Her name is Kelley Williams-Bolar. She’s 40, a college student, a teachers aide and a single mom. And, on Jan. 15, she became a convicted felon.
Here’s how this sorry state of affairs came about. Williams-Bolar lives in an Akron, Ohio, public housing project. In addition to attending college, she worked at an Akron high school as a teaching assistant. Sounds like a solid, law-abiding citizen, right?
But Williams-Bolar broke Ohio’s law when, according to various news reports, she used her father’s address to enroll her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn School District, which lies outside of Akron. Before that, Williams-Bolar’s daughters attended school in the Akron City Schools district.
As you may have surmised, the two districts are not the same. Just how different the two systems are was summed up in a story on the website www.blackamericaweb.com:
“Akron City schools … failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, a measure for success based on state benchmarks. The Akron system had passing ratings on four out of 26 state benchmarks, according to Ohio Department of Education reports. The Copley-Fairlawn district achieved AYP and had passing ratings on all 26 indicators.”
So Williams-Bolar wanted to send her children to better schools. At her trial, she gave another, perhaps more important reason: She wanted them in a safer environment. Noble motives, indeed.
But Summit County prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh wasn’t buying noble motives. In a story that ran on the website www.ohio.com, Walsh said Williams-Bolar “had many options available that did not include breaking the law. There are many single mothers and families in similar situations who want the best for their children who are not breaking the law. In fact, dozens of other similar cases in recent years have been resolved at the parent level prior to prosecution because they either removed their children from the school district, paid tuition or moved into the school district. Ms. Williams-Bolar was the only case that could not be resolved at the parent level because she would not acknowledge that she did anything wrong and she refused to cooperate in any way.”
One part of me says that Walsh is absolutely right, that there is no good reason for breaking the law no matter how noble the motive. But another part of me is asking: Did I read that quote from Walsh right? Akron schools failed to achieve AYP — which means they failed to educate Williams-Bolar’s daughters — and Williams-Bolar has to pay to send her children to another district?
Williams-Bolar is right, but she used the wrong approach. Instead of falsifying records, she should have sued the people who run Ohio’s school system. She should have demanded that she be given a stipend equal to Ohio’s per pupil expenditure for each of her daughters and then marched with that check in hand right out to the Copley-Fairlawn District.
Let’s get the bad guys in this story straight. It was the Akron City Schools that failed to attain AYP. That means the system, not Williams-Bolar, is the culprit.
If Akron had a voucher system, Williams-Bolar might have qualified for two and used them to send her daughters to another school.
But I’m way beyond supporting vouchers when it comes to public education. I believe citizens should make school systems accountable for doing what they’re supposed to do: educate. If the schools don’t do that, then they not only haven’t done their jobs, but they’ve also committed blatant fraud.
It’s not Williams-Bolar whom Walsh should have prosecuted, but the folks in charge of Akron City Schools who took taxpayers’ money under the pretext of educating.
Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.