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‘Today’ retracting schools statement
Information on Decatur system dated

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com · 340-2432

Executive Producer Jim Bell said Monday that NBC’s “Today” will run a short retraction, possibly Wednesday morning, on a correspondent’s statement that Decatur has “bad schools.”

Real estate correspondent Barbara Corcoran said, “What you don’t get is good schools. They’ve got a bad school system ..., ” in a segment Thursday about housing prices.

In a comparison of what $500,000 would buy, she said a person could get a townhouse in Tucson, Ariz., or a four-bedroom home on 111/2 acres in Decatur.

After talking with Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston and Decatur High School Principal Mike Ward on Monday, Bell told The Daily in a phone interview that he believes it’s necessary for the show air a clarification.

Bell said the information on which Corcoran based her statement was a “little dated,” so “Today” researchers are working with Corcoran’s staff to clarify the situation. He said the segment was by a respected expert in real estate, not education.

“We’ve got to do a better job in our research,” Bell said. “Based on the information they gave me, I feel at least comfortable in reassessing the statement that the schools are ‘bad.’ ”

Clarification not unusual

Bell said he is trying set up a time with Corcoran for the possibly two-minute segment, which he would like to run Wednesday morning or later this week. He said it’s not unusual for his show to do a correction or a clarification.

“We’re a four-hour live show, and things happen,” Bell said. “We don’t always get it right. It’s just like the New York Times. They run a correction almost every day. It came out the wrong way, and we’ve got to stand up and correct our mistakes.”

Although Decatur residents began an e-mail campaign after the show, Bell said the only e-mails he received were from Houston and Ward.

“I told them I’ve got four children in school, and there is nothing more emotional than education,” Bell said.

Houston said he appreciated Bell’s phone call and his willingness to air a clarification.

“He was very cordial,” Houston said.

“He told me he felt some of the sourcing was questionable and he felt the comment was wrong, but it wasn’t done maliciously.”

Ward said he gave Bell the facts about the school system, including that Stanford Achievement Test-10th Edition scores are at or above state scores. Also, the two high schools’ American College Test scores are above state and national average, and Ward’s school had won four straight state attorney general awards for school safety. Austin High and Oak Park Middle School have also won state safety awards,

“I told him we have a great school system and we’ve got a lot invested in our schools,” Ward said. “That was an unfounded remark on national TV.”

Ward said Bell said host Matt Lauer’s remark about “green acres” didn’t come out right.

“He said he realizes what a comment on a national show could do to us and how a comment on a national show could influence someone coming from another state and moving to Decatur could influence them,” Ward said.

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