Guy Hardin: Busing is not the answer

Published: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

I am pleased the School Board of Alachua County has halted the large scale rezoning of the local high schools. An enormous amount of time and resources would have been wasted on the protracted conflict that was sure to follow. It would have further divided the community and poisoned the atmosphere making fundamental change impossible.

I am also saddened by the distrust and rancor that has characterized the debate. It did not have to be this way.

I have two small children in elementary school and, by most accounts, I don't have a dog in this fight. I am told there likely will be a high school west of I-75 by the time my family needs one. However, I attended each of the community input sessions out of curiosity and a whole-hearted support for public education. From the beginning, though, I could not get the pieces of the story to fit together.

I tell my kids all the time that I have never met a problem that does not have a solution. The size or complexity of the issue does not change this fundamental truth. But, to address any of the big issues faced by our society, we must have open and honest communication and cooperation across the community. There is no bigger issue, nor one with more far reaching consequences, than the chronic low academic achievement of poor, minority children.

It would be unwise and unwarranted for the board to chalk up the determined opposition to fear, ignorance and racism. I heard the embarrassing intolerance which colored some of the public comments. I am grateful to Greg Bradley who stood up on Monday night to confront this undeniable theme. However, most of what I heard was concerned parents frustrated by the flawed process and concerned by the ambiguity and legitimacy of the goals. Perhaps most of all, I heard parents angered by being told their children must pay the price for change.

If many parents were misinformed, it is because the manner and content of the official communication was rushed, vague, inconsistent and incomplete. If the board's motivations were unfairly challenged, it is because the true objectives of the rezoning plan were obscured by an artificial crisis. One look at the portable classrooms on the Buchholz campus and it is obvious that all its students cannot fit into its permanent buildings. But all the evidence I have seen and heard consistently demonstrates that Buchholz is not over-crowded and that its population is declining. At the second community meeting, Superintendent Dan Boyd himself acknowledged we are not at the point of crisis.

That same evening, Boyd disclosed the motivation behind the only other stated goal of the rezoning. The push for socioeconomic leveling was prompted by the unfair school rating system. The poor performance of the bottom 25 percent of students in the neighborhoods surrounding Gainesville High and Eastside are the only reason those schools are burdened with grades of C or D. Boyd's proposed solution is to bus poor children west and bus middle-class children east.

Some think there's little more to be done about the chronic low achievement of poor black children. But Dr. Boyd seems to think he can at least protect the reputations of GHS and Eastside by shipping those kids to Buchholz.

My heart breaks with the thought that our school system might be led by those who hold to this belief.

In 14 years of marriage, I have become fairly adept at the art of error. Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong in the conclusions I have drawn here.

Guy Hardin is a stay-at-home dad who lives in Gainesville.

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