Way off base

Published 1:31 am Wednesday, September 19, 2007

By Staff
There are few things more disheartening than seeing a person in the position to be a role model instead become a stumbling block for children. Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson has succeeded in doing just that.
During last week’s commissioners’ meeting, Richardson made a remark that implied students at the county’s alternative school aren’t worth saving. For that remark, Richardson owes every child in that school, every family that is praying for those children and every taxpayer in Beaufort County an apology.
Beaufort County Board of Education Chairman Robert Belcher was in the midst of a routine budget update when Richardson asked about money spent at the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center.
The school on Harvey Street is geared toward helping children who are having trouble with academics, attendance or behavior. Its mission is straightforward.
Its motto is even simpler than that: “Quitting is not an option.” The alternative school exists to support children who might not otherwise graduate from high school. It exists so those children can learn to succeed in the classroom and in the real world.
From his perch, Richardson has the ability to laud the efforts supported by that school and its staff. Instead, Richardson said last week that the school is “punishing our normal students.”
Wow. To say something like that takes … stupidity.
What must a child feel if he or she happens to hear that message? What’s worse is that it is a message coming from a person in power. For sending that message, whether it was off the cuff or intentional, Richardson should be ashamed.
Imagine being the child who’s just trying to make it through another day of school. And then imagine hearing — from an authority figure who should command respect — that your learning is punishing “normal” students. Adults must never forget that children are listening to and watching them and that what they say has a lasting impact.
Belcher, without missing a beat, stepped in to be the voice of reason. “We really believe they are salvageable,” he said simply.
So do we.
But just for the sake of argument, look at the numbers alone. It costs an average of $23,725 to house one inmate in prison for one year. It costs roughly $8,300 to educate a child in a North Carolina public school for one year.
Richardson, in panning the alternative school, is essentially saying that it’s OK with him if children who could and should be in school wind up in jail. Does that mean it’s OK with him if taxpayers wind up footing the bill?
Shame on you, Mr. Richardson, for sending a message that is both fiscally and morally irresponsible. During the next meeting, you should look into the camera you so often pander to — and apologize.