School redistricting plans remain disputed

By Michele Cruz, Graphic Correspondent

NASHVILLE—Concerned parents and teachers attended the Nash-Rocky Mount Schools (N-RMS) Board of Education meeting Monday night to let them know their opinions on the reassignment plans currently being discussed for elementary schools and the policy regarding placement of students of employees. The standing-room only crowd overflowed into the hallway outside the boardroom to support those who spoke and to hear the entire meeting.

The four plans proposed by the board for next school year include three different map scenarios redrawing district lines and the latest idea which would make Red Oak – Swift Creek and Winstead – Englewood into K-2, 3-5 schools.

Two teachers spoke concerning changes the board plans to make in their policy regarding school assignments for students of employees. The proposed revised policy, approved by the board, is now on the N-RMS website 30 days for public viewing and input. The board will vote on this policy for final approval at their next board meeting, March 5.

The public is invited to access this entire revised policy (JBCC/JBCD) at the following address: www.nrms.org/docushare/dsweb/View/Collection-173 or go to www.nrms.k12.nc.us and click "Inside NRMPS," then "Board of Education," and under "Board Policies," click "Under Review."

Six Red Oak parents spoke to the board against all four reassignment plans, while those in the audience held up their red signs against changing Red Oak Elementary School. They urged the board to remove Red Oak from redistricting plans that must be decided by March, to wait until all elementary school students' addresses are verified to evaluate true numbers regarding capacity at each school, and to think about building a new elementary school in Red Oak.

Three Englewood and Winstead parents voiced their approval of the board's K-2, 3-5 solution for the elementary schools in their community and one objected to this idea.

Red Oak parent Michelle Petrus and her husband, who moved here six years ago from Louisiana, said all four proposals are not good for her family or for the school or community. "I know this fourth proposal would not benefit my children in any way," she told the board, "and would still be splitting up a community like the first three proposals. You are now forcing us parents to have a look into private schools as an option. In all four proposals, we are having to send our kids to another community's school."

" I do not have to tell anyone on the board tonight why we bought land and built our home out in Red Oak," she said. "Red Oak Elementary School speaks for itself. It continues to make the grade and produce some of the highest scores for our county. To me, as a parent, this is a very positive point to make now with so many of our public schools not making the grade. As a school board, I would think you would be afraid to break up something that is working so well for our children's education."

"I do not understand why Red Oak Elementary and the Red Oak Community are being penalized for making Red Oak such a desirable place to live for young families. We, as Red Oak parents, just want the same right you are giving everyone else," she said. "We want our kids to attend the school in the community where we live."

Petrus explained that next year, if the Board were to split Red Oak – Swift Creek into K-2, 3-5, she would have one child in each school, creating scheduling problems for their family. "As a parent, I am not comfortable with my two young children being so spread out in distance from each other," she said, " I have always had the opinion that keeping elementary schools K-5 was the best thing for our younger children."

Red Oak parent Rhonda Davis told the board that she does not think that the real reason for reassigning students in her community is an overcrowding issue because Red Oak Elementary School "has been over capacity for the past 19 years." She believes these proposals are just a "quick fix for Swift Creek at Red Oak's expense." She said that a new school in Red Oak would be the only good resolution and urged the board, along with parents Rhonda Tanner and Tammy Clark, to take Red Oak out of all reassignment plans.

Tanner added that the board should not make a "rash decision" but instead wait until all elementary school students' addresses are verified to see the exact numbers at each school.

Clark, Red Oak parent and Nash Community College (NCC) instructor, said she is concerned overall with the public school system's graduates. Many N-RMS graduates who attend NCC must enroll in college prep classes for math and English, she said. Because the fundamentals for later learning are acquired in the early years of school, she said Red Oak students should not be reassigned in any way.

Red Oak parents David Orr and Rodney Vester said they believe the most important issue in their elementary school is the need for a new facility. "Make things better for our children, " Orr said. "Stop reassignment plans and look into the future. A new school is the answer." He concluded with a poem written by another parent which reminded the Board that "change is traumatic" and urged the board to leave Red Oak alone right now and take time to make their decision.

"I agree with statements from the board and N-RMS employees," Vester said. "Mr. Strickland stated that if this 'reassignment' was to be done in a timely manner, the focus should be on only Englewood and Winstead.' Mr. Jenkins 'asked why the board complicated the task of redistricting because he felt the system would need to redistrict all the elementary schools in a few years when a new elementary school was built. Then Mr. Bynum 'addressed the board stating that he felt they should be prepared to do only what needed to be done.'"

