Thursday, June 22, 2006

Notes On Paron School Closing Court Case Part I

· No State Board of Education (SBE) member nor the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Director attended the Paron court hearing although the hearing had been delayed until the Arkansas ADE Director could be available.

· Witnesses testified under oath that the bus rides at Paron will be four hours a day on a dangerous curvy road. Opposing attorney did not question this testimony.

· Elementary students would also have to arrive at school an hour earlier because they ride the same bus to Paron that the older students do.

· The Bryant Superintendent never rode the Paron route before making the decision to close Paron school – and still hasn't.

· SBE attorney, Scott Smith , defended the long bus rides by saying Arkansas law doesn't even require transportation for students.

· Bryant superintendent admits they are financially able to keep Paron open. Bryant District benefited by $1,000,000 when it annexed Paron.

· Retired superintendent testified that more students dropped out, and there were more absentees in school that merged under his superintendence.

· Superintendent witnessed the fact that students who can't attend extra curricular activities don't have a sense of belonging and become at-risk students.

· Paron has zero discipline problems, no students requiring college remediation, no drop-out problems, and scores are above state average.

· Superintendents testified that distance learning was a feasible and good tool for small schools to meet standards.

For Part I of the narrative of observations, click "THURSDAY" below and scroll down, or if sent straigt here just scroll down.


Blogger Debbie Pelley said...

I attended the court hearing June 16 on the closing of the Paron School District. What a difference it was from the State Board of Education Kangaroo hearings! Not one of the State Board of Education members (who were the defendants in the case) nor ADE Director Ken James was there. One would think they would want to hear the testimony of the people on the issues for which they are responsible in the state. ADE Director Ken James didn't even show– even though the ADE attorney had obtained a delay in the court hearing until Ken James could be available.. The ADE gives the schools 15 minutes to present their case before they close them, so they have never heard the type of testimony that was presented at the court hearing. Perhaps they don't want to hear. That would make it harder to follow their agenda on consolidation..

At least three people testified under oath in court on the Paron School case that the bus rides the students at Paron have to make to Bryant are two hours long one way, not an hour a half; and the roads are dangerous and curvy. Parents testified that they don't use the route that the bus will be using because it is a dangerous road. The opposing ADE attorney never questioned this testimony in any way. That is 4 hours on a bus a day. And the superintendent of Bryant School District, Dr. Richard Abernathy, who is attempting to close Paron, stated under oath that he had never ridden the bus route that these students will be riding. In his testimony he implied again that he had no problem with the long bus routes because many students in his own district ride the bus for three hours a day. The superintendent didn't say if he had ever ridden those three-hour routes in his own district. My guess is that he hasn't. The students will be brought to Paron and then transferred to a bus to go on to Bryant.

The Bryant superintendent acknowledged that the high school and elementary students would probably be picked up together, and the younger students left at school for an hour before classes begin. Then these elementary students would in all probability have to spend another wasted hour at the Paron campus in the afternoon waiting for the older students to get back to the campus. Therefore, the elementary students could have the same length of day as the older students. That is a long, long grueling day for elementary and kindergarten students.

Dr. Abernathy didn't seem to realize that a four hours a day on the bus is significantly different than a three-hour ride. So I guess five hours a day wouldn't be too long either! This is what the Paron district is trying to get the ADE to determine. Just when is a long bus ride too long? The legislature ordered a study done to determine this in 2005, and nothing had been done a year later toward the study when the ADE voted to close Paron.

The ADE's attorney's argued that Paron had no basis for their complaint on long bus rides because there was no law that the state even had to provide transportation for the students. Again, he did not question any of the witnesses' testimony on the length of the bus rides.

Superintendent Abernathy admitted that they had enough money to keep the school open for now. Bryant school district received $838,000 from the State in "consolidation incentive funding" as well as fund balances and other property from the Paron School District for a total benefit to the Bryant School District of more than $1,000,000.

Robert Smalley, a superintendent from Alpena who retired just this spring, testified about the situation in two school districts that had merged in order to meet the standards when he was the superintendent. He made the point that 15 to 20 minutes have to be added to travel time when the annexing district picks up the students at the annexed district site. All buses involved have to meet at the annexed school campus from where the students have to be transported. By the time the last bus comes in and students can transfer from one bus to another to be taken on to the next school campus, he said you were fortunate if you could get it done in 15 or 20 minutes. Another 30 to 40 minutes a day would then be added to any bus route where this transportation plan is used. The ADE attorney did not question the validity of this statement in any way.

