Selma is officially calling on the Johnston County Board of Education to end the “de facto segregation” of poor and minority students into Smithfield and Selma schools.
In a 4-1 vote last week, the Selma Town Council adopted a resolution opposing the current attendance boundaries for Johnston County schools. The resolution also condemned the school board’s “general lack of proper funding” for Smithfield and Selma schools.
The strongly-worded resolution denounces the school board’s “status quo” as unacceptable, and it uses the term “segregation” five times. The situation created by school board policies violates the United States and North Carolina constitutions, the resolution says.
Selma wants new attendance districts, the resolution states, because the school board’s “existing policies do nothing to address the vast disparity in minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students that currently exists between schools located in the Smithfield and Selma area and those that exist in the remainder of the Johnston County School district.”
The Selma council also wants more funding for the four elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school in the area in order to address current needs and future growth forecasts. The town encourages Selma residents and parents of children who attend schools in the area to speak out at school board meetings.
Although he said he could see where the others were coming from, Councilman Tommy Holmes cast the only vote against the resolution. The battling back and forth with the school board has gotten ridiculous, Holmes said, and he did not want to take part in beating a dead horse.
“My personal opinion (is) I’m through with it. I don’t want to hear anything else about it,” he said. “There ain’t nothing we can do about it. It’s up to the school board what they want to do.”
While adopting the resolution does not change anything by itself, Mayor Cheryl Oliver said it puts pressure on the school board to take action.
“It says you’ve got a dissatisfied group who say, ‘We’re getting short-changed in some areas, and let’s get some action,’” she said.
Mentioning the issue is a two-edged sword, Councilman Eric Sellers said, because it might cause people to lose pride in their schools. On the other hand, Sellers said, Selma cannot simply ignore the problem with its schools. And by adopting the resolution, he said, the Selma council could help provide political cover for the school board to make tough decisions.
“This is the single largest issue that affects our economic engine, or the lack thereof, in the Smithfield and Selma area,” he said.
Sellers said he would like to see Smithfield-Selma High School become a magnet school, which would help pull in students from around the county. Pointing to a similar case, Sellers said the Wake County school system did wonders for Garner High School by turning it into a magnet.
Councilwoman Jackie Lacy said she attended SSS and still believes it to be a good school. A lot of attention goes to problems at SSS, Lacy said, but people need to focus more on improving the elementary and middle schools that feed students into the high school.
“I ain’t no preacher, but if you train them up the way they should go, they will not depart from that,” she said. “If you get them while they’re in the elementary and middle school, when they get to high school, they’ll be that much better, I firmly believe that.”
Smithfield delays action
Smithfield Mayor John Lampe had placed an almost identical resolution before the Smithfield Town Council on May 5, but the council decided to pull it off the agenda.
Smithfield should take the issue back up in June, Lampe said, after councilmen have had more time to make changes to the wording.
“It’s democracy,” Lampe said. “Everybody gets to put in their two cents’ worth.”
Some councilmen have reservations about adopting any resolution aimed at the school board, Lampe said, but he expects a majority will agree to take some kind of action.
Oliver and Lampe belong to Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools, which advocates for schools in Smithfield and Selma. At Selma’s April council meeting, CCSS Chairwoman Susan Lassiter said the group will look into taking legal action if the board of education does not redraw attendance districts to reduce the concentration of poverty at schools in the area.
In response, Johnston Superintendent of Schools Ed Croom said he did not think redistricting would benefit the schools. Instead, Croom said the answer lies with high-quality teachers, a positive attitude in the community, continued spending on alternative programs and simple patience.
Smithfield had earmarked $20,000 in this year’s budget to fund a research study of the situation in Smithfield and Selma’s public schools, Town Manager Paul Sabiston said. The town never spent that money, Sabiston said, and he has not included it in the draft for the 2015-16 budget.
“It doesn’t mean it won’t be added, but right now I don’t really see that,” he said.
Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools
A local group has threatened legal action if the Johnston County school board does not address the high concentration of poor and minority students at Smithfield and Selma schools. Its members include:
▪ Smithfield Mayor John Lampe.
▪ Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver.
▪ Susan Lassiter, a Smithfield real estate agent.
▪ Jack O’Hale, a Smithfield attorney and former school board member.
▪ Kay Carroll, a former school board member and owner of Carroll Pharmacy of Smithfield.
▪ Dr. Dicky Parrish, Selma dentist and former school board member.
▪ Lloyd Barnes, community activist and retired firefighter.
▪ Dr. Gettys Cohen, Smithfield dentist.
▪ Cynthia Pittard, a Smithfield attorney.
▪ Linda Stevens Whitley, retired teacher and principal.
▪ David Moore.
▪ Bobby and Joyce Alston.
▪ Retired Lt. Col. Jonathan Gaskins.
▪ Annie Johnson.
Source: CCSS Chairwoman Susan Lassiter