No CTE funds without Gateway?By Yasmine Regester / May 23, 2019
After more than a month of meetings and protests, funds for Guilford County Schools’ new pilot Career and Technical Education (CTE) program and to make repairs to Gateway Education Center have been secured. $1.89 million of the total $7.1 million will be used to replace Gateway’s leaky roof and repair some of the windows.
While parents are happy to still have their school, comments made during school board meetings have left people on both sides of the issue feeling that they’ve been attacked for their advocacy.
“Yes, there are four separate public special needs schools, but they don’t serve the same populations,” said Dania Ermentrout, Gateway PTA president, member of the Greensboro Cerebral Palsy board of directors and a Medicaid case manager. Her seven-year-old daughter, Moira, is a student at Gateway.
Parents and supporters who spoke out against the recommendation to close the school cited concerns about special needs students being on school buses for extended periods of time, transportation barriers for families, disruption to the students’ learning environment, and overcrowding at the schools where they may transfer. Parents also pointed out that Gateway is a five minute drive to Moses Cone Hospital, while Hayes-Inman Education Center, located in Jamestown, is a 20 minute drive to High Point Regional Hospital, the closest healthcare clinic.“This was not us taking out ads or anything like that. This issue struck a nerve in the community and took off like we couldn’t have imagined. It was a reaction to the imminent closure of Gateway absent any public discussion,” said Addy Jeffrey, who is Latina and a former Gateway parent. “If the perception is this is an attack on the superintendent, for us, it really isn’t. So the narrative that these White women are advocating for only White children is preposterous.”
There are about 147 students that a Gateway closure would have impacted, which includes the school-age special needs classes, a pre-K program and a special-needs infant/toddler program operated by the Greensboro Cerebral Palsy organization. Out of those 147 students enrolled at Gateway, about 68 percent are children of color, according to the Guildford County Schools’ (GCS) statistics.
“Everyone is referring to the 47 children that are special needs in the school age program. There are 147 children at Gateway. Everybody saying there’s room at Hayes-Inman. What about the other 100 children? Where do they go? There has been nothing formally presented to the board on where that was. We cannot wipe out those Black and Brown children that are in that pre-K program, because after the tornado, that is where Hampton pre-K students were sent,” said Board of Education District 7 representative Byron Gladden.
The group that the Gateway parents are referring to attended the May 14 school board meeting, wearing black shirts with the words on the front, “Stand with Black Women, Demand Respect For Our Leadership,” and the back of the shirts read, “Support Dr. Contreras.” The group accused the board of catering to the parents of Gateway, not taking care of the district’s Black and Brown children, and not supporting the superintendent.
The education work group, comprised of both Black and White women advocating for equitable education outcomes, came before the school board saying that the Gateway parents openly disrespected the superintendent and board chair, Deena Hayes and vice chair, T. Dianne Bellamy Small during the April 30 meeting, by speaking out of turn and interrupting them.
Monica Walker, a former GCS employee and a member of the group, said there was blatant disregard for the position and the authority that the superintendent holds.“There has been and continues to be a lack of respect for our superintendents of color, most particularly, this superintendent who is female and Black. The disrespect doesn’t stop with the superintendent, it also extends to the chair and vice-chair who are also Black women,” said Walker.
She and other members of the group said they support special education and believe that the superintendent made the best choice to relocate the Gateway students.
Walker noted that the Gateway parents also made claims that the superintendent was lying about the conditions at Gateway. Walker says that if they felt that way, then why did they ask the Board of Commissioners for funds to fix Gateway if it wasn’t true.
“This group of women claim to care about all children, but we have three schools in that area that are overwhelming Black that were leveled by a tornado and none of these women have been there for that. You say you are so concerned about conditions, you’re not, you’re concerned about your own children and you have the power to leverage it, and the connections to get something done. Black children in that community have suffered in the most deplorable conditions for years,” said Walker.
Members of the group read a letter that called out the names of some the Gateway parents and supporters during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Ermentrout said she tried to speak with members of the Support Dr. Contreras group after the meeting saying, “I felt that those statements made didn’t represent me and my advocacy should speak for itself. No way did I ever consider who was behind the decision. I only considered the decision itself,” she said. “What I wanted to do was address the misinformation. Our first goal was to get the recommendation backtracked because the study data did not support closing Gateway.”
The study Ermentrout is referring to is a January 2019 school facilities report by MGT of America Consulting, LLC that recommended that GCS spend $1.5 billion dollars in four phases to remediate aging structures. The facilities report listed the Gateway facility, which was built in 1983, in poor condition and in need of up to $11,229,400 in repairs, but not recommended for closure. Fifty-five other schools had scores lower than Gateway’s.
