after the July 8 board meeting had started. The consolidation vote passed 4-2, with Jennings Outlaw and Willie Gillespie voting "no."

Although an accepted and legal procedure, school supporters call the move an "underhanded" effort to ensure they weren't present to voice opposition.

Three petitions that began circulating at last Friday's meeting already have more than 500 signatures. The petitions call for Doby's ouster, a formal investigation of the school board and opposition to the consolidation.

Copies will be given to school board members tonight even though the petition drive is slated to continue at least until the Aug. 5 board meeting.

One petition calls for the formal investigation of board of education members, specifically Chairman Emily Manning, Reginald Kenan, Hubert Bowden and Doby, by the state board of education.

Supporters said the request is based on their contentions that:

* The best interests of the students of Duplin County are not being served;

* The wishes of the people who elected these officials are not being given consideration;

* Outdated and unsubstantiated data, if any, is being used to make decisions;

* Board members have blatantly displayed prejudices toward certain schools;

* Inappropriate and unprofessional remarks have been made during open session.

All three school communities were represented at Monday's meeting and the consensus was that there is strength in numbers. They agreed that the protest must unify all of the school communities involved and must be based on facts and not emotions -- unlike the decisions they said are regularly made by the school board.

"There has to be a united community effort," said Henry Carr, president of the North Duplin Advisory Council. "We have to know the ideas of the other communities."

Dr. Alice Scott urged supporters to make their stand on facts and figures, not hearsay.

"Document why you say it is so bad," she said.

Just as important, they say is forcing Doby out -- either through getting him fired or him quitting on his own. They contend that he is the source of many of the school system's problem.

Carr added, "We cannot start rebuilding our schools until he (Doby) is out of here."

One audience member called consolidation an attempt to mask a problem with low-performing test scores at James Kenan rather than an effort to fix the problem. She said that adding the higher scores from North Duplin would artificially raise the scores without fixing the underlying problem.

James Kenan supporter Chris Heath likened the school board's consolidation vote with its decision to close the James Kenan School of Engineering -- a vote without facts.

"The first year it was a top-performing school and was to be a model school for North Carolina and they decided to close it down," he said.

Heath said a James Kenan group is perusing legal action and suggested that the North Duplin group is in the same predicament since the school board appears unresponsive to the students and public. He said his group also has explored the possibility of asking the SBI for a probe of school finances.

Organizers stopped short of seeking legal action, but left that option open.

Carr noted that the state may have to be involved in the controversy. However, concerns were expressed that such involvement might endanger local control.

Bob Kornegay said it might be a good idea to talk to state schools Superintendent June Atkinson and state school board Chairman Howard Lee.

"But you have got to be careful not to relinquish local control," he said.

"The (local) board of education hires and fires, not the state," Dr. Scott said.

Heath said the state board already is aware of Duplin's many school problems.

Supporters agreed that it is important to involve professional and business leaders.

However, Carr said the newest attack on community schools could be traced to a Warsaw Chamber of Commerce effort some eight years ago. Paul Rose responded that the controversy has been going on for 25 years.

"People with children in the schools ought to be listened to," Carr said. "People without children shouldn't be getting their (school board's) attention, but businessmen are dictating the education policy in Duplin County."

Committees were formed Monday to contact other school communities, to talk with school employees who have left the system, to keep the petition drive viable and to organize speakers for the Aug. 5 school board meeting.

"We need one speaker to lead into the next, to lead into the next and not turn it into a group of people who are all saying the same thing over and over," said Peggie Parks.

She added that the presentation needed to have a "bang" and not a whine sound.

"Bring in people from all of the districts and roll them all together," she said.

The committees formed Monday are scheduled to meet July 29 at 7 p.m. at Rones Chapel United Methodist Church about five miles southeast of Mount Olive.