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Charlotte, NC

May 8, 2007

Dunlap: 'Shared facilities' an equity issue

George Dunlap was elected to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in 1995 and is its longest-serving member. Tuesday, he called on some of that experience in explaining issues now before the board.

Alternately candid and elliptical depending on the subject, his comments ranged widely, in large part in response to questions. He began the session with a primer on school system budgeting, moved on to the bond issue expected to be placed on the November ballot, and then took questions.

By the end of the session, Dunlap had made some of his differences with Supt. Peter Gorman clear. He also made clear when the position he was advancing was one that was ultimately rejected by his colleagues. Excerpts:

Inequity in building "shared facilities"

"'Shared facility' simply means that, instead of building a football stadium at every school, that might cost $10 million, just throwing out a number, we'll build one, and have two schools share that facility and thereby save $10 million.

"First of all, I don't think you have five votes to make that happen, and I'll tell you why. If you do that, then people won't ever find the need to renovate older facilities like West Charlotte and Garinger and Harding and Myers Park and some of the others. Because people will ask that the new facilities, that are built, the shared facilities, would more than likely be built where there's new growth. So if an old facility runs down and you don't repair it because you have a new plan now -- we're going to have shared facilities -- that changes, in my mind, accessibility.

"They don't want this shared facility to be built in no-man's land. They want it to be built on one of the two campuses. Which means that the people at one school are going to have access to this new grand facility that can accommodate all these people. But the other school will have to travel to have access to that facility. That creates an inequity in and of itself. And it creates an unfair situation.

"You've got one group of kids that can run track five, seven days a week, play tennis seven days a week, do all these other things. And you've got another group that don't have those facilities.

"Same thing with an auditorium: I can put on a play at my school. But I'm at school X and I've got to go to your school to put on my play. I've got to go to your school for practice. I've got to go to your school for all these other things I've got to do, that I would be allowed to do if I had my own facility. That sounds good, and sure, it's a tax savings to the citizen. But is it fair? And is it equitable? And I would say no. If it passes, it will pass without my vote."

Cultural relevance 'not my call'

"You're talking about a people that were kept in slavery for how many years? They're how many years behind and you expect things to be all equal in a few years? It ain't gonna happen.
"Now, there are gaps. I would not deny that. There are reasons for the gaps, and it's not all educational. Look at the family structure. We didn't know that there was a gap in 1963. Did you know there was a gap in 1963? I didn't....

"What we expect the superintendent to do is, based on best practices, based on the latest research of what they have been able to do to significantly improve the lives of children, we expect them to implement those programs....

"There is other research that basically say that if education is relevant, kids learn at a better rate. And I agree.... I have visited school districts all across this country, and I'll give you an example. New York City is a prime example. When they teach biology, they don't just teach biology to black children. They talk about things that black children are interested in to get their attention to teach biology. They talk about sickle cell anemia, they talk about diabetes -- things that affect African Americans more than they do other populations, what gets their interest but still teaches the subject matter.

"Now, we don't do that in Charlotte. I'm not the superintendent. That's not my call. And I can't tell you when and if we would do that, but I will tell you that if it is proposed I would support it, based on what I've seen through research."

The overnight browning of the school district

"Let me tell you this, and why I support building schools all over Mecklenburg County. We're looking at a school district that is upwards of 60% minority, plain and simple. If we are to build schools in this community, you can be assured that 60% or so of the students who will go to those schools are going to be minority. So you don't build white schools, you don't build black schools, you build schools that are going to accommodate growth, wherever they might be -- understanding that the demographics of our school district are the way they are.

"Now let me tell how they GOT the way they are. They got that way with one vote in one night in Eric Smith's administration.

"Previously, all students who were not black -- African American -- were considered, lumped in, with white students. So for years we talked about how we have a school district that is 60-something percent majority and 40-something percent, maybe, minority.

"With the stroke of a pen, Eric Smith decided that if you are not white, then you are minority, which made a flip. So now we have a district that is a majority-minority district. The numbers didn't change. I just wanted you to know how we got to that...."

Neighborhoods more diverse than schools

"I want to dispel a myth here. Simply because those [minority] students don't always show up in the school does not mean that those [suburban] areas are all white. There are lots and lots and lots of African Americans who live in Huntersville and Cornelius and Davidson. There are lots of African Americans who live in Ballantyne and Piper Glen. The fact is, most of them are so old now -- not old [laughter] -- they are of age now that their children wouldn't have shown up because they have already passed school-age years. Or, if you go to Charlotte Lutheran and Charlotte Catholic, you will find those minority students in those schools as well."

Use it or lose it

"I'll tell you what the board did. There were those of us opposed, but the votes were where they were, that decided to build schools smaller by eliminating certain facilities. In fact -- this beats anything I've ever heard of -- they actually are now going to build middle schools with no showers for kids during recreation. Now, my argument was, if kids aren't taking showers you ought to encourage them to do it because they stink.

"But no, their philosophy was, well, if they don't take showers, let's not have 'em. So if we don't use the restroom enough, guess what, guys? They'll take away the restroom...."

Redeploying social workers

"The first word I got was that they were going to get rid of the social workers. When I started inquiring they changed the idea of getting rid of social workers to, let's move 'em to where they're needed most. They moved social workers to schools that had higher percentages of free and reduced lunch and poverty, thereby eliminating some schools from having social workers at all. Now. This is my argument against that, and I argued against that, but it didn't go anywhere.

"If you think about the needs that social workers address -- my daddy raped me, my momma went off and left me, I'm living with an abusive parent -- how is it that you can assume that that only happens to children who simply happen to attend a school with free or reduced lunch? I mean, can you imagine having to deal with, in southeast Charlotte, the fact that your daddy killed your two brothers and sisters and having to take that with you to school every day? I don't understand the thought behind what they did what they did. I just know there were not enough votes to keep them from doing it."

Why teachers really leave

"At the beginning of school, we had 90 teacher vacancies. At the time that I raised the question they couldn't answer, but they came back at the next meeting and said, we currently have 60 teacher vacancies. Now, the average person would think that you did what? You hired 30 teachers to fill that gap.

"The truth of the matter was that we hired nearly 500 teachers. Since the beginning of the school year we hired nearly 500 teachers and still had 60 vacancies. Now, they finally produced a chart that said we had some to retire, we had some to die, we had some that moved away. But then there was this big block of teachers they didn't have answers for -- nearly 150 teachers. No answers for why they left the district.

"I talked to some. They told me personally why they left, but apparently they didn't participate in exit interviews.

"Some of them were tired of being threatened. They could make more money doing other things. There are lots of reasons why people left the system.

"The positive thing that's happened is they had a teacher fair where several thousand people come from all across the country. They have already hired, in anticipation of vacancies next year, 700-some odd teachers have guaranteed contracts, with the anticipation that they will hire even additional staff between now and the beginning of school."

The board member's role

"I'll tell you what I tell the superintendent on a regular basis: I can't tell you what to do, but come evaluation time, I can certainly let you know how I felt about what you did."


At the conclusion of his appearance and to much laughter, Dunlap said, "I ain't agreeing to come back no more." A moment later, presider Sarah Stevenson, who served on the school board when Dunlap was a young man, turned to Dunlap and said: "And you will come back anytime I ask you to come back!"



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