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The School Board Watch


Who’s Been Naughty or Nice?

Buncombe made the Naughty List for continuing to mislead taxpayers and parents. The school board has been stockpiling money for capital projects, while this money could have been used in the classroom for educational purposes, like instructional supplies and textbooks. In fact, a whopping $37 million from Buncombe’s capital savings account was just budgeted as of December 1st for lavish expenses like state-of-the-art “food lab renovations” at each high school ranging from $300,000 to $525,000 each. Schools like ACRHS already have at least 3 teaching kitchens which include those for disabled students and consumer and family science classes.

At the same time PTOs feel pressured to fundraise for capital projects. For example, the Fairview Elementary PTO is single-handedly trying to raise $100,000 for a handicapped-accessible playground. Fairview has a special education program for disabled children. An extra red mark for spending millions on new astroturf at the high schools when disabled children go without an accessible playground.

In November, Buncombe County elementary schools made the Nice List by partnering with The Asheville Outlets, to hold a Countdown to Kindergarten event. Parents checked out bus transportation, the bookmobile and kindergarten curriculum, plus there were interactive activities for the children. Now that NC’s school choice initiative has increased competition, public schools must do more to attract parents. Buncombe has five charter schools with different educational approaches, along with on-line charters, home schools and opportunity scholarships to private schools. Competition encourages higher academic standards.

Back on the Naughty List, Buncombe wastes millions of dollars each year by not issuing contracts to the lowest bidder. Although legal, it is not desirable. Lobbyists in Raleigh have seen to it that laws were passed allowing the controversial Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) program. The Enka Intermediate School, along with Asheville City Schools’ Issac Dickson Elementary and Asheville Middle, were built by contractors selected for their “qualifications”, not price. Eighteen “qualified” contractors wanted to bid on the Enka School but were not allowed to do so.

Even when bids are taken, money can be wasted. For example, at the Dec. 1st school board meeting, five different roofing projects were bid out separately. One of the first rules of bidding is to bundle like projects together for a better deal or “quantity discount”. Not in Buncombe.

Back to the Nice List. The N.C. Academic Standards Review Commission will issue their recommendations for changing the common core standards later this month. If approved by the State Board of Education more rigorous standards will benefit Buncombe students. The state legislature’s summer reading camps for third graders who are not reading at grade level, have been extended to 1st and 2nd graders who need extra help.

More naughty shenanigans. In late May, The Asheville Tribune reported that Buncombe County Schools Math Specialist Margaret Small retired one week after news reports came out about her background. She was a Marxist and a graduate of the University of Chicago School of Education where Communist Revolutionary and Weather Underground Bomber Bill Ayers taught. Although she earned a doctorate in math education, her undergraduate studies focused on Politics and Women’s Studies. Under Small, a constructivist math approach was instituted in 2009. According to the website, Mathematically Correct, “This notion holds that students will learn math better if they are left to discover the rules and methods of mathematics for themselves, rather than being taught by teachers or textbooks. Constructivist math, also used in teaching Common Core math standards, puts the process above getting the right answers. Students must “re-invent the wheel” and do little to practice solving math problems, also known as drilling. Much to the detriment of our children, the current math specialist, Stefanie Buckner, also adheres to the constructivist approach.

It has also been discovered that Margaret Small’s lesbian partner, Peggy Baker, did a lot of business with Buncombe County Schools. Ms. Baker’s background includes serving as a locomotive mechanic, union staff member and community liaison in the Commission on Human Relations under the late Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago. With approval by Supt. Tony Baldwin, she has been paid for education consulting at Erwin Middle School, the Community High School and the Early College. This conflict of interest is just one example of the cronyism plaguing Buncombe.

On the Nice List are hardworking teachers, who deserve a round of applause. Many put in extra hours daily to ensure every child receives a year’s worth of learning. Although they are not paid bonuses for extra duties like administrators ($16,000 for some principals), they show their care and concern for educating our children on a daily basis. The state approved $750 bonuses for all teachers and administrators, plus step increases. The beginning teacher’s salary was raised to $35,000 ($52,000 total compensation with the county supplement and benefits.)

If parents and taxpayers take the time to attend school board meetings, speak in public comment or email school board members, the Nice List can only get longer. It takes an engaged public to ensure students come first.

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