Thursday, March 27, 2008

Follow-Up Comments on the Joint Meeting

Here's a copy of an email I sent tonight to the School Board members, CC'ing the County Commissioners.


Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2008 10:02 PM
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Subject: Follow-Up Comments on the Joint Meeting

Dear Members of the Wake County School Board,

I hope this letter finds you well-rested after an Easter break. I know that last week was a busy and intense time for you. As I’ve stated before, I do not envy your job, nor do I take your service for granted.

I wanted to follow up on a few points that came up during the meeting with the County Commissioners on Wednesday of last week. I warn you in advance that this email is extremely long. But my frustration with misleading and conflicting remarks has spilled way over the three-minute limit allowed at your board meetings. I am not just "sounding off" either. I am presenting facts that you need to be reminded of if you are to gain back the public's trust, and if you are going to make fair decisions. Knowing most of you, I place my trust in the fact that you will read every word of this very carefully. I beg you to do so. This is important.

First of all, take a look at some of the comments made last week about the 2006 bond. Not enough was asked for, the public wouldn’t have supported a larger amount, no one wanted taxes raised, we had no choice but to convert schools to mandatory year-round, etc., etc. While it is true that folks don’t jump for joy at the thought of a tax increase, there was, in fact, some support for doing just that if it meant no forced year-round school attendance. It was a “lesser of the evils” for many, many parents. You don’t have to just take my word for it. Remember the petition against MYR schools that gathered over 3,000 signatures in just a few weeks? The petition that seems to have been ignored, despite the large number of comments shared? I’ve gathered some here for you – and yes, I’m including them all even if it makes this email pages long! I hope you really will read every one. I promise I did not take these excerpts out of context. I quote:

· Please raise taxes

· Increasing taxes in this case is not a bad thing.

· Raise my Taxes Instead of Year Round!

· raise my taxes to support my services!!

· Taxes will need to be raised

· I am also in favor of raising taxes to provide for those schools

· Wake County residents do have the money to pay more taxes but you as the school board just want to push for this year round option

· I have some suggestions for the board to consider: Raise impact fees on new housing and development, approach large corporations for educational funding, and raise our taxes.

· It is a responsibility for every tax payer in the country to have ensure good schools…

· Let's take the high road and fix the capacity problem properly-my taxes are going up no matter what we do anyway. A band-aid solution does no good in the long run.

· Willing to pay higher taxes to keep schedule as is.


· And raise our taxes.

· Please Raise my taxes- No ST YR

· I strongly dissagree with year round and am willing to pay higher taxes to prevent it.

· Also, from what has been reported the amount of tax increase to fund the needed schools is not that big of an amount especially when you consider all the effects of mandatory year round.

· I will pay more taxes to keep my kids on the same schedule!

· Please just teach the children with my TAX dollars and leave the schedule alon[e] that IS NOT BROKEN!!

· I am willing to have my taxes increase…

· I would rather pay more for taxes and less for endless babysitting and track out camps. We moved here from Wisconsin where we had the BEST public schools in the state and we were HAPPY to pay more taxes because 1. our houses maintained their value due to the excellent schools and 2. our children were getting a fantastic education.

· Please raise my taxes--it will be cheaper for our family than to have my two teenagers lose their summer jobs!

· Raise my taxes instead. Year round schools are only a temporary fix, depriving our children of their summer experiences.

· raise my taxes instead !!!

· Pass bonds & increase taxes & BUILD

· No to year-rounds! Increase my taxes

· don't settle for a short-term fix---both the board and commissioners need to make the hard decision to raise taxes to pay for physical schools for all children present and future in the county

· I would be willing to raise my tax rates to avoid this year-round fiasco.

· I am willing to pay higher taxes to continue a traditional school calendar.

· [Our] taxes need to be raised to help provide the necessities with all the growth that is occurring

· Raise Taxes

· I favor a one-cent sales tax to raise funds for school construction

· There has got to be other solutions that do not anger and disrupt sooooo many families.. I would be willing to pay more taxes to keep my kid's summer longer..

· I would rather see higher taxes both to homeowners and businesses to support the needs of the community.

· Raise taxes and put the money to making Raleigh and Wake county sought after by individuals and businesses for our school system - not avoided because of it.

· a need for a tax increase in order to construct the schools necessary to provide for the current and projected growth of Wake County.

· Please consider raising tax rates to fully fund schools.

· My parents will pay more taxes to keep us [siblings] on the same schedule. Please pay attention to what people are saying.

· we know you get what you pay for, and are very willing to pay higher taxes to support the schools.

· I will be happy to pay the increase in taxes; the value of our educational system is worth the investment.

· I have no problem paying more taxes to maintain the traditional school calendar

· We need to be willing to pay higher taxes ourselves to invest in our future (our children) –

· It is time that we adjust taxes to keep up with the changing times.

· I'm opposed to year-round schools for many reasons and am willing to pay more sales tax, property tax, or other fees to retain year-round schools

· I am okay with higher property taxes,

· Also, there are many Wake County families that would happily pay more taxes to permanently end the possibilities of mandatory year round schools and constant threat of reassignments by building the proper number of schools.

· We need to raise taxes or pass a higher bond issue.

Oh, but the polls showed us differently, you say. Let’s take the time to examine those polls. The News & Observer / WRAL poll from May, 2006 did indeed show opposition to a large bond or to property tax increases. BUT, that same poll showed the following results:

What percentage opposed year-round schools altogether or thought that they should be optional?

ALL – 50%
BLACK – 52%
LATINO – 52%
WHITE – 49%

Did you point out those results? No, they would not have helped advance the MYR school cause. I did point them out to you, though. This was also the poll that showed the following results when respondents were asked to describe the quality of the Wake County public schools - “fair” or “poor” percentages were as follows:

ALL – 47%
BLACK – 56%
LATINO – 56%
WHITE – 45%

I could go on, but you get my point, I hope.

