School board tables mobile classroom offer

Feb. 07, 2014 @ 12:24 PM

The Union County Board of Education tabled discussion of the $3 million offered by the county commissioners for mobile classrooms, also known as trailers, at their Tuesday night meeting. They will discuss the offer next week at a workshop.

Parents packed into the Marvin Ridge High School auditorium and in multiple spill-over areas to voice their opinions about redistricting and support each other.

In public comment, individuals or groups are given time to speak and the board may not respond to the comments.

Lisa Hall, a Waxhaw resident and parent, spoke on behalf of the Berkshire community in Waxhaw.

She said she was “thrilled” that the county commissioners had provided money for mobile classrooms and said that is the number one recommendation from neighborhoods.

She urged the school board to “slow down” the process and take the time to consider all options, as many other parents did.

Hall said their neighborhood has been redistricted three times, but only has about 68 homes and is complete. She also said she was concerned about attending Western Union Elementary School, a sentiment other parents echoed.

She called it an “accident waiting to happen.”

Some parents prepared a Power Point presentation. While they were unable to present it, board members received paper copies of the slides. One of the slides references the Comprehensive Facilities Study from 2009.

In Western Union Elementary’s study, there is a note before the list of required repairs that says, “(The) school is very old and may require more work inside and out to be worth fixing up the school versus removing it and rebuilding a new school in the rear. The site has a large cleared field which would be a good site for a new school.”

Hall went on to say it was not fair to punish them for students who do not live in the area yet.

“Our children are not pawns in a game, (they) are our most precious commodity,” Hall said.

Jody Holler, speaking for the Blackstone community, said he was unaware of the educational and structural discrepancies in the county, he said he was “ashamed” of himself for that and that many parents said they found out about the discrepancies the same way and are also ashamed.

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“We are here to help you,” Holler said. He said they are there to help the board assist 42,000 students, not 5,800.

Holler said they need time to discuss options, seek temporary solutions, see what happens with the proposed charter schools and repair “and rebuild the irreperable.”

He said they need trust and transparency from the board and they need to be able to come to the board fully informed.

Holler said they trust the board that the redistricting proposal is about redistricting and not test scores, federal money or any other reason.

In the slide presentation, Holler said, they trust that the student projects are accurate and that the issue is 71 children and that if the growth rate does double it will go to 284.

“That is not a crisis, that is an issue,” Holler said. “We can fix this. We have time.”

Using the school’s data and methodology, Holler and a group of parents presented a “solid” short-term plan and permanent plan.

“Please open your minds,” he urged the board.

Sean O’Shea, speaking for the Wesley Chase community, urged the board to sit down with all the stakeholders, including parents, to discuss and find long-term solutions.

“(Redistricting) seems to be the go-to solution every time,” he said. He added that it has been done four times in the past 10 years.

He said it was a band-aid and they could not settle for it anymore and urged the board to find the “root cause” of the overcrowding.

Kim Ormiston, representing Potter’s Trace, questioned the board’s motive behind the redistricting plan.

“We believe that there has to be an underlying motive,” she said. She urged the board to accept the commissioners’ $3 million “life line” to temporarily solve the problem.

She said the different in test scores between the schools is “astounding” and that if overcrowding is the issue at hand, redistricting is not the answer.

“(This has) brought Union County together in an unprecedented way,” Ormiston said. “(We are) more united than ever.”

She said there was no urgency in redistricting and they could put caps on clusters in the meantime or encouraged them to explore academic restructuring, which would put the sixth grade into elementary school.

The slideshow presented benefits to a K-6 school, including decreased transportation costs, no loss in self-esteem, no decline in academic achievement and other reasons. The presentation cited a Duke University study looking into whether or not sixth grade should be part of elementary school.

“Redistricting is not the solution,” she said.

Prior to public comments, Board Member John Collins urged civility, referring to comments that have been made by parents with regard to Superintendent Mary Ellis, board members and other members of staff.

“I hope at some point, those of you that have clearly misunderstood this process and slandered your elected officials and members of the Union County Public Schools staff will find an equal passion within yourselves to apologize to the same,” Collins said.

He said they have seen an awakening in western Union County that is “long overdue” and encouraged parents to educate themselves on all the issues in the county and “that you will come to realize that Union County has lacked strong leadership and clear vision for some time now.”

He said their engagement can change that. His statement was met with some applause from the audience, though some reactions through social media suggested that the people were owed an apology.

The board will meet next week to discuss the commissioners’ offer for mobile classrooms. Cluster meetings for public comment will be held in the future.