Best: Schools need to do more
By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 13, 2011 1:46 PM
For the second time in as many months, Wayne Commissioner Jack Best unloaded a barrage of criticism at the county Board of Education, questioning not only how it spends its money, but complaining that it is rife with nepotism and favoritism. His comments came during a commissioners' meeting Tuesday.
But Commissioner Sandra McCullen, who is also the associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction with the school system, met Best's verbal attack with statistics and figures showing how the schools have improved in recent years.
Before the almost 40-minute back-and-forth exchange was over, most of the commissioners had joined in, sometimes veering off into societal and community issues.
"Two or three weeks ago, someone told me I acted like I was mad about how the money we sent to the school system was used to pay bonuses outside of for teachers in the classrooms and principals," Best said. "I don't know that I was mad as much as I was disappointed."
Best brushed aside comments by school board Chairman Thelma Smith that accused him of not cooperating with the school board.
He said that over the past years he has probably spent more time than anyone on the board of commissioners trying to work with the schools. Over that time, he said, there have been numerous joint meetings of the boards.
"What bothers me is that everybody wants to blame everybody else," he said. "They want to blame parents. They want to blame county commissioners for not having enough money. We want to blame the schools for not doing all of the right things. We want to blame the schools for not spending our money properly."
He noted that the front page of Sunday's News-Argus had a story about schools and right next to it was an article about the jail.
"Without education, we will have to put our children in jail," Best said. "Or we will have to feed them through DSS (Department of Social Services) or food stamps.
"We have three choices. We can either educate them, put them in jail or feed them for the rest of their lives."
Best said during his years as a commissioner one generation of youth already has been lost and another is on the brink.
He compared education to a business -- either it is making a profit or it isn't, he said.
There have been some improvements in Wayne's educational system, but not enough, he said, adding that the schools need to expend more resources in the classroom.
"Where we need our money spent is in the classroom, teachers who touch those kids every day," he said.
He said many students who live in "the projects," are not originally from Wayne County.
"Most of them come from up north somewhere," Best said. "They are coming down here and feeding off our tax base, feeding on our services, sending their kids to our school and selling drugs."
The public perception of the school system is that it is rife with "nepotism and favoritism," Best said.
Mrs. McCullen disputed Best's claims.
She said one of the reasons she chose to run for a seat on the board of commissioners was to help bring the two boards together.
"I don't think everybody believes what we just heard," she said. "(The school system) is not perfect, but we have had some improvements. We heard a discussion today about human nature. Whether it is now or 100 years ago, the bottom line here is respect for the individual, whether we live in the projects. Whatever our station in life is, we need to respect people for what they are and help them get into a better life.
"That is what government is all about. That is what local government is about -- we are here to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. We really need to work on that."
Mrs. McCullen said the schools are improving.
"First of all Wayne County had a higher percentage of schools meeting the ABC growth standard than schools across the state for 11 of the past 14 years," she said. "The percentage of students scoring at or above grade level on end-of-grade reading tests in grades three through eight increased from 62.4 percent in 1993, the first year of end-of-grade testing, to 85.1 percent in 2007."
In the three years since the reading standards were raised in 2008, the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level on end-of-grade reading tests in grades three through eight increased from 51.3 percent to 64.7 percent, she said.
From 1993 to 2010, county schools averaged 2.6 percentage points below the state average in reading, an area that still needs work, Mrs. McCullen said.
From 1993 to 2005 the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level on end-of-grade math tests in grades three through eight increased from 57.7 percent to 85 percent, Mrs. McCullen said.
Since then the math standards were raised and the percentage improved from 58.6 percent to 78 percent, she said.
The county has averaged 3.1 percentage points below the state in math -- another area that still needs improvement, she said.
She noted that Wayne County is a low-wealth county with more than 60 percent of students on reduced or free lunches.
There have been similar improvements in high school testing as well and the county consistently ranks in the top 10 regionally in federal No Child Left Behind ratings, she said.
The graduation rates have improved, but more works remains, she said.
"So we have had a lot of improvements and one of the reasons is the help this board and city of Goldsboro has (given to help improve the graduation rate)," Mrs. McCullen said. "I do want to thank our board for having the consensus to do these kind of things."