Black School Board Members meet in Raleigh to discuss gap between urban and rural school districts

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Caucus of Black School Board Members began their annual retreat in Raleigh on Thursday, with a focus on the gap between urban and rural school districts.

"You have challenges around urban districts where you have a much more robust tax base (compared to) where you have more distressed counties that experience high unemployment, low tax base, and then add to some of them that have been hit over the (last) couple years by natural disasters like hurricanes. So you see a huge gap in disparity in terms of funding. We're seeing it affects their ability to pay teachers," explained Keith Sutton, the President of the North Carolina Caucus of Black School Board Members, and the Vice-Chair of the Wake County Public Schools Board.

Sutton is referring to additional payment individual counties and districts provide teachers on top of their state-funded wages in noting the difficulty certain school systems experience in attracting and retaining staff. Last year, one of the main points of emphasis was about finding and hiring male African-American teachers.

"Last year, we even had some of our Human Resources staff from Wake County present here at the conference, so they shared some of the strategies they use to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, and in particular teachers of color, as well as learn a few things about what other districts are experiencing, and what's working and not working," Sutton said.

On top of staffing issues, lower-funded districts also struggle in providing certain elective courses.

"I do not believe that it should matter where you're born in this state, what zip code you live in or are born to, that you should receive a different level of education," Sutton said.

The three-day conference includes workshops, several speakers and provides educators with an opportunity to share ideas.

"Leadership, training, hearing about issues, challenges that our state faces particularly in how we educate all kids across the state," Sutton said about some of the goals of the retreat.

Another goal is reducing the inequity that exists between white and African-American students.

"Suspensions, student achievement, graduation rates, there are a number of issues where we see some disproportionality," Sutton noted.

A March 2018 report by the US Government Accountability Office found African-American students received 39% of school suspensions, despite making up less than 16% of the student body.

Using data from the 2016-17 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics found 78% of African-American students graduated high school in four years - seven percent below the national average.

Sutton says there has been progress in addressing those shortcomings.

"That follows the trend - where there are resources, both financial and human capital," Sutton said.

On Saturday, six state superintendent candidates will take part in a forum to discuss a variety of issues. Keith Poston, the President of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, will serve as the moderator. The event, which is open to the public, begins at 9 a.m. and is being held at Hampton Inn & Suites located at 3920 Arrow Drive in Raleigh. Registration begins at 8.
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