School redistricting plan on hold

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
After hearing from more people opposing the proposed high school redistricting plan and 30 minutes of at times very heated discussion and finger pointing, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to go back to the drawing board and come up with an alternate plan.
Linda Freeze made the motion to take another look at the maps developed by OR/ED (Operations Research and Education), the educational consulting company the board paid $40,000 to come up with redistricting options.
“I still support redistricting,” she said, “but I think I acted too quickly in support of Redistricting Map No. 2.”
For one thing, Freeze said she was opposed to moving students from Faith to North Rowan High School just four years after they were moved from East to Carson.
“They embraced Jesse Carson and accepted the move four years ago,” she said, “and I feel like we need to leave them in place and not flip-flop the Faith community.”
Freeze proposed that the board set a work session in December and make a decision on another plan at the board’s next regular meeting on Dec. 21. At the request of Bryce Beard, Freeze agreed to amend the motion to set the final decision for the January meeting.
The board agreed to discuss the different maps at a Dec. 16 work session. Though the meeting is open to the public, Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said no public comments would be allowed at that time.
Affected residents will get their say, however, as new public hearings will have to be scheduled if the board decides to go with a different plan, he said.
The vote to consider another plan followed a 5-2 vote defeating Kay Wright Norman’s motion to postpone the high school redistricting until fall 2011. Emerson seconded the motion, but they got no support from the other board members.
Emerson said most of the 60 people who spoke at the hearings were opposed to the proposed redistricting plan and that the board had received petitions with signatures of several hundred more opposing it.
In making the motion, Norman said the board saw only three of the 30-plus maps developed by OR/ED.
Saying she meant no disrespect to the board’s Redistricting Committee ó comprising Beard, Karen South Carpenter and Vice Chairwoman W. Jean Kennedy ó Norman said, “I feel that the full board was not really privy to everything.”
“All the maps were there,” Beard said, adding, however, that some didn’t make sense. “The Faith issue is one that I wholeheartedly agree with,” he said.
Carpenter took issue with Norman’s comments, saying, “I will say I take that with a lot of disrespect.”
The committee spent a lot of time studying the maps, she said, adding that if Norman wanted to see the other maps, all she had to do was say so.
“We did what we were asked to do as a committee,” she said. “We were not asked to bring every single map back to the board to see. We tried to do our job.”
The committee narrowed the plans to three, presenting all three to the board at its September meeting and recommending Study Map 1, which called for changes in district lines for all of the system’s six high schools.
The board, however, voted at its October meeting to go with the plan affecting all of the high schools except Salisbury.
Norman noted that she voted against appointing the committee and felt that the whole board should consider the maps together.
Kennedy said the board members agreed when they voted to spend $40,000 on the redistricting study that they would move ahead with it.
“I feel there’s a lot of hysteria out there,” she said, “and I’m going to address it … We are a school system, not a system of schools.”
Kennedy said students at North Rowan High School deserve the same educational offerings as students at other high schools.
Patty Williams took issue with Beard announcing at the board’s October meeting that no student currently in any of the high schools would be affected by a redistricting plan. “We hadn’t made that decision,” she said.
Beard responded, “I bet you money that we’re not going to move any students because we don’t need to.”
The board voted 6-1 later in the meeting to allow all students currently in the high schools to remain in their current school, if they so choose, under a grandfather clause and continue providing transportation for them. Carpenter voted against the motion, saying she hadn’t had time to consider the ramifications.
Beard, who represents the Salisbury district, defended its residents against comments at the public hearings that they had received favoritism, saying no one in the other districts complained when the board moved 100 at-risk students from North to Salisbury a few years ago.
Yet, Salisbury High managed to keep its test scores up, he said.
Dr. Windsor Eagle may be the best principal in the state, Beard said. “I’m saying he’s that good,” he said. “It’s about learning. It’s not about the football games on Friday night.”
Beard said Salisbury High School does a better job than any of the other schools at educating at-risk students. “Why?” he asked. “Because they work harder. That school over there is like going to West Point.”
North is not the only school that has had adverse effects from redistricting, he said. Salisbury has, too, “and they’re not in here whining …”
Carpenter, addressing public comments later in the meeting, asked where all the public concern was in 2006 and before, when North and Salisbury students were virtually the only ones being moved.
Williams, who represents the South district on the board, was visibly angered by Beard’s comments, saying, “Thank you for your sermon.” Salisbury is not the only school that works hard, she said.
Beard said, “All I was telling you is look at the numbers.”
Williams responded, “That’s what you just said. I heard you.”
Carpenter, who represents the North district, took issue with comments made at the public hearings that the redistricting was due to North Rowan being moved from a 2A conference to a 1A conference at the beginning of this school year. “The athletic issue may have precipitated it,” she said, “but it’s not about athletics.”
Yet, she said people speaking against the proposed redistricting said it would decimate their school’s athletic and extracurricular offerings. “It can’t be OK to use that as consideration at one school and not the other,” she said.
Carpenter also addressed the concerns raised by some speakers about North Rowan High School being dangerous. “Really?” she asked. “Based on what?”
According to a report of violent acts at the high schools during the 2008-2009 school year, Carpenter said East had the most with 35, followed by Carson with 24, South with 15, North with six, Salisbury with two and West with one.
As for violations of the school system’s drug policy, East also led, she said, with 85 violations, followed by South with 84, West with 51, Carson with 37, Salisbury with 19 and North Rowan with 11. “So I’m not really sure where this violent center is in Spencer,” she said.
Only four of the 10 people who signed up at the Nov. 9 public hearing at Southeast Middle School to speak showed up for the board meeting.
Pastor Jerome Cloninger of Grace Lutheran Church said redistricting the system’s high schools to increase enrollment at North may be a short-term solution but would not address the underlying problems. “I would ask that you return to the drawing board and begin to ask some deeper questions,” he said.
George Foil said having students on Faith Road travel twice as far to go to North as they currently do to go to East makes no sense given the current economic conditions.
And by excluding Salisbury High from the plan, he said the board was essentially reverting to when the city and county school systems were separate.
Wanda Foil also asked the board to rethink the plan and addressed four things that parents, students and teachers want from board members. “First of all, they want to know that you are listening,” she said.
Secondly, Foil said they wanted the board to come together on the issue. “If you’re not standing together on the plan,” she said, “you can’t expect the public to support the plan.”
Thirdly, she said the parents, students and teachers want to know why neighborhoods closer to North Rowan than the areas proposed for redistricting were being left in the Salisbury High district.
“No. 4,” Foil said, “always remember that honesty and old-fashioned common sense are always major keys in the decision-making process.”
Steve Safrit also spoke against the plan, saying North’s declining enrollment was being influenced by lower test scores. “Do the right thing here …” he said. “Please do not force the plan on parents.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

Click here to see a map of the originally proposed changes.