December 06, 2012
It's been clear for months that the Guilford County Board of Education's $80 million, deceptively named airport area high school has been all but dead. Supporters of High Point Central High School on Wednesday, Nov. 28 merely took it off life support.
Having been blocked by Guilford County Schools
incompetence, bad planning, corruption and bad management at every turn in its four-year effort to build one of the most expensive, and least necessary, high schools ever built in North Carolina, the school board tried one last gambit: holding two barely advertised public forums nobody would attend so the school board could claim that, despite the lack of support for the high school, there was no support for not building it.
The gambit worked at Page High School on Nov. 5, where only a handful of people showed up to comment on the two remaining issues: whether the school board should build the airport area high school at all, and if not, how it should spend the $69 million left over from the project.
Of the $80 million budgeted for the school, $8 million was for an autism wing that was moved elsewhere, leaving $72 million, and Guilford County Schools
managed to spend $3 million on not building the high school, for which it never found land, largely because of looking for it in all the wrong places.
The gambit failed drastically at High Point Central, where a small meeting Nov. 15 brought to light numerous problems with the condition of the historic Collegiate Gothic-style school, built in 1926, which is the High Point equivalent of Greensboro's Grimsley High School, formerly Greensboro High School.
High Point Central alumni are a seriously school-spirited bunch – and not just recent alumni. At High Point Central, several generations of Bisons filled the auditorium to near capacity, joined by a large cohort from Western Guilford High School.
The organized, passionate crowd answered the two questions clearly: don't build the airport area high school, and use the money to repair and expand existing schools, including High Point Central, that have severe space and maintenance problems.
The forum was remarkable because of the number of parents, students, retired teachers and principals and even current High Point Central teachers who were willing to stand up and publicly complain about the condition of the high school.
Current Guilford County Schools
employees, who fear retribution, rarely speak out about problems at their schools, and even parents and students are often cowed by Guilford County Schools
, which has a reputation for retaliating against whistleblowers and squeaky wheels.Guilford County Schools
has been allowed to get too big and too powerful for its own good, and thinks and acts like a private corporation, rather than a taxpayer-funded government agency designed to serve citizens. But the High Pointers at High Point Central, frustrated by what they said is 20 years of getting the short stick in the consolidated school system, used the public forum to rage against the machine.
English teacher Nancy Spurgeon, who has taught at High Point Central since 1973, was a notable example. Spurgeon, whose deceased husband was also a teacher at High Point Central for 17 years ("I married the teacher across the hall."), held up a large plastic bag full of crumbled paint and plaster.
"I've brought a part of my wall," Spurgeon said to a roar of laughter from the crowd. "And that's because, as a teacher, I know how valuable visual aids are."
Spurgeon, who teaches in room 305 at High Point Central, told the school board she made the mistake of trying to mount things on the wall space between the windows in her classroom – only to find that there was no wall.
"There's no plaster under there," she said. "It's got a plastic cover over it to make it look like plaster, but if you knock on it, there's nothing there."
Spurgeon also said – in a complaint heard frequently throughout the night – that High Point Central's bathrooms were a crawling horror. She said she stopped in the girls' bathroom on the way to the forum and found only five of 10 stalls in functioning condition. She said many had no doors, massive holes in the doors, no toilet paper holders and other problems that ensured that no woman would use them.
"They're just not going to do it," she said. "I'm telling you, men, they're just not going to do it."
Spurgeon said High Point Central has only two copy machines, neither of which had been working since Nov. 7.
After the forum, Spurgeon bravely posed for a picture holding up her bag of classroom. Guilford County Schools
Western Region Superintendent Angelo Kidd, who is at the top of his profession and makes $146,000 a year, was talking to Spurgeon before the picture was taken, but tried to dive out of the frame before he could be captured on film even appearing to condone criticism of the school board.
Shamed by the photographer before his braver underling, he sheepishly crawled back into the picture and managed a grimace of a false smile.
School board Chairman Alan Duncan and school board members Ed Price, Carlvena Foster, Nancy Routh, Sandra Alexander, Jeff Belton, Darlene Garrett and Deena Hayes attended the forum, along with Guilford County School Superintendent Mo Green and a small army of Guilford County Schools
administrators. High Point had definitely gotten the school system's attention.
Price and Foster represent High Point. Routh and Alexander are at-large members of the school board and can't win reelection without High Point votes. That's four members of the school board off the top who now know that they can vote for the proposed airport area high school only at their peril. Price has already come out against it, and was the first school board member to publicly question the need for it, although school board member Amos Quick says he has done so privately.
The airport area high school was proposed as part of the $457 million school construction program funded by school bonds Guilford County voters approved in May 2008. Price said he wished that High Point had organized similarly large protests during the negotiations over the $1 billion in school bonds approved since 2000.
"I'm a High Pointer, and I've never seen a turnout like this for any school in High Point," Price said. "This is a tremendous turnout for High Point Central. I wish this had happened in 2000, 2003 and 2008. Some of our needs should have been included in some of those bond things."
Speaker after speaker stood up to detail those needs: crowded classrooms, an unusable cafeteria with a capacity of 150 for a school with 1,424 students, an impossibly tiny library, terrifying bathrooms, a lack of work space for teachers, "floating teachers" who have no assigned classrooms and, above all, the presence of The Academy at Central, which occupies the Tomlinson building on the High Point Central campus, and which High Point Central supporters said should be returned to the school.
High Point Central supporter Brian Hall asked everyone in the auditorium who was a student, employee or alumnus of High Point Central to stand. Almost all of the audience stood....continued on page 2