I am torn over the story of the Ohio woman sentenced to 10 days in jail — she was released this week after serving all but one day — for lying to send her two girls to a better public school system.
Kelley Williams-Bolar of Akron used her father’s address to enroll her children in the Copley-Fairlawn schools. To great national debate last week, she was sentenced to 10 days in jail after a jury convicted her of two felony counts of record tampering. Williams-Bolar lied on school registration forms and free lunch forms to enroll her daughters into the Copley-Fairlawn schools in August 2006.
Despite her deceit, the single mother who was in college to be a teacher has engendered sympathy for her desire to send her children to the best schools possible. Now, her felony convictions mean she cannot become a teacher in Ohio, which has set off a furor. (The judge taking the heat for that points to the prosecutor’s office, which she says refused again and again to reduce the charges to misdemeanors.)
I can see both sides of this issue. Williams-Bolar wanted the best school system possible for her kids. So do the people of Copely-Fairlawn, who pay very high taxes to their schools.
Because we have a system of school funding that depends both on the wealth of a community and the will of its residents to pay higher taxes, we have uneven support for schools. At the very least, this story shows the urgent need for a review of how we fund schools.
I have a particular interest in this case because I am one of the 21,000 people living in the Copley-Fairlawn district. In other words, Kelley Williams-Bolar stole money from my pocket. I have paid Copley property taxes for more than two decades. Lots of Copley property taxes — 53 percent of which go directly to the Copley school system. I’m willing to pay those big dollars because Copley has a great school system, identified by the state as ”Excellent With Distinction,” the top category.
Williams-Bolar dipped into another pocket as well. Because I work in Akron, I pay city income tax, some of which supports the Akron school system’s massive reconstruction project. Akron is where Williams-Bolar’s kids belonged. Because she sent them elsewhere, APS lost out on state money it otherwise would have received (three times the amount Copley receives per kid).
Living in Copley or Fairlawn is hardly cost-prohibitive. Housing runs the gamut, from stately mansions to glorified shacks. A two-bedroom apartment was listed last week on Ohio.com for $610. A three-bedroom house in the district recently sold for $63,800.
If your children’s education is really your primary concern, move.
When I read about this case, a few thoughts went through my mind. First, it’s clear that the court is trying to make Kelly Williams-Bolar into an example. Even the judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, said that her sentence was appropriate ‘’so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.”
Secondly, it’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects.
Third, I’m not sure why the court is treating this law-abiding mom like a thug who ran into a building with a shotgun and robbed the district of $30,000. Instead, they could simply subtract the amount it costs for her kids to go to the second school from the amount that would be spent for them to attend the first one. I’m sure the difference would still be substantial, since American educational apartheid dictates that schools in poorer neighborhoods are of significantly less quality than other schools. The racial divisions within American schools are nothing less than a blatant and consistent human rights violation and should certainly be treated as such.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled