3/22/16 Western controversy takes over redistricting discussion

Western controversy takes over redistricting discussion
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 3/22/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

   Redistricting filled the school board’s meeting room Monday, the hall outside and professional library downstairs at the Alamance-Burlington School System’s central offices.

   “Redistricting isn’t easy, but some of the comments on social media and in print, and perhaps some that we’ll hear tonight, are unconscionable and are bordering on libelous,” said Linda Ellington, the first of 30 speakers. “These are people’s children that are being talked about. These are public-school teachers and administrators and parents that are being talked about. Can we please proceed with some decency and dignity and respect?”

   The comments the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education heard for the next hour were pretty civil, and while sometimes emotional, there were no tears.

   The most recent version of the ABSS high school redistricting plan would divide the district into five wedge-shaped high-school zones – Western, Eastern and Southern Alamance high schools, as well as Williams High school and a proposed new high school not yet built. The change in the Western High School zone, moving hundreds of students to Williams and bringing hundreds more from Cummings and Graham high schools, became controversial in the past couple of weeks.

   One frequent worry is the plan deliberately puts many affluent, high-achieving students in the Williams zone for some ulterior motive. While he opposed the proposal, Preston Platt said the new Williams zone school district would benefit him by putting him in that high-income district.

   “It looks like someone is trying to create a privileged high school,” Platt said. “Why else would they change the lines to disrupt the most balanced, in terms of socioeconomic diversity, high school in the school district, which is currently Williams?”

   Supporters of the plan said the school board had to think of all the students in the county, and this proposal, while needing some changes, was a step in the right direction.

   “We have to acknowledge that Graham and Cummings are segregated schools …. So what you have done here is a first step to desegregating our schools once again,” said Marcia Isley. “Let’s think about the county as a whole. This plan needs to be tweaked, but that’s all it needs to be – tweaked.”

   Everyone agreed on one point: the plan needs work. Even its creator, ABSS Superintendent Bill Harrison, said so.

   “This is by no means a done deal, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Harrison said after public comments were done. “This is iteration four or five. We’ll see iteration six next month.”

   Harrison also dismissed the idea he was following some outside agenda.

   “To think I would favor one school over another is beyond absurd,” Harrison said.