HALIFAX — By continuing to have three school systems in Halifax County, a report released Monday said the action continues the violation of the constitutional rights of all students and severely undermines the quality of public education throughout the county.
The study, “Unless Our Children Begin to Learn Together,” done by the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights focused on the three school districts — Halifax County Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District — and how they are the most segregated school systems in the state.
Mark Dorosin, managing attorney for the center, presented the report on the grounds of the Historic Halifax County Courthouse in Halifax along with other key Halifax County leaders.
“Creating a unified Halifax County public school district would be a significant first step toward protecting the constitutional rights of all children in Halifax County and would create an atmosphere where student achievement would flourish,” Dorosin said.
UNC Center for Civil Rights staff spent more than a year meeting with community members, local activists, education policy experts and elected officials to identify the range of challenges facing students and schools across the county.
Dorosin noted while he and other staff were talking with parents, teachers and other community members about the issue that a consistent theme emerged — “Something is very wrong with the schools in the county.”
Halifax is one of the most economically distressed counties in the state.
The three districts serve approximately 8,000 students, but remain among the most segregated in the state.
Dorosin said it is a county that is overall 39 percent white.
But nearly 100 percent of students at Halifax County public schools and Weldon City Schools are non-white, while Roanoke Rapids Graded School District is more than 70 percent white.
The report highlights test scores in the three school districts. In Halifax County Schools, only 37 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 scored at or above grade level on End of Grade reading exams and 47.5 percent scored at or above grade level on EOGs for mathematics in the 2009-10 school year.
During the same school year and same grades, Weldon City Schools students scored 48.4 percent in reading and 67.2 percent in mathematics.
In Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, 67.8 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 scored at or above grade level on the EOGs for reading and 83.5 percent on the mathematics.
However, Dorosin said Roanoke Rapids Graded School District has the highest dropout rate at 4.98 percent while Halifax had 3.99 percent and Weldon had 4.01 percent.
Dorosin said in the report illustrated how RRGSD had the highest cost per mile for student transportation in the state in 2007-08. The 12 buses in the district transport 863 students more than 66,970 miles with annual transportation costs of $552,280, which is a rate of $46,023.35 per bus, $639.95 per student and $8.25 per mile.
Even though Halifax County public schools is the largest of the three, its transportation cost per mile was cheaper than both RRGSD and Weldon City Schools.
Halifax County Schools operated 119 buses to transport 4,341 students 1,044,577 miles to and from school.
Weldon City Schools’ transportation cost per pupil was the lowest of the county with 15 buses transporting 839 students. The buses traveled 137,547 miles at an annual cost of $368,713 or $24,580.87, $439.47 per pupil and $2.68 per mile.
The report said a unified school district will allow for more efficient resource allocation among the county’s schools and an unique opportunity for innovative education reform throughout the county.
In North Carolina, there are four options for voluntary unification of city and county school districts.
One, local boards of education within the same county wishing to consolidate may submit a plan for consolidation and merger to the board of county commissioners and, if approved, then to the State Board of Education.
Another way, the county commissioners may submit a plan of consolidation and merger to the State Board of Education.
Third, if a city school administrative unit decides to dissolve, it may notify the State Board of Education, which will form a plan of consolidation and merger for the dissolved city district to merge with the county school system.
Finally, the General Assembly can merge school administrative units.
Dorosin said, “District unification is not a magic bullet.”
The report noted in order for a district unification process to run smoothly in Halifax County, it must be supported by multi-racial grassroots coalition of residents, elected officials, education advocates and reformers.
“A unified Halifax County school system would be small enough to allow the county to effectively implement reform strategies to improve student outcomes and address issues of declining student enrollment, limited resources and racial isolation,” the report said.
The NAACP and The Committee to Save Education in Halifax County, along with staff from the UNC Center for Civil Rights, plan to have a series of town hall-style meetings and forums during the summer to talk about the issue.