$50,000 To Pay For Mascot Could Have Funded School Resource Officer
No funds for 70+ outdated school computers, library books
Fallout continues from a decision made by the Johnston County School Board to approve a controversial mascot for Selma Middle School which will become a ReStart school in 2018-19.
The current mascot is the “Vikings” – the only mascot the school has ever known – and many teachers, current and former students and community members did not want the mascot name or logo to change. Others did not want to pay $50,000 for the change when there are more pressing needs.
During last Tuesday’s school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Eddie Price said four new mascots were suggested. They were Express, RailBlazers, Steam and Conductors. Giving the choice, 65 percent of those surveyed selected the RailBlazers, although the survey did not give the students, faculty and community the option to keep the Vikings mascot.
“The new proposed (RailBlazers) mascot unifies the school with Selma’s history and culture. The administrative team has utilized stakeholder surveys, one-on-one communication with alumni and business leaders, and staff and student surveys to inform the decision,” Dr. Price said.
School board member Ronald Johnson openly questioned Dr. Price and Selma Middle Principal Chris Germanoski during the March 20th meeting if they knew the cost of switching mascots including the costs for new murals, signs, stationary and uniforms. Neither Price or Germanoski knew the exact cost.
Johnson, the school board liason for Selma Middle, requested the mascot decision be postponed 30 days until the actual cost of the name change could be determined. The vote failed 5-to-2, with Johnson and fellow school board member Teresa Grant voting unsuccessfully to postpone the decision. The board then voted immediately 5-to-2, with Johnson and Grant voting against, to select the RailBlazers as the mascot without knowing the true cost to the school system.
New Mascot Or School Resource Officer?
“Initially, all I wanted was some additional time to discuss concerns brought to my attention by students, staff, and parents,” Johnson told WTSB after the meeting. ” I attempted to get the Board to table the topic for further discussion and take action on a later date. They refused to give me additional time to discuss the concerns of the parents, students, and teachers who contacted me 24 hours before the board meeting.”
JoCoReport. com learned after the vote the new mascot logo could cost the school system $30,000 to $50,000.
“I have some major concerns about the money involved with changing the school mascot,” Johnson said. “I think it was unreasonable to expect any board member to support this when no one knew how much it will cost the taxpayers. After speaking with school employees, I was told this mascot change will cost approximately $50,000. I cannot support spending this amount of money when we have so many other needs in Johnston County. We have safety and security issues. $50,000 could fund a School Resource Officer at Selma Middle to protect our children.”
Other School Needs Left Unfunded
Johnson said as a child he attended Selma Middle and was concerned the Vikings mascot was not one of the four options in the final survey. In addition, Johnson questioned the timing of the mascot expenditure when Selma Middle has a list of other important needs that are currently unfunded. Johnson said those needs should be met before money is spent on a mascot.
Among the needs are 70-plus new computers, software, books for the school library and improvements to the athletic fields that are currently described by one staff member as “atrocious.” Johnson said many of the computers in use at Selma Middle no longer meet minimal criteria established by the school system itself.
JoCoReport.com has also learned Selma Middle School staff were given little to no input on the name change and many parents and students were not included in the survey.
“The Vikings mascot is a tradition for Selma Middle and spending thousands of dollars to replace it is a waste of money,” one teacher said on the condition of anonimity. Some members of the Selma Middle School Improvement Team said they felt like they had been left out of the selection process.
Concern From Elected Officials
Ann Williams, the former Associate Superintendent of Facility Services for Johnston County Schools and now a member of the Selma Town Council, wrote a letter to Principal Germanoksi days before the March 20th vote expressing concern about changing the mascot. She expressed concern with the 5-to-2 decision.
“They needed to do what they felt they needed to do. It was difficult for me to parlay RailBlazer into a mascot,” Williams said Wednesday. “Usually you think about a mascot being able to be on the field or in a gym. It is some type of thing with a costume. I have a hard time with that. Maybe it could be a conductor as a mascot. I can see that, but most children today have never seen a conductor.”
As for the $30,000 to $50,000 projected cost of the mascot when computers, software and other needs are still unfulfilled, Williams said, “I am absolutely concerned that that amount of money would be needed. I understand they don’t think the Viking is appropriate at this point. My first thoughts for any kind of money being spent would be to spend on the curriculum, additional books, computers, software. Until we had everything like that I would not touch the mascot if it would cost that kind of money.”
Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver said the school board decision has both pros and cons. “Changing a name does not necessarily change the performance,” Mayor Oliver told WTSB News. “The school’s primary focus should be on improving the performance of every student.”
“Next year is the year they become a Restart school. It’s always a nice shot in the arm to do rebranding. We visibly did something to say Restart is underway. There is merit tying it to the community. That is a good thing,” Mayor Oliver said referencing the new RailBlazers name with the history of Selma and the railroad.
