Why we'll fight the school board

February 4, 2009 

There could be some additional long-term consequences to the latest student reassignment battle with the Wake County school system.

Last week, parents formed the Children's Political Action Committee, a group that plans to get involved in this year's school board elections.

Our T. Keung Hui talked with Dana Cope, a leader of the group. Cope said the group plans to donate money to candidates and run an independent political advertising campaign.

Many members are parents of students at Lacy Elementary School who face being reassigned to Stough Elementary School. School administrators want to move the students in part to help reduce the percentage of low-income students at Stough.

[The school board's scheduled Tuesday vote on the reassignment plan was to come after our publication deadline.]

Cope, who has two sons at Lacy, discussed why the committee was formed and what it hopes to accomplish.

Q. How did you get the idea of forming the Children's PAC?

A. One, it was a case of my professional experience in politics and elections. [Cope is executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina.] Number 2, after attending a couple of meetings and talking with school board members, I could see they didn't want to listen to families. They just shut down.

They're politicians. They sought their positions as elected officials. You have to listen to the arguments of your bosses -- the people -- no matter how laborious it may seem.

Q. What do you hope the PAC will accomplish?

A. We'll recruit candidates with a common-sense, like-minded vision. We want to interject some common sense in the process. That seems to be sorely lacking.

Diversity is definitely an issue we want to talk about. This is about transferring high-performing children to lower-performing schools to mask the performance of those schools. It's ludicrous. They're doing nothing to help the students who are low performing and low income.

Q. What do you think the school system needs to do?

A. We need to to take a long-range view of our schools. Let's focus appropriate resources on the low-performing schools. I'm sure that many parents at Lacy won't agree with me, but Lacy doesn't need as many resources as we get from the school system, because we have a private foundation. Those resources should be reallocated to the low-performing schools in the school system.

Q. What will the PAC do if the school board drops the Lacy reassignments?

A. It will have no impact on our decisions. This is not about any individual children, this is about the school system. No matter what happens, this [PAC] will continue to go on. We want to build a coalition that's strong enough to last a long time.

Q. Isn't it unusual for the Lacy parents in the group, who are among the strongest supporters of the school system, to challenge the school district?

A. I absolutely support our schools. But I don't support bad decisions when it comes to reassignment issues or classroom issues. There's no way that Wake County has a great school system.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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