Tilt toward neighborhood schools seen in election

by Jordan Green

With a longtime proponent of socio-economic diversity retiring from the Guilford County School Board at the end of this year the vocal parents from north High Point who have rallied behind the cause of neighborhood schools are assured of having an elected representative who shares their views in place by 2007.

District 2 board member Susan Mendenhall has announced she will not be running for reelection. She alienated many constituents by supporting a reassignment plan that swapped students between Southwest and Andrews high schools to balance the scales by increasing the share of non-white and free-and-reduced -meal students at Southwest High School while making the demographics of Andrews High School more white and affluent. The controversial plan was approved by the school in a 6-5 vote on Feb. 21.

Contending for the seat are Garth Hebert and Debbie Maines, two candidates who lost to at-large school board member Dot Kearns in the 2004 election. Hebert and Maines respectively placed third and fourth in the primary election, and Hebert threw his support behind Jim Kirkpatrick, a former Greensboro mayor pro tem and former Guilford County commissioner who narrowly lost in the general election to Kearns. Then, as now, the election revolved around attendance lines in High Point.

‘“I think you have two superb candidates, two excellent choices,’” said Kirkpatrick, who works as a financial consultant for Merrill Lynch. ‘“The people of High Point are going to have a tough choice.’”

Kirkpatrick, who lives in Greensboro, said he chose not to run this year because the at-large seat up for election is held by Nancy Routh, who he believes deserves to be reelected. Routh is running unopposed.

Hebert said he was dismayed by the school board’s Feb. 21 vote.

‘“I don’t see any intelligence in this redistricting,’” he said. ‘“It takes away from the poor family’s ability to participate in intramural or athletic activities.’”

Hebert said he has nothing bad to say about his opponent, and assumes the good feeling is mutual. Maines did not return phone calls for this story.

An accountant who owns several companies in Asheboro, including Hebert & Co. and Landhandlers Management Group, Hebert said he has built three houses to avoid having his children transferred to new schools because of shifting attendance lines over the years. He has three school-age children, one of whom will be entering Southwest High School next year.

The candidate said the notion that parents are divided over the merits of socio-economic diversity as compared to neighborhood schools is a ‘“fiction’” created by the school board.

‘“The parents want quality neighborhood schools,’” he said. ‘“There are several minority politicians that are pushing this agenda of a gap between the haves and have-nots. I grew up in a trailer park on the Mexican border. I know what poverty is like because I grew up in it. I am an advocate for kids in the poorer parts of town. The school board is treating them as political pawns.’”

Only one other seat on the school board will change hands. Jeff Belton has announced he will run for the District 6 seat, which stretches between Greensboro’s inner-west neighborhoods of College Hill and Lindley Park, following board member Marti Sykes’ decision to not run for reelection. Sykes, like Mendenhall, has advocated for schools with socio-economic diversity.

Board Chairman Alan Duncan, whose District 4 covers parts of eastern Guilford County, and District 8 board member Deena Hayes, whose territory includes parts of south-central Greensboro, are also running unopposed.

‘“It’s just a shame that more people aren’t running,’” Kirkpatrick said. ‘“It’s a tough job, and I admire everyone on the board, even the one who was my opponent. We need qualified people to run, even if it is a thankless job. And it is the most thankless job there is.’”

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