Schools need attention

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2008

Franklin citizens’ renewed interest in and scrutiny of their city government wrought sweeping change at the ballot box last month.

Though the current administration, regrettably, has chosen to resist the people’s will over the past seven weeks, citizens can rest assured that change is on the way. Two new City Council members, in cooperation with current council members who’ve been isolated by the council majority in recent years, will get busy next month on heeding the voters’ mandate.

Mission accomplished on that front, citizens need to direct some of the same zeal and passion to the city’s public schools and the board that governs them.

The departure of Bill Pruett as superintendent is an opportune time for our community to do some collective soul-searching about Franklin’s public schools.

Some pertinent questions:

– Why has enrollment in Franklin public schools dropped 23 percent over the past decade, a period during which the city’s population has remained stable? By comparison, Southampton County’s public school enrollment increased 1 percent and Isle of Wight’s 12 percent during the same 10 years.

– Why are middle-class families, especially, abandoning the public schools? That trend, though not unique to white families, certainly has driven steady white flight and growing racial imbalance in the city schools.

– Should a per-pupil expenditure of $11,782 — 11 percent higher than the statewide average of $10,584 in fiscal 2007 — reasonably translate into better-than-average academic performance?

– Is low teacher morale — as expressed by Colleen Monn at a recent school board meeting and Walt Flythe in a letter to the editor in Friday’s edition — anecdotal or systemic?

– What has been done in the two years of Pruett’s tenure (a temporary solution from the outset) to prepare for the school division’s next generation of executive leadership? Or are we starting from scratch in that process?

– In a city where school board members are appointed, who holds the school board accountable? For example, has anyone answered for having two superintendents on six-figure contracts for more than a year? Is this acceptable stewardship of taxpayer dollars?

– Can progressive elements of our city and county put aside the tired turf battles of yesteryear and look seriously and unselfishly at the benefits of school consolidation?

– Does our community’s leadership understand the relationship between the quality of a city’s public schools and its long-range economic prosperity and vitality?

– Do we as a community feel any moral obligation to give the least of our young citizens the educational foundation to be successful in life?

Having lived in a couple of Deep South communities that gave up on their public schools, I can vouch that the consequences of that apathy are ugly and irreversible.