Editorial: Get the facts and use them

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education is hoping to take politics out of the equation by hiring a Raleigh research firm to perform a study ó including a land-use survey as a central component ó that could lead to a long-range redistricting plan.
It’s not a bad idea. Using the cold, hard facts such a study would produce might shield the school board from some of the criticism that’s made members back off proposed redistricting plans in the past. Those aborted attempts include one proposal that could have prevented North Rowan High School from falling so far below capacity it’s been moved into an athletics conference that will force student-athletes to travel hours for games, sometimes on school nights.
The board voted 6-1 Monday night to pay Operations Research/Education Laboratory $40,000 for the study, which it will likely finish by the end of April. Board member Karen Carpenter pointed out that’s only about $2 per student in the system, and it could yield a wealth of information.
Operations Research, which has worked with other school districts across the state, will consider growth patterns in Rowan, transportation efficiency, neighborhoods and schools’ capacities. The land-use study will help determine the best attendance boundary lines, school system officials said.
The board could have paid the company $25,000 to gather data without performing the land-use study, but including that information could be the fairest way to figure out which schools students should be attending as the county’s population grows, the board members believe.
Still, while such a plan may squeeze some of the politics out of redistricting, it won’t take emotion out of the equation. Even though such feelings might not be on the level of “tribalism,” as board member Bryce Beard put it, they do prove that folks in different parts of the county feel a fierce loyalism to the schools where they already send their children and, in many cases, think those are the best schools in the county.
As it prepares a plan that has the potential to affect many of the 21,000 students in the school system now and more in the future, the current board and future school boards need to make sure that all schools get what they need to be considered the best in the county for the students who attend them.
And though any redistricting plan ó even one based on cold, hard facts ó certainly won’t deflect all criticism, if they’re going to pay for an objective study, board members need the courage to use it.