According to state statutes, in order to close a public school in North Carolina, the law requires a thorough study of a school and the welfare of students affected by the school closing, as well as hold a public hearing. The district sent out the closing message before a public hearing was held. Sup. Contreras later apologized to Gateway students and families for any miscommunication on the district’s part, and agreed to allow Gateway to stay open.
Continental Africa and African American parents like Fafa Asiseh, whose five-year-old son attends Gateway, and Melissa Davis, who has a nine-year-old daughter at the school, said those comments by the Support Dr. Contreras group made them appear invisible in the Gateway fight.
“I think one reason you didn’t see more parents of color there, is that they didn’t fully understand what was going to happen,” said Asiseh.
School board member District 7 representative, Byron Gladden said he also felt attacked by community members and other board members for his support of Gateway, which is in his district.
“I don’t doubt the superintendent’s decision. I am very supportive of the superintendent, but I did not agree with closing Gateway,” said Gladden. “And when the county tabled CTE and asked us to bring back a plan that included Gateway, what became clear to me is that if CTE was going to happen we had to have a plan for Gateway. What became clear to me was if there was no Gateway, there would be no CTE.”
According to Gladden, there are 187 CTE courses currently being taught in Guilford County Schools.
He also stated that the board did not direct the superintendent to close Gateway in a closed session meeting before April 12.
“While we can’t go into detail about closed sessions, I can state that that conversation — that vote or directive from the board — did not happen,” he said.
According to Gladden, the superintendent indicated there was an air quality study produced on Gateway and mold was found in one of the teachers’ lounges. However, Gladden insists that the board still has not received any written documentation regarding the repair issues, maintenance service requests, and things that were indicated in the air quality report. He said the superintendent has assured them that they will get that information after it is compiled.
Documentation from Dr. Contreras indicates that concerns about Gateway conditions were brought to the board in closed session and after discussion, it was agreed that she would move forward with her recommendation to transfer Gateway students. The superintendent also insists that the air quality report was sent to all board members.
“We have $80 million in deferred maintenance. The truth is we just don’t have adequate funding to fix all of our schools that need repairs,” said Dr. Contreras.
Funds for the CTE pilot program will come from a 2008 general obligation bond, transfers from the general fund and other miscellaneous revenues remaining in existing project ordinances to fund the district’s Career and Technical Education program.
Gladden said he knew the $7.1 million was never going to be enough to construct and open all six pilot academies, but he still supported the superintendent’s plan.
“So while Gateway has been viewed as messing up CTE, there’s a couple of things; the $7.1 million was not enough money to open, renovate and construct everything in the CTE proposal,” said Gladden, adding that the district staff informed the board of asbestos problems at some of the CTE sites and unusable soil that would slow up the construction process.
One argument being made is that Gateway has messed up the money for CTE schools, which is going to impact Black and Brown children being able to learn skills and be exposed to opportunities that will allow them to earn a living wage and have a positive economic impact in the community.
“The implication that our children don’t have a positive economic impact in our community is very hurtful to me,” said Jeffrey.
Gladden said the total amount available from the bond is $10 million, and suggested using leftover funds from other completed projects from Western Guilford Middle and Hunter Elementary to make up the difference to repair Gateway and fully fund all six proposed CTE projects. However, that motion failed at the April 30 meeting.
The new proposed CTE plan redistributes $5.9 million to fund CTE renovation and building projects at the Academy at Smith, Western High, Northeast High, Kearns Academy and Smith High Schools. For the first year, ninth graders will take CTE courses in the current classroom settings and then start the hands-on learning in newly constructed spaces their sophomore year. Each of the five approved programs are designed for 40-80 students a year. The district expects the new CTE programs to be fully up and running by 2020.
Transportation is only provided for students in the attendance zones of the CTE academies. Students attending a CTE academy outside their attendance zone are required to provide their own transportation, which Gladden says already shows how inequitable the program is for poor Black and Brown students.
In support of the initiative, state legislators have filed North Carolina House Bill 275, and Senate Bill 189, bi-partisan bills to support CTE pilot programs in Guilford County Schools. The bill calls for $3 million to be allocated for the pilot program and offers a tax incentive to businesses that partner with the program. It specifies that a CTE program may operate for up to six school years as a pilot program before the school board may apply to the State Board of Education to make the program a permanent part of the district curriculum. The bill also gives schools the ability to hire and employ adjunct instructors to teach a signature training course.
Documents from the district estimate they would need to request at least $1.5 million a year from the county to run the five pilot CTE academies.