By Cash Michaels
EDITOR - This is part 3 of a multi-part look at Walnut Creek Elementary School, and the other high poverty schools that the conservative-led Wake County School Board will be creating in Southeast Raleigh as it moves forward with its controversial neighborhood schools policy. Studies consistently show black and Hispanic students are relegated to poor instruction, a lack of resources and a second-rate education in high poverty, racially identifiable schools. The property values in neighborhoods with high poverty schools also suffer, as families move away.
The Carolinian examines the question, “Will all or any of this happen in Wake County?”
This week, Wake Schools Supt. Anthony Tata announced the formation of an in-house task force to pull together a new, long-term student assignment plan for the district.
Problem - whatever Tata and company come up with must be guided by the board’s Policy 6200 neighborhood schools mandate.
Simply put, no matter how hard Tata says he’ll try to avoid it, the plan he hopes to present to the board by late spring will generate more high poverty schools in Southeast Raleigh, to join the $25 million high poverty school Tata will unveil in August - Walnut Creek Elementary off Rock Quarry Road.
A school touted to possibly have a staggering 81 percent of its predominately black and Hispanic student population qualify for free-and-reduced lunch (F&R), with over 51 percent classified as “low performing.”
With the Wake School Board yet to figure out how to overcome an equally staggering estimated $100 million budget shortfall this coming school year, and with no plan on how to handle the extraordinary costs high poverty schools have proven to ring up, there are serious questions about whether this board, and its superintendent, really know what direction they’re going in with high poverty schools, and if they, and the community, can really afford the high-priced “ticket to ride” to get there.
“It costs a heck of a lot more money to provide support and resources for kids in schools with high concentrations of poverty,” Wake Supt. Del Burns told The Carolinian in February 2010, just days after he announced his resignation for refusing to carry out the Wake School Board’s neighborhood schools mandate.
“You’re going to have a higher cost to retain employees at a segregated school,” Derek W. Black, director of the Education Rights Center at Howard University, and visiting professor at UNC School of Law, told The Carolinian last October.
“Either you’re going to have low quality teachers,” Black continued, “or to get high quality teachers, you’re going to have to spend twenty-five percent more to get them there. It doesn’t make sense to pay teachers extra money, when you could pay them all the same and have integrated schools.”
The Republicans on the Wake School Board apparently disagree.
Almost a year ago this month, March 23, 2010, after dismantling Wake’s ten-year-old student diversity policy, the board’s Republican majority moved to adopt the resolution establishing a directive mandating community-based neighborhood school assignments.
At that meeting, Kevin Hill, a former Wake principal and one of the four-member Democrat board minority, offered an amendment to the resolution to study what the possible costs of the high poverty schools that will be created by adoption of Policy 6200 could be.
“In that we’ve heard a great deal today about budget, I think it’s exceedingly important that we have some kind of an idea about cost assessment [and] the fiscal obligations that we’ll incur,” a tape of that board meeting shows Hill saying.
As both a former principal and chairman of the Wake School Board, Hill knew that the change from socioeconomic diversity, which the then new board majority had just dismantled, to neighborhood schools, and the implication of high poverty schools, was going to cost the system significantly more in funding it just didn’t have.
Over the past several years, Wake Public Schools had lost approximately $100.00 per pupil, meaning that system principals had to cut services to students. Projections from the board’s Student Assignment Committee had at least 15 high poverty schools resulting from adoption of a neighborhood schools policy, Hill told The Carolinian last October, meaning that dollars would be stretched even further.
“I think it’s vitally important, at the outset of any plan you put together, that you have to flesh out the infrastructure of that plan, and then look at the associated costs,” Hill told The Carolinian.
Reassigning black and Hispanic students to high poverty, racial identifiable neighborhood schools in Southeast Raleigh, only to determine after-the-fact that the system didn’t have the requisite resources to give those schools the special tools they would need to help those students succeed, seemed a recipe for disaster not only to Hill, but to his two Democrat board colleagues - Dr. Carolyn Morrison, a former Wake principal herself; and Dr. Anne McLaurin.
