East-West merger remains under fire

Published 9:50 am Monday, August 13, 2012

JACKSON – A complaint against the Northampton County Board of Education has been filed with NC AdvancED.

On Thursday, Richie Harding, president of Concerned Citizens of Northampton County to Save Our Children (CCNC), announced a complaint has been filed by the grassroots organization through the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

According to an Aug. 3 letter from Harding drafted to Donna James, director of NC AdvancED, the complaint lodged against the school board is for “violations of SACS CASI Accreditation standards. Specifically the board’s process and ultimate decision to consolidate the county’s two high schools, Northampton High School East and Northampton STEM West at the East campus for the 2012-13 school year raise significant concerns of good governance and leadership.”

The group is requesting NC AdvancED, as a governing body of all the accredited schools in the county, “to investigate the violation of the standards set forth by NC AdvancED and to guide the board and county on running an effective and efficient school district.”

In the 12 page document the CCNC raise four points of concerns.

#1-The school board’s two-year, confusing and ambiguous decision-making process prevented meaningful community engagement.

The complaint cites studies and recommendations about consolidating the two schools, including a study by 2009 MBAJ which found Northampton East could not handle additional students to parallel the 2009 grade restructuring on the western end of the county (adding 7th and 8th graders). It also mentions the School Board’s attempt to seeking funding from the county for the construction of a centrally located high school, which was denied by the commissioners.

#2-The board’s decision to merge at East was based on inaccurate or incomplete information and violated System Standard 2.2: Governance and Leadership.

Harding notes the varied information given out by the administration and studies regarding the condition of East and the cost to revamp the facility.

“The scope of the studies and cost estimates varied, and the September 2010 DPI report, the only direct comparison of both facilities, showed West to be more efficient,” the document states. “The April 2010 SFL+a study only looked at East and offered two options for minimum costs of continued use: $2,605,640 for five years and $18,016,255 for 25 years. However, even with the 25 year investment, the facility would still have severe deficiencies and multiply costs over time.”

It was noted that East’s auditorium could only accommodate 113 students and the DPI report “considered some additional needs and recommended a minimum of $386,000-$605,000 in architectural work and $355,000 in HVAC, plumbing and electrical renovations.

The document compares these figures to ones given by then Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews who reported in August 2010 that it would cost $4 million to increase capacity at West. Matthews noted the figure was from a telephone conversation with a representative from architectural firm who constructed West. Matthews noted that was an opinion and an unqualified answer.

The DPI report recommended $273,00-$446,000 for architectural work and $46,000 for HVAC, plumbing and electrical.

Harding also cities Matthews again from February 2011, stating “conversations with two architects confirms construction for a 650 student addition would exceed $2 million as a minimum.”

Three transportation scenarios given to the board by Matthews are also included in the document:

All high school students to East- $85,000 annual increase; estimated five percent of students (with a) two hour ride.

All high school students to West-$122,500 annual increase; estimated 11 percent of students (with a) two hour plus ride time.

All middle (school students) to West, all high school (students) to East: $177,300 annual increase; estimated 40 percent of students (with a) two hour plus ride time.

“Especially after conflicting information about facility renovation costs, the transportation cost should not have been a determinative factor in choosing one facility over another,” the document states.

#3-The Board’s decision impermissibly favors the district’s small number of White students.

“The board’s decision will disproportionally benefit the small minority of White students in the district,” the document states. “The county is largely African American, but has a small concentration of White school-age populations in the east.”

Harding states that in school year 2011-12, there were 104 White students at East and 16 at West with 87 percent of the district’s White students attending Northampton East and 13 percent attending West.

“This concentrated population of White students has been insulated from school consolidations grade shifting and repeated reassignment to which the overwhelmingly African American student body in the western portion of the county has been subjected,” as reported in the complaint.

# 4-The board’s actions reflect poor planning and resource management, have created mistrust of the system, and leave stakeholders doubting whether the board considered their concerns about student opportunity.

Harding states the two year decision making process, factual misrepresentations, and its final decisions have caused severe mistrust amongst stakeholders and violate System Standard 2: Governance and Leadership.

The board is also accused of violating Standard 3: Teaching and Assessment for Learning, and Standard 4: Resource and Support Systems.

The complaint comes a few weeks shy of the opening of the 2012-13 academic year at the newly consolidated Northampton County High School.