No one is buying what Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools is selling. Not Johnston County school leaders. Not Johnston county commissioners. Not people outside of Smithfield and Selma.
What CCSS is selling is its call to redraw school attendance boundaries to bring more wealthy and white children to Smithfield-Selma schools. The group has made its case in appearances before the school board and county commissioners and in the media, but we have yet to hear anyone voice support for busing white students to Smithfield and Selma from other Johnston communities.
Some schools leaders, like Superintendent Ross Renfrow, acknowledge the need for academic improvement in Smithfield and Selma schools, and Renfrow has said he’s willing to review student transfers, which Johnston schools often grant without regard to policy. But Renfrow has also said, in so many words, that he doesn’t care what schools Johnston students attend as long as they attend Johnston County schools. (That’s another way of saying he doesn’t want to lose the state dollars that follow children to the schools they attend.)
Other school leaders, namely Keith Branch, say the schools aren’t to blame for the fact that Smithfield and Selma schools have high numbers of poor and minority students. Instead, he blames the communities themselves, pointing to their high percentages of rental housing, which tends to attract lower-income families.
(In blaming Smithfield and Selma leaders, Mr. Branch, who is running for county commissioner, apparently thinks he doesn’t need Smithfield and Selma votes, but that’s an editorial for another day. So is his contention that it isn’t the schools’ job to fix poverty.)
Among county commissioners, DeVan Barbour, once a school board member, said redrawing attendance boundaries would be a hard sell. His fellow commissioner, Cookie Pope, said she wanted to talk about magnet schools for Smithfield and Selma. (She didn’t say she wanted to talk about redrawing attendance lines.)
Outside of Smithfield and Selma, folks appear unsympathetic to CCSS. A letter writer from Clayton goes so far as to say the group is racist because it doesn’t think Smithfield and Selma schools can succeed without white students.
All of this is to say it doesn’t appear CCSS is going to get what it wants willingly. More likely, the group will have to sue in an effort to accomplish its goal.
That’s a dangerous game to play, and we don’t mean for CCSS. In simply calling for new attendance boundaries – also known as forced busing – the group has shown that it doesn’t much care if it alienates residents of other Johnston communities. And in arguing that Johnston schools are ignoring their own rules on student transfers, the group apparently doesn’t care if it antagonizes parents who live in Smithfield and Selma but send their children elsewhere.
No, the greater risk in a legal confrontation is to the schools, which could find themselves facing a court order to redraw attendance boundaries. At that point, voters could very well turn on school leaders; they can’t turn on CCSS, a private group.
We happen to think CCSS would be wiser to propose school reforms that would give children who have fled reason to return to Smithfield and Selma schools. And we happen to think school leaders would be wise to embrace such reforms, because they might not like the alternative.