In the mid-1990’s I was part of an administrative team that worked to merge an all-male, independent day school with its across town counterpart. Both schools were part of the Richmond Episcopal Dioceses, and the merger was packed with angst for both schools. Early in the planning for the merger, the new head of school commented to me how trying one of the first hurdles was—it seemed that the roof of one of the schools was in poor condition and $250,000 was needed for its repair, The head of school said to me, “It is very difficult to get someone to give that much money for a roof.” We learned that donors would gladly give for an athletic building or field or anything that could be seen and where a plaque naming the giver could be mounted, but a roof? Who would see a roof?
According to an article by two public school teachers in today’s Charlotte Observer, many schools in North Carolina need similar repairs. A survey after the first month of classes by the N.C. Association of Educators asked educators about their buildings. A few situations mentioned in the article are: Water in a school with such heavy metal concentration that it is undrinkable; a school built for 1,800 students serving 2,300; bee and termite infestations driving teachers and students from their high school classrooms; a school building over 80 years old with rodents, sewer flies, and rodent traps in the library; and more. Guilford County, the state’s third largest district, had to close five schools because of inadequate air cooling. It seems 1,000 air conditioner work requests overflowed the maintenance staff. The article also quotes a report earlier this month in which the state Department of Public Instruction places the price to renovate and rebuild N.C. public schools at $12.8 billion-a jump of 58% over the last five years.
Last weekend the “Salt and Light Conference”, hosted by the N.C. chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was held in the Temple Baptist Church of Mount Airy. Some of the invited speakers were members of the state legislature and candidates running in the upcoming U. S. Senate race. According to an article in the Charlotte Observer, State Senate leader Phil Berger warned in a video screening that, “There’s never been a more critical time in America than right now.” Representative David Willis told the audience that teachers were promoting Critical Race Theory while not wanting parents “to know what’s going on in the classroom.” According to the article, the day conference speakers expressed strong opposition to CRT, white privilege, and other “anti-biblical” teaching taking place in our public schools. Representative Willis said that “We parents do not give them [teachers] the authority to teach moral values to our children….”
Today’s article by Kenya Donaldson and John Deville on building conditions across the state reveals the truth about how our state (and federal) leaders view education: They like to talk about “hot button issues” like religion in public schools, or CRT, or even, as we had in N.C. during the 1960’s, a Speaker Ban. They speak at a conference that is concerned about biblical issues or tests scores. Yet, as we discovered during the merger, few elected leaders care about the roof, the mold, the rodents, the drinking water, or other such mundane issues. No sir, it seems that elected officials want something that stirs the emotions of voters and race, religion, and other such topics will “rile-up” the base and win votes, while the rot of many of our public-school buildings continues.
All of the clamor by leaders about and against CRT and race and white privilege demonstrates either a basic misunderstanding of what a successful program for public education needs or basic ignorance of CRT, or a willingness to do/say anything for a vote, or all of the above. However, such as is too often the case, the problem is not some evil lurking outside our walls, but one sitting in the chair next to us. As Pogo observed long ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
A good roof covering every clean and safe building full of eager learners and talented teachers will enhance public education. All the rest is useless noise.