What about the Chamber of Commerce poll conducted in Feb./March of 2006? That’s another poll that you pointed to as proof that a larger bond would never pass. That poll focused on bond-related questions and questions about year-round schools. While support for larger bonds was low, it is important to examine the results more closely. How reliable were they? Well, for starters, 63% indicated that they had heard very little, if any, information about the bond issue. 53% said they had heard or read some, very little, or nothing at all about the idea of year-round schools. Yet they were the ones answering questions on those very subjects! And with 43% of participants saying that the Wake County Public school system has “gotten off onto the wrong track”, this poll is pointing out, once again, that citizens simply do not trust the school system to spend their money wisely. Also, the wording of certain questions was definitely leading. For example, when year-round schools were mentioned, it was pointed out that they would “conserve classroom space” and cause “less demand for more buildings”. Such words as “mandatory” or “forced to attend” were never uttered, of course, and negative aspects of year-round conversion were never mentioned.

How could you place so much stock in these surveys unless you didn’t take the time to examine every answer in depth?

Now I realize that you had education professionals, political leaders, business groups, etc. giving you “advice” and urging you to make this decision or that decision. I also know what inevitably goes on behind the scenes in cases like this. I am not saying that you make any of your decisions lightly, nor am I second-guessing your motives. Yes, you have to listen to all sides, but when it comes right down to it, the parents are the ones who know what is best for their children. They have simply not been listened to, and look what has happened…

Besides, the County Commissioners publicly stated, on more than one occasion, that they would agree to whatever amount you asked for in the bond. (See Commissioner Gurley’s quote in this WRAL piece.)

As for statements that you had no choice but to convert all of those schools to mandatory year-round (also stated at the joint meeting), well that is simply not true. I know for a fact that I, and others, presented you with other sound, less-intrusive scenarios to at least seriously explore. These options were not without drawbacks, but many of them would have, at the very least, cut back on the number of schools you converted, and arguably had the potential to prevent conversions altogether. I'm not referring to drastic measures, such as split sessions, etc., but to viable, sensible suggestions. You might have been told that you had no choice, and you might have agreed that the current plan was the best choice, but it was just that---your choice.

I also know that you were advised more than once that your predictions for enrollment increases were too high. That advice came from well-educated parents who presented convincing research results. I'm not saying you should have "bought in" to their advice, but according to them, they were quickly brushed aside.

As far as successfully passing a new bond? Good luck. In 2006, citizens were grossly misled to believe that a "yes" vote on the bond had nothing to do with year-round conversions. And yet, since the bond's passage, many bond supporters have been quick to point out that the public voted their support for MYR schools when they voted in favor of the bond. Someone even said as much in last week’s meeting. Here are some of the comments sent out to citizens prior to the bond’s passage, explaining what their "yes" vote would mean. The first is from a very active community leader, especially in education-related areas. She wrote: "Let's approve the funding for the schools - and then let's work with the appropriate authorities to ensure that our schools are built in the best possible way and parent's choice continues to be a valued aspect of the school system. We can have both." Really? Here's what Mrs. Goodnight and Mr. Atkinson wrote in the large color mailing that went out: "Bond monies cannot be used for administrative costs, but will be restricted to new construction, renovations and repairs, technology upgrades and land for future schools." If that’s the case, then how can you possibly say that approval of the bond signaled support for mandatory conversions??

Talk about enraged citizens! Many voiced their shock at finding out that the "just pass the bond and we'll work with you on the MYR issue" words were just that - words. They felt betrayed and lied to - and rightfully so. Now, I know plenty of supporters of the last bond referendum who will work diligently against new bond proposals. Biting off their nose to spite their face? Maybe so, but they were stabbed in the back one too many times.

For eight years now, I have patiently persevered in my fight against the forcing of year-round school attendance. This email is not meant to put you on the defensive, and believe me, I know what you’ve been up against. I simply cannot stay quiet, however, when comments are made that leave out vital facts.

I will leave you with a comment that was recently written on a survey conducted by the Chatham County Board of Education. That school system is in the process of searching for a new superintendent. At the beginning of the search, Board members sought input by releasing two surveys, one for teachers and staff and one for the community. All of the survey comments are worth skimming, but one in particular caught my eye (#43 here). It read, "Please do not consider anyone from Wake county schools. We have incorporated enough of their policies and procedures at this time. In addition, they are not a good example to follow in handling overcrowded schools." That is not an isolated case. I (and many others) continue to receive emails from out-of-town strangers who are thinking twice about moving to Wake County solely because of the school situation. I answer them as fairly as I can, but my response is hardly as positive as it would have been a couple of years ago.

The warnings that were ignored from months and years ago are being fulfilled even as I write this letter. Our county is slipping, and public school supporters are disillusioned to say the least. For the sake of the families who are barely hanging on, please, please turn away from more mandating of year-round schools! Things have not turned out as you imagined, and no, Judge Manning’s ruling is not to blame - you know I speak the truth when I say that you were duly warned about the repercussions of the decision you chose.

For the sake of the children, do not simply dig us into a deeper hole. It won’t be easy, but you can start us on the road to healing. You, not the administration, have the power to do so. Take the first step towards patching up broken trust.

As always, I thank you your time and consideration of this matter. Once again, I apologize for the length of this email, but I’ve needed to bring some of this information back to the forefront for a long time.


Louise Lee

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Important Meeting Today

At 9:00 this morning, the Wake County Board of County Commissioners and the Wake County Board of Education will meet jointly to discuss school issues - mainly as they relate to funding. I plan to attend the two-hour meeting, and will report back after the fact.