"The people of Red Oak agree with these statements from the board members," he concluded, "We respectfully look to the board to do several things: (1) Separate the Englewood/Winstead, Red Oak/Swift Creek issues; (2) Take all necessary time to study the new enrollment numbers for Red Oak and Swift Creek after the new attendance policy is in place; (3) Update the long-range facilities plan, especially where it relates to Red Oak; (4) Increase the support for the children of Swift Creek to ensure every child gets the best education possible; (5) Make sure the children of the Red Oak Community stay in their community school."

Englewood parents Lisa Godwin and Kelly Robbins both thanked the board for their fourth proposal, which would split Englewood and Winstead Avenue elementary schools K-2, and 3-5. "Thank you for listening," Godwin said. "I feel this board has listened, and I feel confident that it will make the best decision."

Winstead parent Allyson Clontz approves the K-2 and 3-5 proposal as well. She said she does not want her children to be moved to Benvenue Elementary School as proposed on the three map scenarios. She said that N-RMS offers the best education in the local area. Her family moved so that her oldest child could leave a private school and attend Edwards to eventually participate in the International Baccalaureate program at Rocky Mount High School when he is eligible.

Winstead parent Randall Bryant is against the K-2 and 3-5 split proposed because it would make it so hard for families with more than one elementary student to actively participate in and financially support two schools.

Teachers Pat Murphy and Meg Billups spoke out against the proposed revisions to board Policy JBCC/JBCD on student reassignment and transfer to schools, as regarding children and family members of employees. They both urged the board to use the current policy as is and enforce it rather than changing it to weaken the benefit for employees.

Murphy is concerned for her two grandchildren who are allowed to attend Benvenue Elementary School, where she has taught for 20 years. She is responsible for their after-school care and would like to be able to continue to help them through their school years.

Billups is concerned for her children as to which feeder school they might attend if the revised policy would change their current situation. She researched other school systems in the state and found that the current N-RMS policy is consistent with them, and more stringent than some. She urged the Board to leave the policy alone and allow employees to have this benefit as is.

Member Jim Lilley requested a report on how many people would be affected by the new JBCC/JBCD policy.

When the administration reviewed the K-2 and 3-5 proposal for any transportation, scheduling, transition, and instruction issues, no problems were found, Mark Strickland, N-RMS special assistant for auxiliary services, reported. Superintendent Rick McMahon also assured the Board that this K-2 and 3-5 change "would not present problems that we couldn't deal with."

Member Lilley asked when the administration would have the summary data on elementary students' address verification available for the board. Superintendent McMahon said they hoped it would be by the end of the month. Member Cindy Berry said she would like this as soon as she can get it.

Superintendent McMahon said he has met with principals of these schools twice to talk about this issue and is confident they understand the importance of the verification forms. Member Bob Jenkins said he believes the board should make no decisions on redistricting or reassignment until they see the address verification results. The packed audience applauded loudly.

Assistant Superintendent Hankerson added that an N-RMS mass mailing is planned for Friday, which will assist the administration in verifying addresses as those undeliverable will be returned by the Post Office.

Member Walter Wiggins asked what the longest trip would be for a student in the Red Oak—Swift Creek scenario. Member Lilley said when he reviewed the travel distance, the longest trip by car from home to school would be 15 minutes one way.

Staggering beginning and ending school day times was discussed as a possible plan for handling the K-2 and 3-5 schools as well.

Member Robert Bynum asked how these schools would function if one of them was under the state's mandated improvement. Assistant Superintendent Hankerson said the schools would be linked whether in improvement or in success.

Chairman Richard Horner said when looking at mobile unit cost versus per classroom cost in a permanent building, a strong argument can be made for needing a new elementary school. Vice Chairman Evelyn Bulluck commented that when looking at mobile units versus classrooms, all the schools in the system should be considered.

Member Mary Lewis Foote asked if the water/sewer issue at Red Oak Elementary School could be resolved with help from the City of Rocky Mount. Chairman Horner explained the history of the water source argument between the city and the town of Red Oak and a short discussion followed.

The board scheduled its annual retreat for Feb. 15 at Rose Hill. Member Bynum requested that discussion of N-RMS salaries begin at the retreat. He again requested a list of all central office administrative salaries, as he has done for months. He said he would eventually like to review all salaries system wide. He feels "old issues need to be addressed" that are not in accordance with current times.

Chairman Horner again answered that the information is in files in the central office that member Bynum has access to and can find this himself at any time. However, member Bynum reiterated that he would like the administration to retrieve this information.

Vice Chairman Bulluck made a motion that the administration honor his request before July 2007 in a closed session, and the board approved her motion with a vote of 6-3, with one abstention and one absence.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for March 5 at 7p.m. at the N-RMS central office in Nashville. The public is invited to attend work sessions and meetings and is invited to speak at the board's regular meetings.