BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 28, 2009
Public Works delivers crapload o' curb cuts to one baffled Forest Hills street

School board's Davis: I'd have voted for Erwin-Cornwallis

The N&O's Sadia Latifi has been a nice addition to the N&O's newsroom, picking up (among other things) the education beat for the western half of the Triangle. (Interestingly, this means that both of the reporters covering the Durham Public Schools beat have connections with Columbia -- Latifi as a 2009 grad of the undergraduate program, and the Herald-Sun's Matt "Snapper" Milliken as a Columbia J-school grad.)

And she had an intriguing pick-up late in last night's school board meeting on the subject of the controversial Erwin-Cornwallis site that had been under consideration for a high school until the administration pulled it off the table.

School board member Frederick Davis -- who's not unwilling to cut against political winds on issues, as his response to Durham CAN on their schools agenda a few months ago demonstrated -- had a verbal rebuke of sorts for the thank-you given the district by Erwin-Cornwallis Organization leader Elizabeth Vigdor for the removal of the Duke Forest site from consideration, and to the board for engaging with residents on the issue:

You heard some representatives from the Erwin Road-Cornwallis group thank us for making a decision with the support of the administration. I want to go on record that I didn’t make a decision to support the administration.

The administration, in their own rights and responsibilities, made that decision and for the record, if it had been brought to my action, I would have voted for that property. Because one of these days, the citizenry of Durham is going to have to bite the bullet and make sure that we have schools in Durham County that’s going to reach the total community.

Read more at Latifi's Bulls Eye blog entry.



Pastor Davis' goal as a school board member has never been clear to me. In my experience attending meetings, he seems to instigate conflict with no desire to reach compromise or agreement. I've seen him make very terse but incendiary statements but then refuse to clarify or explicate his comments. At times I sense he is just frustrated like the rest of us at the miserable performance of so many of DPS schools. But in the end I question his desire to work *with* those school board members with whom he, for whatever reason, disagrees.

Of course, it seems to me that the DPS school board is a largely ineffective governing body, and I don't know to what extent the presence of personalities like Pastor Davis on the board contributes to that ineffectiveness.

Elizabeth Vigdor

I find Pastor Davis' comments quite disheartening since other school board members made it very clear to us that they did not yet have information on the sites. So it seems that he is suggesting that he would have chosen that site without knowing all the pros and cons of the sites under consideration. How is that best for Durham?

In fact, part of the purpose of my comments last night was to express hope that the Board would apply equally careful consideration to all costs and benefits of the other sites so that the best location is chosen. I am concerned that they are focusing too much on cheap land without thinking of all the other costs that they will incur (e.g., if a site doesn't have public transportation and is far away from the students, DPS will have higher transportation costs and lower parental involvement).

And for the record, I thanked the board for their thoughtful responses to concerned citizens (as Sadia correctly reports). Several board members replied very thoughtfully to the letters and were willing to engage in conversations with people. I didn't thank the board for the decision, since as Davis notes, they didn't make it.


I'm amazed I'm finding something to agree w/ Pastor Davis about. As a parent of children in an over crowded elementary school who will probably go to an over crowded middle & high school, I have an issue when neighborhood groups only protest a school in their neighborhood. Work with the district to find solutions to these problems and then help the district figure out how these solutions can be paid for. In the comments on this blog there were excellent examples of retrofitting South Sq and other urban areas for a high school. Has anyone from the group that was protesting the Duke Forest site, actually gone to the city and county and schools to see if this can actually be done? Other than fighting the district to NOT put a school in your backyard, what are you doing to help the district? It seems to me that one of the reasons it takes so long to build schools in Durham is that every group in town has to weigh in on the process. I'm all for community input, but how about something that helps solves the problem instead of just fighting DPS. The problem is we have more kids in Jordan and Riverside than we have seats. Look at the feeder elementary schools and you'll know it's only going to get worse. I really hope that the Duke Forest neighbors don't feel as if their job is done. I really hope they feel empowered to help DPS and become part of the solution. Only time will tell.

