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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wake Co. Schools Re-Segregation Student Assignment Plan On Hold

Wake County School Board's Move Will Delay Big Changes

With the Wake County School Board now operating with no majority bloc, massive changes in the way students are assigned to schools are unlikely to occur for nearly two more years.

That's the only certainty that emerged Wednesday, the day after board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman split from the panel's Republican majority by joining Democrats to kill a plan that would have divided Wake into 16 community school zones.

That blueprint had been in preparation for months. Goldman said Wednesday that taking more time to listen to a broad range of ideas and people will make for a better plan than the one that had been shepherded by Republican board member John Tedesco.

"If there is a whole new plan to be created, there needs to be more key facts and input from stakeholders," she said.

After the open verbal sparring of Tuesday's meeting, during which Tedesco derisively referred to Goldman as a "prom queen," - a comment for which he apologized Wednesday - she attempted to return the focus to the task at hand, coming up with a new means to assign the county's 143,000 students.

"There were ugly things that were said, but it's about working together," Goldman said Wednesday. "It's not about me. It's about the county and the children. We need to respect the opinions and thoughts of others."

Goldman said she remains committed to bringing a community schools model to Wake to replace the system that used Diversity as a key factor in student assignments. But she provided few specifics Wednesday about what the new plan would look like, saying that more feedback is needed from the public and all nine board members before a plan is developed.

For instance, Goldman said the board needs more feedback about how to handle the thousands of Southeast Raleigh students who are now bused outside their communities for Diversity.

Poverty levels could rise sharply, and the number of seats at magnet schools for suburban students would be sharply cut if the Southeast Raleigh children are brought back.

"These are the kinds of issues where you want to get everybody involved," Goldman said.

Given the board's vote to stop work on the only plan in development, major changes aren't expected to be made in assignments until the 2012-13 school year at the earliest. This means that a new plan wouldn't be in place before next fall's school board elections.

Few Changes next year

The resolution passed Tuesday leaves in place the new student assignment policy that eliminates Diversity as a factor. But the resolution also maintains the assignments made under the old diversity policy for the 2011-12 school year that had been adopted by the previous board.

The resolution calls for making only "adjustments to the existing plan" for next school year.

Goldman's vote has led to backlash from some of her former allies and praise from supporters of the socioeconomic diversity policy that she helped to discard after she and three other Republican board members were elected last fall.

Some Democrats on the board said the best way to move forward would be to supply broad principles to the system's professional staff and let them offer up specific plans to the board.

"I am hoping my colleagues remember their School Board 101, that school board makes decisions on 'what,' and the superintendent and the staff is supposed to take care of the 'how," former board Chairman Kevin Hill said.

"I feel the community is worried about proximity and stability, and these are the issues we need to look at."

The student assignment committee plan scrapped Tuesday night would have divided Wake into 16 community school zones and stressed stability, family choice and proximity to the students' homes. But many people complained about the boundaries for the zones and the elimination of guaranteed base school assignments for every address.

In the wake of a tumultuous board meeting, there was doubt whether the alliance between Goldman and the board minority that made the change would long endure.

"I'm not sure it was a coalition; I think it was one vote," Hill said. "I applaud Ms. Goldman for voting as an individual."

Democrat Carolyn Morrison said there are still real differences between board Democrats and Goldman, who continues to support the May policy change that removed diversity as a factor in student assignments. Morrison still wants to see diversity weighed in assignments and would like to give real consideration to the "controlled-choice" plan Massachusetts consultant Michael Alves is developing under the sponsorship of two Raleigh nonprofits.

Morrison, who voted to stop the zone plan, met Wednesday with the administrator in charge of the office that formerly drew up student assignment plans to talk about what the board can do next on assignments.

'Going to be Slower'

Republican board member Chris Malone said the job will be harder now but he still thinks that the Republican board members can work with Goldman to implement a neighborhood schools plan for the state's largest school district.

"It's going to be slower now and this has put a real crimp on us, but we're going to have to get it done," Malone said.

Supporters of Wake County's discarded socioeconomic diversity policy hailed the school board's decision to stop work on a zone-based schools plan.

"We believe yesterday's vote to stop the student assignment process is a step in the right direction," the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said in a statement.

The state NAACP has filed a federal civil rights complaint accusing Wake of intentional discrimination with its new assignment policy. The NAACP also filed the complaint that's causing a national accrediting agency to carry out a special review of Wake's policies.

Leaders of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a group that supported the old diversity policy, also said Wednesday that they were encouraged by the vote. Yvonne Brannon, chairwoman of the group, said members finally feel that their voice is being heard.

The praise from groups such as the NAACP and the Great Schools in Wake Coalition created suspicion among some supporters of the board members elected last fall.

Allison Backhouse, a leader of Wake CARES, a parent group that had backed Goldman and the other new board members, said she's not sure what will happen to the student assignment plan now. She said Tedesco's zone model was the best chance Wake had for bringing about community schools while reducing frequent reassignments.

"She claims she supports community-based schools and doesn't support the diversity policy," Backhouse said of Goldman. "But the effect of what she's done is [to] destroy any hope of community-based schools. The [diversity] policy may have changed, but we still have the same moves."

Wake County School Board Tension Plays Out On Facebook

With the movement toward a controversial student assignment policy in Wake County’s public schools now stalled, the architect of the plan is firing back at the school board member who shifted the board’s majority to one against the proposal.

On Tuesday, the school board voted 5-3 to kill a student assignment revision process that was headed toward assigning students to zones instead of the district’s longstanding policy of busing students to help create socio-economic diversity throughout the school system.

Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman introduced a resolution to scrap the 16-zone plan, saying there hadn’t been enough input from parents and other board members.

John Tedesco, who heads the board’s Student Assignment Committee, which drafted the plan, responded to Goldman on his Facebook page Tuesday night.

"Then tonight, Benedict Goldman voted with the four minority members to do away with our efforts for community-based assignments and declared things should stay as is with the forced busing diversity model in place,” Tedesco wrote.

The two former allies traded jabs at school board meetings Tuesday in what was sometimes a tense and contentious exchange of words. At one point, Tedesco called Goldman a “prom queen” and at another, suggested her objections were all about her.

“It isn’t about me, this is about representing our constituents,” she said during the board’s public meeting, receiving applause from the crowd. “Every single person should have an opportunity to express their viewpoints.”

But Goldman, one of four members voted into office last fall, said she still supports neighborhood schools over the current model of busing for diversity, but that Tedesco’s plan is not the best way to get there.

"We are heading down a rabbit hole and so far down a rabbit hole that there will be no way to get out of it,” Goldman said.

She called for an "equity-based" system that still works toward community-based schools without “putting in lines and dividing communities.”

Parents from WakeCARES, a group that lobbied to get the conservative majority on the board, don't know what to think now.

“I want to say we're back at square one, but I don't even know if we're back at square one. I'm not sure where we are,” Allison Backhouse, one of the group’s leaders, said Wednesday. “Mrs. Goldman stated she supports community schools and doesn't support diversity busing, but I'm not sure what she supports at this point.”

Board member Chris Malone, who has been a proponent of the community assignment plan, said Wednesday he still believes Goldman is committed to the vision.

“We’re going to move forward. We’re going to make this happen. It’s going to be difficult,” he said.

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