“I do believe that computers, books, etc. are more important. If it’s not spent on the rebranding will it be spent on books and computers? That’s an unknown. I certainly understand the reasoning of the school board members who wanted to understand the true cost. It’s a big difference between $30,000 and $50,000.”
Mayor Oliver said other options could have been to roll out the mascot over a 5 year period with a nominal cost each year for the changeover or to solicit private donors to help with the expense.
“I do see both sides of it,” Oliver added. “Delay (the mascot) for a year to see what the verdict is on the Restart school. What would be horrible is to go through the rebranding and test scores and other indicators drop.”
Oliver had her own suggestion, to focus the new Restart Selma Middle School around ’new and improved performance statistics instead of leading the change with a yellow and blue mascot.
Jimmy Clapp, a current candidate for Johnston County School Board and a retired Johnston County Schools employee was in attendance of the March 20th controversial vote. Clapp said afterwards, “Selma Middle is an awesome school and has a great staff and students. However, I believe this money could be better spent on other issues that the school has and boost morale this way rather than spending it on a mascot change.”
What’s In A Name?
The RailBlazers mascot is supposed to reflect on rich history of Selma, the railroad and the annual Railroad Days.
However, some have pointed out that ‘Rail’ and ‘Blazer’ are slang terms for narcotics. Rail is the nickname for a line of cocaine about to be inhaled and Blazer is a nickname for someone who smokes marijuana.
At least one Selma Middle parent believes more thought should have been put into the name. Another parent said the Vikings mascot reflected the true history of the school and would have still been appropriate in the rebranded Restart school. Both did not want to be identified.
“Some people believe changing the mascot is a major step in improving Selma Middle School,” School board member Ronald Johnson said. “I just don’t think changing from a Viking to a Railblazer is going to improve student performance, give teachers the materials they need, or increase parent involvement. I think there are more pressing needs in our school system. However, the mascot is changed and I was on the losing end of the vote.”
When Was Decision Really Made?
The Johnston County School Board voted 5-to-2 to change the Selma Middle School mascot name March 20th at 4:00pm.
JoCoReport.com has obtained photos taken inside Selma Middle School on March 19th – 24 hours earlier – showing where a Johnston County School paint crew had painted over several of the old Vikings logos on the gymnasium walls and inside the main section of the school.
“There are other concerns besides the money. When the faculty, students, and public were surveyed they were not given the option to remain the Selma Middle School Vikings. I do not believe that is a fair assessment of the stakeholders. Also, the Viking murals were painted over one day prior to the Board meeting to vote on the issue. I was contacted by several teachers, students, and parents who were concerned a decision was already made before the Board of Education voted,” Johnson told WTSB in an exclusive interview.
Controversy over the selection process, the board vote, the meaning of the new mascot, the cost and the timing of the change is likely something that will not go away anytime soon.
“When things change there are always those who don’t agree,” Dr. Price commented after the vote.
Johnson: Taxpayers Expect More From School Leaders
“The Administration told me a mascot change is what is needed to help our students,” Johnson told WTSB. “Well you asked and you received; now I expect progress.”
“I don’t expect for someone to come to me later with an excuse or another theory from the latest book they’ve read, just make something positive happen. That’s what the taxpayers and I expect of our leaders. I certainly appreciate the efforts of everyone working for our students in Johnston County, but when people have concerns I will ask questions.”
Johnson added, “Any elected official who is unwilling to stop and take a moment to discuss what our citizens want, doesn’t deserve to hold an office.”
Board members Dr. Peggy Smith, Butler Hall, Todd Sutton, Vice Chairman Dorothy Johnson and Chairman Mike Wooten voted against the 30 day delay and for the immediate approval of the mascot without knowing the true costs.
In an email to WTSB News, Dr. Smith said she voted for the mascot, “…because the RailBlazers was supported by the community – 65% of respondents chose it, extensive involvement of community dating back to the original leaders, students and citizens (and) the mascot connects the school to the community which is centered around the railroad and antiques.”
Todd Sutton emailed a statement saying, “The Board of Education gets the agenda at least 5 days in advance of our meetings. In the case of the March meeting, we had our agenda for 12 days in advance. During this time, I had the opportunity to reach out to our policy review committee as well as Dr. Price to get clarifying information so that I could make an informed decision. Based upon the answers I received, I supported the mascot change.”
Teresa Grant, who voted with Johnson seeking to delay the vote 30 days said afterwards, “Board member Ronald Johnson stated that several people had reached out to him with concerns, and he wanted us to wait another month to gather more information and ensure it was the right decision. He said he had concerns with the survey results and the cost. Being that he is the board liaison for that school, I felt that his request was reasonable. After the meeting was over, I asked the superintendent if it would be possible for us to see actual survey results in writing in the future, as well as any estimates when money is involved, so that way we can all make informed decisions.”
Butler Hall and Vice Chairman Johnson did not respond to our request for a comment.
Beginning this Fall, many people will be watching Selma Middle School to see if the school board made the right decision – selecting a mascot over computers and library books – to improve student performance.