Elizabeth Vigdor

In response to TH: Yes, we have mentioned those ideas to DPS, but every idea we've mentioned that has gotten a response has been dismissed (e.g., South Square is too small - they want a 50 acre site for their 9 athletic fields). We have been told repeatedly by various people at DPS that the basic concept is non-negotiable. They will not expand current schools, and they will not give up any of the athletic fields. That makes it considerably harder to put forth a viable urban site.

We would love to work with DPS - again, part of why we I was there last night was to indicate that we were NOT done with the matter - but it is extremely hard to do that when we don't know what the other sites are. And, by the way, that is not a criticism of DPS - I fully understand why it is detrimental to release the locations). It just makes it really hard for us.

The E-C site would have been a tremendous waste of taxpayer money, which is why it was dropped. On an aerial photo it looks great, but if you actually walk the land you see it is steep, rocky and wet. E.g., The area where they had the football field laid out had a 46 foot drop in elevation, with rock outcroppings. Grading that site and dealing with water management would have added many millions to the cost of the site.

If Davis had evaluated all the info and decided that the E-C site was best, I wouldn't have had an issue with him. We would have disagreed on the best choice, but that's life. My issue is that he is saying that he would have voted for that site - when he does not have info on the costs and benefits that site (which the board never got, since it was dropped), so it is simply not possible for him to have made a well thought out decision on which site is best.

Doug Roach

Seems as if Mr. Davis is more intent upon making a "statement" to the community than he is in doing what is best for the DPS and the children.
His lack of concern for monetary, safety, infrastructure and environmental questions is astounding. Perhaps in his zeal to piss off one neighborhood he has simply chosen to be ignorant of the real issues with the Erwin-Cornwallis property.
More's the pity. One would expect more from a public servant.

Steve Bocckino

Fred Davis is right—we need schools throughout Durham. How can we have neighborhood schools when we organize against them? What might appear today as a neighborhood victory may result in kids being bussed across town for the next 50 years.

Many of our schools are overcrowded and Durham's population is growing at almost 2% a year—something's got to give. Durham could slow its growth rate by limiting rezonings, but that would require a sustained effort by the citizenry, one that hasn't materialized and probably won't. Unless that happens, Fred is dead right.

Elizabeth Vigdor

You are so right, we do need neighborhood schools. That is one of the key points the Erwin-Cornwallis organization has been arguing. The point is that the Erwin-Cornwallis site wouldn't have been a neighborhood school. This site is not where the kids are, and not where the growth is projected to be (look about 1/2 way down this page for density and growth projection maps http://www.erwin-cornwallis.com/learn.html ). Choosing this site would INCREASE busing relative to a more urban location - if you want a school in the middle of nowhere that is racially balanced, you have to bus kids from the central district. And then you have no public transportation to support them: how do kids get to after school jobs that are not on their assigned school bus route? How do parents with limited transportation get to PTA meetings, teacher conferences, sporting events, etc.?

Don't be misled by Davis' comments that someone has to come up with the land and the money; that is a red herring. The money for this has already been approved in a bond referendum; all we are saying that DPS needs to use that money wisely. And they have 3-4 other sites under consideration, so apparently someone has already come up with the land.

You have to look at Davis' comments in the context of what we said at the meeting, and what had happened prior. The Board was never given info on the costs and benefits of this site; it never got to that point. So when Davis says that he would have chosen that site, he's saying that he is willing to go on record with that commitment, without any evidence about costs or benefits. THAT is what is troubling, regardless of the topic in question.


While the Erwin/Cornwallis site may indeed be bad, how can it be ruled out at this juncture when, according to Elizabeth, "other school board members made it very clear to us that they did not yet have information on the [other] sites"? As disappointing as it is for Davis to conclude that E/C is the best, it is equally disappointing for others to conclude it is the worst, *IF* data on the "3-4 other sites under consideration" is not complete. It's possible that the net costs & benefits of other sites will be worse than E/C. There is definitely not a perfect site anywhere in Durham that will please everyone. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm concerned that a hasty no-go decision may have been made.

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