It’s understandable that business lobbyists and real estate operatives are pushing hard for the passage of the $68 million bond measure, hopeful of windfall profits on the coat tails of taxpayer risk. Shifting $4 million from Franklin Road to beautify Whitlock will also buy some west side votes. But a solvent school district’s push for tenuous savings through scapegoating disadvantaged minority children is both morally troublesome and legally suspect given the totality of factors.
There is no way of politely dancing around the reality that undertones of race and class have long factored into MCS programmatic and policy decisions. But this latest message is over the top: We don’t want you in our schools! Your oft-stated commitment to providing an excellent education to EVERY child in Marietta has been turned on its head.
Ethics aside, this city’s past forays into the demolition of low-income minority neighborhoods has not improved test scores and graduation rates.
Over the past 15 years, numerous west-side public housing units have been demolished, removing hundreds of low-income, black and Latino students from Marietta City Schools. Yet, the district’s average SAT scores — SAT scores and participation rates are a measure of the health of a school system K-12 — have not improved one iota. In fact, the average SAT scores of all demographic groups continue to demonstrate a downward trend.
If removing minority students from school rolls is not a demonstrated panacea to revitalizing Marietta’s schools, what’s the purpose? One councilman suggested the motive is moving the district’s racial and socioeconomics balance toward more affluent and white. (Demolition of west side public housing resulted in a higher concentration of white students at the “choice” Westside Elementary; open slots were filled by more affluent families. Coincidence or plan?)
At present, a combined three African-American and Latino students sit for the SAT for every two white students. The district average would increase much faster with a rise of 10 points per minority student than ten points per white student. On the other hand, a quagmire of continuously falling SAT scores is on the horizon, given the district’s demographics and the board’s ineffectiveness in addressing the achievement gap through non-exclusionary policies. Enough said.
There is no accurate analysis of the impact of past demolitions on graduation rates, given MCS’s decades-long publication of tainted data on the topic of graduation rates. Required by NCLB for the first time last year to back up published graduation rates with proof, the district’s published rate dropped from the mid-80 percent-range to the high-50 percent-rate.
The last leg of the three-legged stool of board support for the bond measure, the projected $6 million savings, won’t match reality. For each dislocated family that relocates to rental housing inside the school district, a portion of the projected savings vanishes. If on-record statements by councilmen to do everything possible to relocate displaced families within the city are more than duplicitous statements, little if any savings will materialize. (What is the relocation plan?)
MCS STAFF REDUCTIONS NEXT?
Suspending disbelief of your financial projections, another question erupts: Does the plan to reduce enrollment by 13 percent (1,100 Franklin Road students) set in motion the reduction of Marietta City Schools staff by 13 percent? And which demographic groups and programs will most feel the impact of the reduction?
A germane observation: School Board Chairman Weiner is also a director of the Marietta Redevelopment Corp. As board chairman, he has a fiduciary relationship with the district’s school children. As director, he has a fiduciary relationship with the city to advance the best interests of real estate and business. The duties thus appear a conflict in missions and interests.
Community development — not redevelopment — is needed to raise community-wide academic performance. Four of every five of the district’s students are black or Latino, and most are poor. The realistic path to higher overall academic performance is to reduce the institutional and community obstacles faced by that 80 percent of district students. Running them out of town is not a strategy of a respectable public school district.
Positive change takes time. Community building, not bulldozers, is a responsible means to vitalizing Marietta education. In this regard, there are good things happening on Franklin Road. YELLS mentoring, afterschool programming and the Franklin Road Association have successfully engaged in community work over the course of the last six years. Investing in a community-building approach would raise the school system’s reputation, and derivatively grow the social and economic wealth of the broader diverse community.
HARKENING TO AN UGLY TIME
Come November, I am voting “no” on the bond measure for the above-stated reasons. A “yes” vote condones your exclusion and disregard for the educational interests and social stability of those 1,100 children. The exclusion of poor minority children from the school system harkens back to an ugly time in Marietta history that won’t go unchallenged today.
I request that each school board member retract his or her support of the bond measure — and in doing so, send the community a message that education offers a hand up to every child, regardless of race or socioeconomic class. In other words, the board should honor its mission.
Ken Sprague Sr. is a retired math teacher at Marietta High School and former MHS “Teacher of the Year.