Speakers oppose RSS redistricting plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Only 22 people spoke at Monday evening’s public hearing on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education’s proposed high school redistricting plan, but most of the other 300-plus in attendance made their views loud and clear with applause, cheering and even a couple of standing ovations.
Delegations from the East and West districts opposed the plan because of the perceived negative effects it would have on their schools. People from North favored the plan because it would boost enrollment at their high school and move it back to a 2A athletic classification.
None of them were happy about Salisbury High School being excluded from having any district lines changed. “That’s almost criminal,” said Ernie Price, drawing loud applause from the almost-full house in the Knox Middle School auditorium.
“I can’t help but see the unfairness before me,” said Harold E. Wilhite Jr., speaking on behalf of the West Rowan district about the redistricting plan outlined on a large map at the front of the auditorium.
Mark Jennings said he has yet to understand why students on Sells Road and Mocksville Avenue are remaining in the Salisbury High district when they’re closer to North Rowan.
“There seems to be no explanation for this,” he said. “If you want to do the right thing, close your eyes. Do not look at race … or wealth or politics, and do the right thing.”
Jennings’ comments drew most in the audience to their feet.
“Country club! Country club!” shouted one man.
Board chairman Dr. Jim Emerson explained the rules for the public hearing at the beginning: Each speaker had to sign in and keep their comments to under three minutes. “We know that this is a contentious issue and it is an emotional issue,” he said. “It is to us on the board.”
Board member Kay Wright Norman timed the comments, informing speakers when they had 30 and 15 seconds left. All seven board members were at the hearing.
Douglas Cline, a parent from the East Rowan district, was the first person to speak against the proposed redistricting plan, which he said did not achieve a desirable goal.
Quoting Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity ó “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” ó he said parents who purchase homes or select building sites based on the schools they want their children to attend should make the decision about what’s best for their education.
“It is not morally right to force them out of their communities … Cline said. “The issue should not be about numbers or volume, but what works and what doesn’t and how to fix it. … If your homework is done correctly,” he said, “I promise you the answer is not the proposed redistricting plan.”
Cline’s comments drew loud applause from the audience.
Brent File, also from East, said he opposes forcing students from East Rowan High School to transfer to North, where end-of-grade test scores are 43 percent lower and there is a problem with gangs and drugs. “If it comes down to it, I’ll end up pulling my kids and going to private school,” he said.
Randy Hyde, a North alumni, said the school system needs to tighten up on its transfer policy in order for any redistricting plan to work. The alumni and parents of North are watching, he said.
Chris Sifford spoke on behalf of the North Rowan Connection, saying the board can’t solve the school’s problems just by adding more students. “Resources, resources, resources are the key …” he said.
North Rowan High School students interested in taking classes to learn a particular trade, he said, now have to travel to another high school to do so.
Daniel Trivette said the proposed redistricting plan would leave West Rowan High School in danger of losing its successful band program.
Krista Monroe, a North Rowan alumni and parent, said parents from other districts are concerned about their children having to travel a few more miles to get to school when North students are having to travel an hour and a half to participate in school athletics.
This has an adverse effect on their academic success and health, she said, because they don’t get enough time to study or sleep.
North’s declining enrollment led to the school being moved from a 2A athletic classification to 1A this year, leaving Salisbury High the only school in the 2A classification. The other four high schools are in the 3A classification.
Monroe asked board members “not to only take the popular and easy road, but to do what is right and necessary.”
Derrick Foxx, also of North, said to board members: “My question today is are you going to do what you say you’re going to do or do want the people say what they want?”
Foxx said the most important objective should be that students at all high schools receive the same educational opportunities.
Javin Honeycutt, an East Rowan graduate and parent, said the proposed redistricting plan would have six school buses going down Clark Road, a rural road near High Rock Lake, “which makes no sense.”
Eddie White, retired as captain with the N.C. Highway Patrol district office in Salisbury, said the prevalence of gangs in certain school districts is an issue. As of today, White said he was informed by a source that there are 60 known gang members in Salisbury and 80 in East Spencer. This is not a school issue, but a community issue, he said.
“Do the right thing,” White urged board members. “A 1A school can get it done.”
Spence Brunson, a teacher, said the board needs to consider equity for students as far as quality of education and not just equity in school enrollments. Brunson said he and his wife decided to buy a house in the East district because they wanted their children to go to the schools there.
Angela Mills said the redistricting plan stemmed from North’s change in athletic classification. “I do not send my children to school to play sports,” she said, adding that she and her husband chose the East district because of the academic offerings and higher test scores.
“If I wanted my children to go to school in the North Rowan district,” she said, “that’s where we would have bought our house.”
John Leatherman said the board and parents need to work together and not fight over the redistricting issue. The board needs to come up with a redistricting plan that is best for all people involved, he said. “Again, this is not a good plan.”
Kim Henderson said her family has attended East Rowan schools for generations. “That’s what we intended for our children …” she said. “Please don’t use our children as Band-Aids for a problem that runs much deeper.”
Henderson said she received an e-mail from one of the board members saying that parents were causing all the controversy over redistricting. “We don’t want to cause problems,” she said. “We just want what’s best for our children.”
Tony Thomason said moving students from East to North is not helping them. “You’re hindering them,” he said.
Thomason said his son is a Mustang. “He’s always been a Mustang,” he said. “He’s going to stay a Mustang.”
Mike Julian said he thinks a person’s constitutional right “to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” applies to deciding where to send their children to school. If he has to sell his house and move to keep his children in the East district, Julian said, “so be it.”
Cheryl Savage-Massa, also from East, said the proposed redistricting plan would adversely affect people’s lives and questioned whether moving students to the North district is a safety issue.
Eric Warsley, who said he was not affected by the plan, said an outside company that “knows nothing about anything in the county” came up with the different scenarios.
Sam Collins, who lives on Clark Road in the East district, said if he had known the county was going to propose moving his house to the North district, he would have never moved to Rowan from Mecklenburg County. Collins also said he would sell his house to keep his children in the East district.
“This is a travesty,” he said of the proposed plan.
Kevin Gilland- said the bottom line is that students at each high school should have access to equal classes. It’s the students that are in your hands, he told board members, not the parents.
Though the board had allotted 90 minutes for the 6 p.m. hearing, it only lasted an hour. A second hearing on the proposed redistricting plan will be held Monday at 6 p.m. in the Southeast Middle School gymnasium. Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.