Tuesday, March 31, 2009

IMPORTANT DATA, INCLUDING WHERE MONEY IS BEING SPENT

Due to a serious, on-going extended family health commitment, I have been unable to dedicate the time and energy needed to organize pertinent information relating to the mandating of year-round schools in Wake County. I realize that the Wake County Board of Education will vote on their budget today(Tuesday). I am sending this email primarily to pass on fact-based material that the public needs to know.

I hope that some of you will receive this letter in time to use all or any part of it to back-up assertions that the School Board needs to take another look at expenditures, etc., before proceeding with plans to cut certain programs or to continue the massive mandating of year-round school attendance in Wake County.

· For at least 4 or 5 years, the School Board, as a whole, has been given (over and over) irrefutable data on the historic failure, repercussions, etc, of mandatory school attendance

· They chose to basically ignore a petition three years ago that gathered, in less than a two–month period, over 3,000 signatures and comments from citizens opposed to the massive mandating of year-round schools.

· There have been claims that minorities have not expressed opinions on the MYR issue, yet in a News and Observer/ WRAL poll, conducted in May, 2006, 52% of Black respondents and 52% of Latino respondents indicated that they either opposed MYR schools altogether, or thought they should be optional.

· If you will recall, it was in 2007 that the massive conversion from traditional to MYR schools took place. Here are transportation cost comparisons from before conversion and after:

From Associate Superintendent Don Haydon (Spring, 2008) : “Transportation Department staff compared the monthly cost for July & August 2006 with the same months in 2007 to estimate a difference in cost for transportation of year-round students.  For July & August 2006, the average cost for each of the 2 months was $232,000 and for 2007, $472,000.” 

Additionally, “Ms Lee, my understanding is that the costs were the actual costs for system-wide transportation for the two months.  Thus, the data would show the cost for transportation for the schools in session in July/August 2006 as compared with those in 2007; those months were selected because most of the buses would be for multi-track schools.”
Unless I’m figuring something wrong, the system-wide transportation expenses just during the combined two months of July and August more than doubled, rising from close to half a million dollars ($464,000) in 2006 to close to a million ($944,000) in 2007.
*According to data from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the monthly average diesel price in N.C. was actually less in the summer of 2007 than in the summer of 2006.

· Utility costs per student have increased in the converted MYR schools, while the majority of those schools have experienced a drop in enrollment: Here are graphs (see pages 2 and 3) comparing utility costs per pupil prior to and after conversion of 17 elementary schools. Leesville Rd. Elementary is not included because cost figures for Leesville schools are figured as one entire campus.  Also, the graph on page 1 of this link shows the membership figures prior to and after conversions.  All of these schools fell short of projected membership figures for the 2008-2009 school year.

· Gang activity in Wake County is rising. WRAL reported in an August news story, that our school system has seen a 33% increase in gang activity since last year.  That’s in the schools! The same article pointed out that 49% of gang-related incidents last year occurred in middle schools.  Ruth Sheehan wrote an article in the News and Observer referring to a gang-related murder that involved testimony on the part of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Officials in L.A. drew a parallel between an increase in gang activity and an increase in "latch-key" children due to a year-round schedule.

OPINION TIME:

To think of mandating more middle schools to a year-round schedule is unconscionable to me in light of this information. In fact, maybe board members should consider cutting back on the current number of year-round middle schools.

Think about it - these “latch-key” children are easy prey. Home alone for weeks at a time during every track-out period. Lots of these families have older students who can watch over their younger siblings when all are on the same schedule, but now siblings have been split between different calendars

Claims that it is “too late” to convert schools back to a traditional school schedule and/or to drop plans to add MYR schools hold little weight when I consider issues such as the one just mentioned. Is there ever a time when we say, ”sorry – too late” when it concerns a child’s education, and even, potentially, a child’s very life? It’s a valid assumption to think that there are plenty of latch-key elementary children around as well. Even if skepticism exists over findings like those in L.A., dare we take a chance, especially if a conversion is not necessary? The least that our school board can do is to go back and explore that very question.

Too late they say? The Virginia Beach School Board just voted to convert back to a traditional schedule four year-round schools. They cited a savings of about $792,000, and claimed that,”most of the schools struggled to fill classrooms and [struggled to] show academic gains greater than schools on traditional calendars.”

I have already sent an email to School board members, asking that they delay a final vote on the budget. Too much is at stake. I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to get this out sooner.

Thanks Everyone…   Louise

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