But First, A Few June Facts – Did you know…
• The school board voted to spend $80,000 for consultants. The original $5.5 million Discovery Academy STEM High School renovation was to include a half court gym and commercial kitchen but the money ran out. Now “consultants” will be hired (without taking bids) to “design” the gym and P.E. facility, an exterior courtyard and the commercial kitchen. The project is to be completed by Aug. 2016.
• Buncombe’s Math Curriculum Specialist, Margaret Small (a radical feminist who espoused Marxism and taught a Lesbianism 101 class in a small NY college) retired exactly one week after media exposure. Her replacement, Stefanie Buckner, supports Core Plus Math – an integrated math method that leaves students with weak math skills and unprepared for college math. Dr. James Milgram, Stanford University Math Professor expressed great concern with both this method and its counterpart, Common Core.
• The school board approved over $600,000 in bonuses to administrators for “extra duties”; but when teachers perform extra duties, they are not paid bonuses. Although many teachers pay dues to the teacher’s association or “union” (Buncombe County Association of Educators-BCAE), the elected officers have not asked for equivalent bonus pay for teachers.
•Former BCAE teacher “union” president, Anna Austin was a cheerleader for the BCS administration rather than teacher needs. She was duly rewarded with Teacher of the Year status last May and was just named asst. principal at Erwin High School.
•Buncombe school sports coaches were awarded nearly $1 million in pay but no pay is allocated for academic team coaches (Science Olympiad, Debate Team, etc.).
•Buncombe taxpayer dollars will go to a Political Action Committee (PAC) sponsored by the N.C. School Boards Association. This PAC can use the money to support individual candidates or lobby the state legislature. Local school boards are best suited to contact state legislators regarding local education needs.
• The county will spend an additional $4 per student for textbooks this fall. Over the past 3 years the amount of county money going towards classroom instructional supplies and textbooks fell drastically from $1.8M to $1.1M – this is a 37% decrease in classroom materials funding. Misplaced priorities?
• School lunch prices were raised another 10 cents at the June 4, 2015 meeting. The price hike will take effect in August. Elementary lunches will cost $2.15; Middle school lunches $2.20; High school lunches $2.45 and extreme meals $2.90.
Violation of NC Open Meetings Law
In violation of N.C.’s open meetings law, GS 143-318.12 (b-2; d), the Buncombe County Board of Education did not notify the public of the important June 30th meeting via school websites or posted announcements as required by law.
Just prior to the 9 a.m. start time, the school board attorney was alerted to the problem. Board Chair Ann Franklin then stated that “because the meeting was not properly announced, we will not have the meeting today but will have it on Thursday of next week.”
Then Board member, Pat Bryant, openly defied the law and moved that the interim budget and budget amendment be voted on behind closed doors, outside the public purview. The board unanimously voted to do so; however, their actions were negated and an identical meeting was held two days later on July 2, 2015, at a special called meeting (only 24 hours notice was required and this was fulfilled.) The budget and amendment were passed retroactively to June 30, 2015.
Nineteen Minute Meeting
It took only 19 minutes for the school board to rubberstamp the interim budget, budget amendment and STEM high school design project, spending over $200 million with no questions or discussion. However, the board did discuss a review committee’s recommendation to keep ‘The Kite Runner’ on the reading list for all high schools in the district.
Cindy McMahon, school board member said, “I am grateful that this process has happened in our community and that so many of us have read this book and are talking about it. And this is what democracy is about.”
After making this statement, she and the rest of the Board unanimously voted to keep the book on all high school reading lists, which means the Board will not allow parents at any Buncombe high school to challenge ‘The Kite Runner’ again. This decision was a slap in the face of democracy and parental rights; parents should have the right to offer input into their children’s education.
This decision was about more than a sexually explicit novel (graphic descriptions of child rape/sexual assault) written at a 6th grade reading level. It was about disregard for academic rigor and the proper guardianship of our children. Many academically rigorous books could have been chosen, such as NYT Bestseller, ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, that also address Islamic culture.
Some board members called taking the book off the list, censorship. This was not about book banning or censorship but judging whether a book is suitable for whole class instruction. The book has stayed in school libraries, public libraries and bookstores.
Other board members felt opting-out was a fair option. In general, opting-out is not a good solution because there is great value in class discussion. This situation forces an unequal education, unless there is a significant group opting out. It can also set up the student who opts out to be ostracized and bullied.
This is not the first time the open meetings law has been defied. On May 11th, the A.C. Reynolds High School Media and Technology Advisory Committee (MTAC) held a closed session – in defiance of N.C.’s open meetings law – to decide ‘The Kite Runner’s’ fate. In the past the Buncombe Board of Education has been caught in violation of fire safety codes and electrical inspection laws. The Board has also misled the public into thinking they are competitively bidding out large construction projects like the Enka Intermediate School. While legal to hire a general contractor or Construction Manager at Risk based on “qualifications”, it is not advisable. The Enka school has already gone over budget.