Split board approves call for a public hearing
Despite a call by the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to delay action on the redistricting plans until after school started, the Union County School Board moved forward and scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Aug. 16.
At the meeting Tuesday, Aug 2, Union County NAACP President Nathel Hailey was sharply critical of the board’s process of redrawing the voter districts to reflect the changes established by the 2010 census.
“The manner by which you have conducted this redistricting process has not been transparent.” Hailey said. “The manner by which you have conducted this process has not encouraged public participation.
Without these elements you are building distrust between the community and its elected officials.”
Hailey said school officials have not been forthcoming in sharing demographic data with the NAACP and providing them with the data he said was needed for an independent analysis.
“We can’t decide if this is something we can support or if this is something we have to talk to the Department of Justice about,” Hailey saidl. “If the plans are borderline regressive, the Department of Justice will take into account problems with how the process was conducted – problems like lack of transparency and obstacles to public participation.”
Hailey said the community has not had enough time to analyze the plan and called it premature to move ahead, asking the board to show respect to the community.
“Even though the plan has not moved any school board members out of their districts, the lines have been drawn that make it harder for some of them to be re-elected and still represent their district.” Hailey said.
Dean Arp, school board chairman, began the redistricting discussion by noting that Deborah Stagner would not be present as the board’s contract with the consulting firm Tharrington Smith allowed for only two meetings with the attorney and exceeding that number would come at a greater cost. In lieu of Stagner, staff attorney Michelle Morris would be available to answer any questions the board may have concerning the redistricting.
Arp then asked for a motion to call for a public hearing on the redistricting plan, saying that after the hearing and receiving public input the board could make specific requests which would be relayed by staff to Stagner. Any changes could then be incorporated into a draft revision and presented at the Sept. 6 meeting for a final vote. Arp explained this was similar in method to how the board handles student redistricting after a public hearing.
“It makes more sense for the board to work with one (redistricting) plan (and) make revisions reflecting concerns by the public or the board rather than multiple plans with multiple revisions,” Arp said.
The board approved a redistricting plan timetable in June that called for a review of the recommended plan at the July meeting, to be followed by a vote to approve the plan at the Aug. 2 meeting.
At the next meeting in July, board member Carolyn Lowder requested Stagner create an alternative map that redraws her district [District 2] so it would remain geographically located on the eastern side of Union County, as opposed to the recommended map changes where District 2 would extend across the lower half of Union County to the western border of the county.
The recommended map revisions were drawn using the 2001 districts as a baseline. Each of the six voter districts must have 33,500 people with a maximum allowed deviation of 5 percent. While the board did not vote on Lowder’s request, Stagner agreed to create an alternate map drawn to Lowder’s specifications.
Board member John Collins made a motion calling for the public hearing, which was seconded by David Scholl. Board members John Crowder, Lowder and Laura Minsk felt the board should review the alternative plan reflecting Lowder’s requests before moving to a public hearing. After discussion about alternate dates for the public hearing, Aug. 23 or 30, the board voted 5-3 for Aug. 16. Sherry Hodges was absent.
The hearing to solicit feedback and comments from voters about the plan will be held at the Central Academy for Technology and Arts auditorium, in Monroe, at 7 p.m.
Strategic plan revised
The board approved changes to the Union County Public Schools strategic plan, updating objectives and goals to reflect achievements since the last update in October 2008. The plan calls for preparing students for the 21st century by focusing on globalization and technology and partnering with the Global School Network to develop more in-depth understanding of global events and their impact on students.
The goal to meet or exceed state and federal achievement standards was advanced. For example, the plan calls for the schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress of 85 percent by 2014. The previous goal of 70 percent was exceeded in 2010, when the school system achieved an AYP of 80.8 percent.
Another major goal in the strategic plan is increasing the high school graduation rate annually by 3 percent, exceeding the 2009-10 baseline of 84.2 percent.
Established goals concerning the achievement gap; hiring and retaining qualified teachers; promoting positive character development, equitable allocation of resources and community involvement through volunteerism; and community service were all addressed in the strategic plan revisions.
“We often use the phrase ‘measure what you treasure’ and one very dramatic example is the graduation rate,” Lowder said. “The state is very serious about raising the graduation rate by putting some teeth into their goals and tracking results.”
“I’m very proud of our [high school] graduation rate,” Superintendent Ed Davis said. “Union County Public Schools have an 89.1 percent graduation rate, which is a five point increase from last year. Central Academy had 100 percent graduation rate, Marvin Ridge 99.3 percent.
“I’m very proud of Monroe. Their graduation rate this year was 71.3 percent – that’s up from 68.1 percent in the previous year. There’s a lot of growth and a lot of hard work being done by the schools all over Union County.”