Monday, July 10, 2006

A Magnet for Millionaires: Buist, Part 2

"Downtown board wants proof for Buist addresses: Spokesman: Parents don't have to give them that info," by Diette Courrege, The Post and Courier, July 6, 2006.

"Buist queries some parents: Multiple home addresses at heart of enrollment debate," by Diette Courrege, The Post and Courier, July 8, 2006.

Pity the poor members of the District 20 (downtown) constituent school board. As Charleston County School District spokesman Jerry Adams says, "they are not part of the magnet school process."

A little background here. Buist Academy occupies the building that was originally Buist High School, an all-black school back when segregation ruled. In order to make desegregation more palatable to whites, with the hope of preventing those who could from fleeing to private schools, when CCSD was desegregated, Buist became a magnet K-8 school with the policy that its student body of approximately 400 would be 60 - 70 % white and 30 - 40 % black. This ratio held for the next 40 years through careful selection processes.

In a convoluted application process parents of potential kindergarteners apply to the CCSD for one of 40 slots in Buist's kindergarten each year. The approximately 250-275 applications suggest the popularity of this kindergarten over virtually any public or private school in the area, a testament no doubt to the school's success and reputation. The 40 slots are divided into pools: 10 for siblings of students already at Buist; 10 for students who live in the downtown district; 10 for students from low-performing schools; and 10 county-wide slots.

A problem appears immediately. Let's assume no overlap from one pool to another (obviously, some downtown children could fall into three pools) and that 280 apply. If we also assume that applications are evenly divided, that would be 7 students vying for each slot in each category. Yet it's not likely that they're evenly divided. In fact, without the numbers being made public, anyone may conclude that the majority of the applications fall into the county-wide pool and are for students who do not live in a low-performing area--Mt. Pleasant, for example, or Sullivan's Island, or the Isle of Palms--or maybe the Crescent west of the Ashley. The number in that category could easily reach 100 or more.

It also doesn't take a genius to figure out that many parents of potential kindergarteners, remember, especially those living downtown, are clueless about the schools, the system, and the application process.

WHAT TO DO!! Your child is a genius, having proved it by being born to wealthy parents. Yet his or her chances of getting in from the county-wide list are abysmal--probably 1 in 10 or worse. But on the "living downtown" list the chances are more like 1 in 5. Such a temptation... especially since CCSD is notoriously slack on details--let's pretend that little Johnny-Joe lives at his father's business address or in a downtown condo owned by Dad's company! Perfect!

If you know anything at all about testing children under the age of 6, you are probably wondering how these 40 are selected out of so many. It's a LOTTERY! Yes, in each category 20 students are selected at random to be "tested." This testing occurs one-on-one with a qualified CCSD employee. After this pool/lottery/testing process, the 20 are ranked and the top 10 offered admission. Somehow in the past, this testing process produced a ratio of 60 % white and 40 % black for the total of 40; don't ask how!

What I do know is that the selection process is seriously flawed--the "random" selection, the one-on-one testing--and open to manipulation, especially on the part of CCSD. I also know from personal experience that testing children at this age is notoriously inaccurate. One of my children's IQ's rose 60 points from age 5 to 7!

When the lottery process began, I do not know, but it is obvious that, under a lottery system, there is no rationale for slotting 10 siblings of present students! Why not 10 more from low-performing schools?

Enter the District 20 constituent school board. Talk about rocking the boat. They want the incoming students on the "downtown" list to actually live downtown! Apparently they have the list of 40 for the coming school year, because first they sent a list of 6 names to CCSD of parents who are claiming "fraudulent addresses" as downtown residences; then they discovered at least 5 more. I bet you can guess the response of CCSD!


So now we have Buist's principal, Sallie Ballard, calling the first set of six to verify primary residences and checking property records. She's satisfied that all's well; the District 20 board is not. Can you blame them? Ballard won't divulge the reasons for the discrepancies. Adams (CCSD) spokesman says it's "none of [the board's] business."

No? What IS the board's business? Window dressing?

Sallie Ballard is also quoted as saying that she relies on CCSD for address validation until the final 10 downtown students are selected, and then she checks their addresses. WHY???? Funny, she doesn't check the addresses of any other group!

I return to MR. BIG (see previous post). Mrs. Ballard has assured the board that he told her he lives downtown. Let's see. He owns 15 properties downtown taxed at the commercial or rental rate and a house on Sullivan's Island, where he is taxed on his cars and claims the lower primary-residence rate as well as listing his telephone. If he lives downtown but claims the Sullivan's Island address as primary to get the lower rate, he's a LIAR; if he lives on Sullivan's Island but claims the downtown residence, he's a LIAR. Either way, he's working the system. Is THAT why the Newsless Courier dare not provide his name?

One Buist parent interviewed claims that it's "socially acceptable" among the rich to claim downtown business addresses to raise their children's chances of getting in. Funny thing, the poor and the lower-middle class don't have that option. I suppose this situation falls into the same category as shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor, as the state legislature just did. We know Mr. Big's house on Sullivan's Island will reap the benefit. I bet his tax break would pay for the most expensive private kindergarten in the Low Country.

District 20 constituent members want an address audit of the entire school.

Sallie Ballard says she's meeting with Maria Goodloe to discuss if the verification procedures are adequate.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on.

One out of every two students who make it to ninth grade in CCSD fails to graduate from high school.

Buist Academy has a waiting list of 1500.

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