03/17/09 — Comments split on school changes

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Comments split on school changes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 17, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne County school board member Rick Pridgen, left, Chairman George Moye and Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor listen during a public hearing Monday night on the district's reorganization plan.

A public hearing Monday night to discuss the school district's plans to reorganize four schools drew fewer than two dozen people and only six sharing concerns.

Evenly divided -- three supportive, three others opposed -- the session was adjourned in under 30 minutes, with plans for the board to render its decision at its April 9 meeting.

The school board announced the proposed plan at its February meeting, calling for the consolidation of two alternative schools and reorganization of two others in the city.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor reviewed the plan again Monday night.

Goldsboro Intermediate, which currently serves fifth and sixth grades, would merge with Dillard Middle, seventh and eighth grades, into one school on the Dillard campus.

Belfast and Southern academies, both grades 6-12, would be closed and relocated into the vacated Goldsboro Intermediate building. The move would result in one alternative school, divided into a sixth through eighth grade middle school and a 9th-12th grade high school on the first floor. Administrative offices would occupy the second floor.

Taylor said the proposal is expected to result in an estimated $945,000 savings for the district.

Don Barnes of Goldsboro was seeking further information about the alternative school, since he lives close to where it would be located.

"First of all, I applaud you for looking at ways to save money," he said. "Historically, what I have heard about the alternative schools is (students are) not necessarily the best and the brightest. It's students that have had issues in the normal schools and for one reason or another, have been moved to the alternative school."

Barnes said he had attempted to obtain more information about students assigned to the alternative schools -- be it for truancy, violence or drugs -- but his calls to the administrative offices had gone unanswered.

He said it was difficult to determine if the move would be a good idea, asking the board to categorize students and the reasons they are at alternative schools.

George Moye, board chairman, said, "We do not respond in a public hearing. We will get back to you."

Others were more confident of the board's intent.

Bud Gray, chairman of the county commission, thanked the board for saving the taxpayers money.

"I know you have put a lot of prayers and a lot of work into it," he said. "The board of commissioners is on your side, and we thank you for saving Wayne County tax dollars."

Ray McDonald, mayor of Mount Olive, where Southern Academy is located, addressed rumors about the alternative schools.

"(Southern Academy) has been here approximately 10 years or more," he said. "When I became town manager, I was not even aware it was there. Since then, I have not known of a single occasion when we have had to be called to that school for anything."

Except for one incident, he said, a probation violation that had "nothing to do with the school," the town's police chief, Ralph Schroeder, also in the audience, had "assured me that the school has not been a problem in the southern end of the county."

McDonald acknowledged the need for making changes, especially in light of the current economy.

"We have got to save every dime we can," he said, telling the board, "You were elected by the people of this county and whatever is best for the whole county, the town of Mount Olive is going to support you. We want to support you in whatever you're going to do."

Others expressed opposition to the proposal.

Sylvia Barnes, branch president of the NAACP, said she was against the "resegregation proposal," seeing the plans in stark contrast to the group's mission to promote diversity.

"It would further cement the central attendance area as an area racially isolated," she said.

Ms. Barnes suggested other options -- redistricting, magnet schools among them -- as more fair and equitable solutions.

"We do not want resegregation in our county, or our country for that matter," she said. "Why can't we be the first county to make changes?"

Phyllis Merritt James of Goldsboro, the parent of a Goldsboro High School student and two others in the city schools, said she has had the same concern for years -- redistricting of the central attendance area.

"We're not utilizing the space appropriately," she said. "Once again we're not utilizing our central schools."

She took issue with the school's plan to divide up a school building and use a portion for office space and said she would prefer other options be explored to save the district money.

Sandra Webb of Goldsboro, who has three children in the central attendance area, took aim at the school officials for the proposed changes.

"The idea of restructuring the central attendance area is not the stroke of genius as board chairman George Moye suggested," she said.

Citing declining enrollments in the city schools, she attributed some of the problems to the open enrollment -- transfer policy -- and schools failing to educate students.

"This is a failure of the administration, not of the students," she said.

While there might be overcrowding in some schools, the county has not seen significant growth, Mrs. Webb said. In 1996, she said, enrollment was 19,246. Ten years later, there was only an increase of 146 students.

"We need to redistrict the county, not restructure the central attendance area," she said.

Holding up a county map, she asked the board to consider expanding district lines rather than continuing to make changes in the same area every few years.

"From year-round schools to traditional schools," the city schools have been regularly targeted, she said. Two years ago, Goldsboro Middle and Dillard Middle schools were revamped to create Goldsboro Intermediate School.

"Not even three years later, we're ready to close Goldsboro Intermediate again," she said.

Some of the current problems could be attributed to leadership, she said, specifically the school superintendent.

"He's the one that's put us here," she said.

In a city that's trying to revitalize itself, she called it "pitiful" that the district is failing to adequately educate its children.

The meeting adjourned without further discussion. Moye said afterward that the board will discuss points made at the hearing, as well as written comments that might be submitted.

"We will talk and decide whether to move forward or drop the idea," he said.

At the same time, Moye noted that the hearing almost turned out to be a forum for people to talk about redistricting.

"But those two schools, Belfast and Southern Academy, have 20 to 30 percent white population so that is not segregating," he said. "That would add a few more whites in the central attendance area so that argument is virtually invalid."