sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Thursday, October 07, 2004

This morning, at the ungodly hour of 7:30a I went to the meeting between assorted county commissioners and school board members. It was kind of chilly this morning, and I could have easily stayed in bed. At least they had coffee and sausage biscuits.

Was anything accomplished? Yes and no.

The meeting was requested by county commissioner Mike Barber, who is concerned about violence in the schools and believes commissioners and the school board should work together to help solve the problem.

I would say the biggest thing was hearing superintendent Terry Grier express the schools' needs in plain English instead of the educational "bureaucratise" he often uses at school board meetings.

"I'm going to get straight to the point, because it's early," Grier said. "We're not going to get from where we are to where we want to be without financial support and funding."

"We do not have the budget. I want to be clear about that," school board chairman Alan Duncan added. "Our board is committed to excellence in schools. We are not funded to achieve that excellence."

That said, Grier, pointed to statistics which state that, overall, suspensions have decreased. In 2003-2004, there were 346 fewer students suspended short-term than there were in 2002-2003. Since 1999-2000, there were 1,206 fewer students suspended.

The number of long-term suspensions tell a slightly different story. From 1999-2000 to 2002-2003, suspensions increased, peeking at 550 on '02-'03. But they went down to 493 in '03-'04.

"The numbers are what they are," Grier said. "Sometimes it's what we think we know that gets us in trouble."

Barber kept pressing the issue of the school resource officers. In his mind, an SRO at every high school could help remedy the school violence problem.

"There's not a single logical argument not to have another adult in the schools," Barber said. "Let's codify a mission statement for our SRO program."

But Grier and Duncan presented a two-front argument to that request.

More SROs, they argued, were a reactive, not a proactive, approach.

"These are societal issues," Duncan said. "School issues are merely a reflection of society. I assure you there is a substantial part of the community that believes (extra SROs) create a police state in the schools. There are a lot of very different attitudes and a lot of bridges to build."

"SROs are a reaction to issues that occur much earlier in life," Grier said.

Grier also complained that additional funding could have helped the school system reduce class size, which helps kids learn better and become less violent. The extra funding could have also included $1 million for the "conflict resolution training" which, Grier admitted later, only about 25 percent of which would have gone toward working directly with the students.

Board member Dot Kearns made an excellent point when she said that unfunded state and federal mandates emphasizing testing had diverted guidance counselors and teachers, for that matter, away from their traditional roles as mentors for troubled kids.

"The demands on our teachers, through no actions of this board, means someone has to be there at all times to deal with testing," Kearns said. "Guidance counselors are now dealing with testing instead of traditional counseling roles. The counseling function is so much less than it used to be."

My sister was, at one time, a guidance counselor at a rural high school and that was one of her major complaints.

County commissioner Jeff Thigpen summed the meeting up best when he said, "We need to develop a plan. The reactive nature of this means we need some guidance from the school system."

So while nothing concrete was accomplished, it was gratifying, as one who covers both the school board and the county commissioners, to see them sitting across the table from each other instead of remaining isolated in their respective bizarro worlds (I use that as a term of affection). Perhaps something can be accomplished. Barber deserves credit not only for calling the meeting, but for drawing Grier out of his shell.


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