09/09/08 — Wayne School Board takes offense to Best's view of schools

View Archive

Wayne School Board takes offense to Best's view of schools

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 9, 2008 1:33 PM

Wayne County Board of Education members Monday night expressed betrayal, hurt and disappointment over comments made last week by Commissioner Jack Best.

Best's comments that the school board was more interested in planting "flowers around the outhouse" than addressing school problems earned him a verbal trip behind the woodshed at the school board's Monday session.

Best also took the board to task for not addressing the dropout rate. Board members responded that Best's figures failed to provide a true picture of the dropout rate.

Prior to board member comments, Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability and student services, explained that the schools had enjoyed their best year ever under state and federal accountability measures.

Reading a prepared statement, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor called Best's comments without basis "but more than that appalling, demeaning, degrading, crude, unprofessional and unappreciated."

He added that Best "owes an apology to all students, teachers, support staff, central administration and the Board of Education for these remarks and such should have never been made by a sitting county commissioner."

Taylor said the schools' accountability and graduation results speak for themselves.

"These facts and figures are instead the truth whether believed or not," he said.

Taylor called Best's allegations that the school plan was inadequate and had incorrect estimates "baffling and surprising" since the schools had not been told that.

He called the schools' working relationship with County Manager Lee Smith "positive" and urged all those involved to set aside their differences and to move forward.

Board Chairman Thelma Smith agreed.

After each board member was afforded an opportunity to respond to Best's comments, Mrs. Smith asked her board "to rise above this. We have had our say. We need to keep our standards high. We are representing the children. We need to support them and stop comparing them and saying they are not as good as ones across the street.

"We are above that kind of rhetoric. We had had our say and now we can move on."

Mrs. Smith said business leaders stepped in months ago to help silence the bickering between the two boards. She said she had thought the two boards were on the way to "healing wounds."

"I think we have really been deceived," she said. "We went in with good faith."

Board member John Grantham said the public needs to hold elected officials and "would-be officials" accountable.

He compared Best's comments to a debate among Democratic and Republican nominees.

"Not one Democrat or Republican had a clue what they were talking about," he said. "That's pitiful, you are going to run for governor and you are going to fix problems. We run into the same thing on the local level where people don't know what they are talking about, but they are going to fix the problem."

"I am extremely disappointed," board member Pete Gurley said. "It is sad we have at least four members of our board of commissioners who are so ill-informed at this time we are supposed to be coming together. I hope people can see that the rift between the two boards does not come from the board of education; it is coming from the other side.

"He (Best) has insisted from the beginning that we have got a 30 percent dropout rate. It has been explained to him one on one I know on numerous occasions. But he is still going to insist this is what happened. We just have to put that aside. We have got to educate the people that this is not the fact and that people need to listen to the facts instead of one person's opinion."

He noted that the $22 million approved by the county for school construction includes only about $2.25 million in local funding. The rest is from the lottery and from the school system.

Gurley said it is a "misnomer" to say the county is providing the money.

"It is not such a tragedy to be ignorant, but it is really a tragedy to remain ignorant, especially when you need to know," board member George Moye said.

Moye called into question the dropout rate cited by Best.

He noted that the system's graduation rate has gone up 11 percent since the measure was first calculated for the 2005-06 school year.

The 72.1 percent rate is higher than the state average of 69.7 percent.

Moye said the 27.9 percent dropout rate includes students: who graduate in more than four years; with disabilities who earn a graduation certificate; who move out of state and cannot be located; who transfer to Wayne Community College's Adult High School Diploma program and graduate with a N.C. high school diploma; who drop out of school, return to school and graduate; and who drop out of school and do not return.

Taking into account, those students actually translates to a dropout rate of 5 to 6 percent, Moye said.

Board member Shirley Sims said it was hard for her to believe that in 2008 there are elected officials who fail or refuse to understand what happens in public education.

Mrs. Sims called Best's comments "hurtful."

"This has hurt me really beyond what I am able to express," she said. "He is putting out false information. That is an indictment on his character. It questions his integrity. And we don't need to let anybody feel that way about our employees."

Mrs. Sims reiterated that she had been hurt by the comments.

"The people that I had thought, for once, we were together with let the whole system down when they compare those buildings that we try to house our children in as outhouses. One thing we can say, if our children are in outhouses tonight, we didn't provide it -- it was provided by your fathers."

Board member Dave Thomas said when he read the article it was like he was playing football again and "it fired me up."

He said that the schools board had started in 2003 to put out information about facilities needs.

"That is plenty of time for action," he said. "We need some facilities."

For example, he said that Charles B. Aycock High School at Pikeville has 13 mobile classroom and 10 teachers who do not have a classroom and 11 homerooms that are in the gym and cafeteria.

However, he said, driving up U.S. 117 he sees a "beautiful building, Best Enterprise. It does not look like an outhouse to me. We need to get on the ball, commissioners."

"This (comments) didn't really surprise me," board member Rick Pridgen said. "When I go back four years ago, it seems like we were almost begged by commissioners to hold off until election time was over with and they'd get back with us on the facilities plan."

He said had he been a betting man and someone had commented on how good it was going he would have said, "Look in the paper any day."

Pridgen said the issue had surfaced at an unfortunate time, although no time was really good. He said over the last 10 months it had appeared the two boards had a good relationship.

"I thought everything was going pretty smooth with our facilities plan," he said. "But it was evident to me when this came out that it seemed to be some shift on their part to get the public's mind off of facilities and get them on the dropout rate or something else."

He added, "To come up with this, to talk about us planting flowers around an outhouse, it is things they have said to try to direct attention to dropout rates. It undermines the integrity of the whole thing that we have been working on. The whole process, to me, has been compromised because of a lack of intelligence, the lack of pride and integrity. How many times to we have to explain what Dr. McFadden has explained. How many times do we have to explain our facilities plan to them for then to understand it? Can we offer a remediation program for commissioners so they can learn -- like we do for some of our students? I am glad the public is finally seeing, what I would consider, some of the forked tongues we have to deal with commissioners on some cases."

Pridgen said the schools have children for only 15 percent of their time, yet commissioners want to hold them responsible for the other 85 percent as well.