Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Remedial lesson: new high school was to relieve overcrowding, not prolong it

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We’re not sure where remedial education is needed more – among some members of the Alamance-Burlington school board or among some of the school system’s students, parents, and coaches.

We’re particularly puzzled by the feigned surprise of any of the above to realize that opening a new high school (the county’s seventh) was going to require redistricting and changing attendance lines in order to relieve overcrowding at Southern and Eastern high schools.

After all, that’s why the new high school is being built in the first place and why Alamance County taxpayers agreed in 2018 to support an historic $150 million bond referendum, more than 40 percent of which was intended to be used to fund a new high school.

Inevitably, there would have to be redistricting in those two zones – Eastern and Southern – in order to siphon off some students to attend the new school and free up space in the ostensibly overcrowded existing high schools.

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In November, school board members voted on the new attendance lines (which had been discussed and debated for eight years).

The school board also voted in December, 4-3, to allow seniors who would otherwise have been reassigned to the new high school the option to finish out their high school years at their current high school.

Such “grandfathering” is a fairly typical offering anytime there is a school redistricting.
Instead, this week school board member Ryan Bowden appeared to press to expand the exemption – he was one of the three dissenting members on the “seniors-only” exemption in December – to include juniors, as well.

In fact, Bowden has sporadically expressed support for even broader exemptions. Just let parents and students decide where they want to go to school, he seems to think.
In fact, that was the general theme of most of the students, coaches, and one parent who spoke up during a public comment period at the school board meeting this week.

It was almost as if Bowden had recruited some of the speakers to come buttress his desire to re-vote on a broader exemption.

The speakers were advocating not just to allow one more level of student (i.e., juniors) to be spared from the new redistricting lines; it was to allow all students to decide where they want to attend high school.

The fundamental problem with allowing any more exemptions is the one new school board member Dan Ingle voiced when the subject first came up in December.

The idea of filling only half of the 1,250 available seats (if both seniors and juniors were let out of moving next year) in a brand new high school that cost taxpayers $67 million and resulted in a property tax increase (paid in advance, by the way) to build would “not look good to the taxpayers of Alamance County,” Ingle summarized – quite accurately, in our judgment.

We also cannot help but note that athletics – and team preferences – seems to be at the center of the discussion about who should attend Southeast High School.

Sports considerations are an especially poor reason to overturn sound redistrictinag plans.
We often cringe to hear public officials contend that the public needs to just “move on” after some controversial decision, but quite frankly that’s what needs to be done here. But it’s not just the public that needs to accept the school board’s action. It’s at least one member – and perhaps another one or two others who haven’t agreed with the decision from the outset – of the school board itself.

There is still much to be done to get ready for opening the new school, and the administration, school board, students, and parents need to be focusing on that, not holding out, or clinging to, false and unrealistic hopes of some sort of change or deviation from what was and remains a sound decision to put the new high school to good use immediately.

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