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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clement's perspective on merging Durham city's government with county administration

During Clement's time on the Durham Board of County Commissioners, the local officials began debating whether to merge the city and county governments. In this segment, she reflects on how her experience as a commissioner changed the perspective she had held while on the Board of Education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Following up on your interest in education and talking about the city-county school merger issue. I'm wondering if you would talk about your position on that issue, given that you had been on the Board of Education for ten years. And then if it's changed over time in the last few years that have been so important for the issue.
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
Yes, Kathy, there has been a definite change, a very gradual but almost an inescapable change in that during my ten years on the Board of Education I had one point of view. I was very, I guess I was almost chauvinistic about the city system. Now as a county commissioner I have a broader view, a different perspective. We see the two systems as being a unit as far as funding is concerned. The county is the funding agent for both city systems although their own elected boards are the policy makers. From that point of view I began to see the problems of financial support. Children are the same throughout the county. They have needs, they must have an opportunity to develop themselves to the best of their capabilities, so that they can take their places as responsible and productive citizens. And so my view has broadened a bit, well, I'll say a lot. For instance, in the matter of funding we know that the city has a very small--the city school district, I should say--has a very small tax base as opposed to the county school system. Now this probably is becoming increasingly true throughout the country, but it is particularly true here in Durham County because of the Research Triangle Park. Also, because we had a very severe urban renewal program which tore down homes and businesses and what not, and hastened the flight to the suburbs so that the shopping centers and so forth are outside the city. By not moving the city district lines to keep up with the city governmental lines--they are not coterminus--we don't even get the advantage of the shopping centers and businesses like that, that are all on the outskirts of town. There is a vast differential, something like 149,000 yield from one penny in the city school district up until 585,000 from one penny in the county school district. That tells you something about the extraordinary disparity there. Then, of course, along with this change that we've had throughout the country in demographics, we find that our inner cities are now filled with poor and by black people. The poorest element in our cities are very often in the inner city and that is a euphemism very often, whereas the more affluent people, the middle-class people, white and black, live in the suburbs. And I say that because there is a definite correlation between socioeconomic level and achievement levels. Children just must have support and guidance and direction from their parents. Parents who themselves are educated and have sufficient funds to provide a good living can offer their children more and do offer more, whereas the children of poor parents are most disadvantaged in this respect. They have no books and things like that and so it further compounds the problem.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I'm curious too about the merger task force. And I have to say that I haven't been able to figure out when that group began meeting. Was it in late '87?
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
No. Let's see. It began in '88, about May, following the budget planning sessions of the Board of County Commissioners. Our fiscal year ends June 30th. At the beginning of the planning session, say about March or April, when we were setting goals to decide what we wanted to do and where we wanted to be, so as to direct us and the expenditure of funds, it was found that education was a top priority for all the Commissioners. We were in total agreement that we needed the best educational system that we could provide. Then the discussion turned to whether we were actually getting the most from our money in the present set-up. We were interested in the delivery of educational services in the most cost effective manner. So that of course led to the problem of the two districts, one very large and one very small, and whether this indeed was an effective method of delivering educational services across the county. From that the chairman, William Bell, appointed this committee--or we all did, but he broached the idea--and we came up with forty-one organizations, they applied for places on the Task Force, and we tried to get a broad spectrum of the community, geographically and in point of view of interests and so forth. From this the task force was set up. Each person on the task force representing in turn hundreds of other people from their organizations.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Right. In your watching the task force deliberations and that sort of thing, that your position of the issue changed, or was it actually prior to this, say in your first couple of years on the Board.
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
It changed gradually as I got into the funding. Of course as a school board member you go to the Board of County Commissioners asking for money and you begin to--you understand something about the funding mechanism. But your point of view as a county commissioner is totally financial and also it's looking at the county as a whole rather than at the city school district. If you say, this is your district, then that's what you're going to concern yourself with, of course. As a county commissioner we are elected by the total county population, we don't even have districts, we're at large. So you have to broaden your horizon to look at the whole county.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
In terms of your original position in favor of keeping the schools separate, and am I right in saying that you would have shared with many, as I understand in the black community, including people from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, their sense that it was important to retain control of the schools, the community influence. That you, let's say living in this neighborhood, would know what was going on with the school children in your area, know those teachers, those issues about being in contact on a regular basis?
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
No, I didn't convey my opinion. It was a sort of an unspoken, shared belief. You have a shared system of values in a community and that existed. And I have not shared this with anybody else. This is really not for the public, because I have not totally come down on either side of the merger issue and I'm trying to keep an open mind, I'm trying to hear both sides of it.