This wise superintendent from Alpena had all his teachers to have a picnic at the end of their longest route one day and had them to ride the bus on the way back to school, just the one way bus ride. He testified that they had to stop the bus because three teachers became car sick. From that point on, he said the teachers had a better appreciation of what their students faced every day, twice a day.

He also testified that many students dropped out after the merger in his district, and many kids on the end of the routes missed a lot of school. He said he had worked every way he could to prevent rides from being more than an hour or so because he knew about the problems.

The attorney for ADE questioned other superintendents in surrounding schools, most of them at quite a distance from Paron as well. The superintendents in surrounding areas to Paron said they would provide transportation for the students at Paron if they chose to change to their district, but they would provide transportation only from Paron campus to their school. Parents would have to get them to Paron campus, and that would be their only alternative because they would no longer be in Bryant school district to be transported to Paron.

The Paron attorney pointed out that there is zero discipline problems at Paron, there are no students requiring college remediation, there are no drop-out problems, and the students are scoring above state average on tests. Several parents testified about their involvement with their children at school activities on a daily basis. They all related that they would not be able to be involved with their children's activities if they moved to Bryant because of time and the transportation financial burden. Every major study indicates that parental involvement is the major factor in the educational success of students. How much parental involvement can there be when parents have to drive an hour and a half one way to get to the school for any meeting or activity?

The Paron attorney also pointed out that because of financial burdens and time limits, the students from Paron would be unable to participate in after school activities because, as Bryant Superintendent Dr. Abernathy admitted, there is no bus to take children home after the activities that occurred outside school hours. Superintendent Smalley pointed out in his testimony that the extra curricular activities give the students a sense of belonging , a necessity to keep them from being at risk students.

Testimony was given by superintendents that distance learning can be used for courses that will provide interactive learning where students can see the teacher and other students in other schools and even get college credit. Superintendent Smalley at Alpena said some of his students obtained 30 hours of college credit at his small school by time of graduation through distance learning. He said that his students preferred the distance learning courses where they received college credit, but the students were having that privilege taken away by ADE rules now that were requiring them to take AP courses instead - some more of those goofy ADE bureaucratic rules to purposely lay burdens on the backs of small schools so they can close them.

Just recently the media and skeptics were saying the length of these bus rides was being exaggerated. In 2003 a Senator sent out an email saying they had documented proof that no school in Arkansas was riding the bus 3 hours a day! Of course that documentation was never produced; and in fact, documentation was produced showing at least 33 schools out of 102 schools that were called had bus rides of 3 hours or more, and six of them had some rides of 3 1/2 hours..

The exaggerated bus story story fit the consolidation proponents' agenda. . Now the story has changed and the same people are saying numerous schools have kids in Arkansas riding the bus three hours a day, so what? Quite a change in the perception! It took a great deal of effort to get out the truth that children are indeed riding the buses 3 -4 hours a day and that many more are doing so because of the consolidation bill in 2003 session.

With more effort and time, perhaps Arkansas citizens, who are all appalled when they learn about the long bus rides, will become knowledgeable and realize they were fooled big time by the consolidation proponents.

For conclusion of the court case, see next email. This one is too long already.

Debbie Pelley

1:41 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger Valerie said...

Debbie, what a great post! You've done a wonderful job!

5:58 PM, June 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public schools belong to the socialists. Fighting the system is a lost cause, as the public model is naturally tilted in their favor. Flee government schools.

6:45 AM, June 23, 2006  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

I don't concede all those children to the socialists. Public schools worked when I grew up. They can again if we return to true local control and the locals have their heads on right.

7:38 AM, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is but the tip of the iceberg. A study will soon be launched regarding student transportation costs to school districts consolidating and annexing with other school districts.

When you move hundreds of students and for distances of 2 or more hours, it is quite expensive. Neither does administrative costs decline because of the need for distant supervision--only adds transportation costs for such supervisors.

Paron is the example before the public, but there are others in the works that are even worse. One in Sevier County will require 100% student transportation to its new school district. The new school district will expand to 385 square miles in area, larger in area than even Paron-Bryant. Paron adds 243 square miles of territory to the 106 square mile area of Bryant. Little concept exists among the exalted to what this means in new costs and problems. The Judge was right for a reprieve. It needs to be made permanent. The Hutchinson-Fite approach was the reasonable one and should be the basis for similar situations throughout the State.

6:00 PM, June 30, 2006  

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