“We heard tonight that teachers staying in these high poverty schools are going to cost between $15,000 - $20,000 more than other teachers,” Morrison told the board during discussion of Hill’s amendment. “So I think the financial challenges of this proposal are certainly something we need to consider.”
“We’re going to need more money,” Dr. Morrison concurred.
But after doubts were expressed by the Republican majority, including Vice Chair Debra Goldman asking the board Democrats to “define” a high poverty school, Hill’s amendment failed to pass by the predictable 5-4.
In the year since, Hill has tried to get the board to commit itself to carefully and comprehensively look at the ramifications of what a neighborhood schools plan could mean fiscally, but to no avail.
“I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘Failure to plan is a plan to fail,’” Hill told The Carolinian.
If, and when the Wake School Board finally decides to take a stark look at their possible future, they can look to the west at rival Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which has poured tens of millions of dollars into working with its economically disadvantaged students since 2006 after a judge accused the school system of committing “academic genocide” against black students, and threatened to padlock several schools shut until they got their act together.
The result - CMS’ black students, thanks to relentless spending, have out-pointed Wake’s black students on the state’s end-of-grade tests per the last two years.
“[Charlotte] dedicated a tremendous amount of money to their high poverty schools that arose as a result of their [neighborhood schools] plan,” Kevin Hill told The Carolinian last October. “In the last two years they were cutting money almost as fast as they added it to those schools.”
But the tremendous price tag has come back to haunt CMS in spades.
Tuesday night, the CMS Board approved the layoffs of 559 teachers, librarians and counselors for next school year, in addition to hundreds of other system staffers, and the earlier approval of closing ten inner city schools in the black community, all to close the same projected $100 million budget hole Wake County Schools face.
Many of the teachers most likely to go are teaching in CMS high poverty schools because many are non-tenured with possible low performance ratings. According to the Charlotte Observer’s Jan. 29th story, the CMS Board voted to cut 134 teachers “…specifically earmarked for helping low-income children.” Special classes for at-risk students may have to be scaled back, CMS officials told the paper.
It’s the third straight year CMS has laid-off teachers.
In the midst of the budget crunch, CMS has shuffled its list of the most neediest high poverty schools in the system for next year. CMS designated 74 schools as FOCUS schools that are offered “extra discretionary dollars for supplies,” and “weighted-student staffing” that provides “additional teachers to help low-income students,” according to The Charlotte Observer.
Problem is these schools and students aren’t going to get the same level assistance as in years past, and CMS officials don’t know yet how much they will get next year.
The fiscal situation is so bad in CMS, that a February poll sponsored by child advocacy groups there showed 78 percent favored paying higher property taxes to support the school system.
Supporters of the conservative-led Wake School Board backhand the Charlotte experience, saying that Wake won’t make those same mistakes.
They maintain that the money saved from eliminating busing for diversity can be used to amply deal with the high poverty schools situation if it erupts.
The assumption is that Wake’s spending for its 143,000 students is comparable to Charlotte for its over 135,000.
Last Sept. 17, the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-base conservative think tank that, ironically, officially advises and trains members of the Wake School Board, published a study about how much it costs to “educate a high school graduate in your county.”
Based on 2008 figures, Wake, which graduated 78 percent of its high schoolers, spent $123,006 per graduate, compared to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which graduated at 66 percent, at a cost of $153,703 per diploma.
Well over a $30,000 difference per graduate between Wake, which is still operating under socioeconomic diversity for now, and CMS, a school system where over fifty percent of its student population qualifies for free-and reduced lunch, and are virtually warehoused in expensive, and failing, high poverty schools.
“As a taxpayer, I think we should operate as fiscally responsible as possible,” then Wake Supt. Del Burns told The Carolinian in February 2010. “Our [school] system is a great example of this. [Socioeconomic diversity] is one of the least expensive methods for educating all kids.”