Mayors give school board advice, pep talk

Staff WriterJanuary 23, 2010 

— Wake County mayors and school board members met Friday morning in a discussion that was mostly cordial but highlighted ideological differences that could shape town-gown relations.

Members of the Wake County Mayors' Association shared their town's needs and concerns with six school board members at an introductory breakfast in the Herbert C. Young Community Center in Cary.

The conversation scratched the surface of issues such as building growth, student assignment policies and curriculum imbalances. Officials from both sides said they hoped municipal governments would collaborate more with the school board - though no formal relationship exists among the entities.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said he wanted to see the school system work with the planning staffs of each town to craft sensible assignment policies and construction plans that account for growth.

Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said he wants to lead efforts to create a youth task force.

"We can't succeed without a successful school system," Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen said.

"Whatever we can do, we will help ... we need you to succeed."

But Killen and his eastern Wake brethren, who did not support the new school board candidates last fall, were clear that schools in their towns still face greater inequalities when it comes to curriculum choices - like Advanced Placement or foreign language classes - and access to other resources.

"We need money, we need resources because all of our students are poor," Wendell Mayor J. Harold Broadwell said.

In an apparent reference to the new school board members' intent to return to neighborhood schools, he added: "I am a product of diversity ... I benefited from kids who came from better backgrounds than me."

Even though Cary is in a better financial position than others - and is willing to share its resources - Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said his town also has needs.

"We have over 25 percent of our students not attending Wake County schools and to me, that's an issue," he said. "I want our school system to be strong enough that that stops."

Other mayors, like Keith Weatherly of Apex, praised the new school board for reconsidering its student assignment policies.

"Thank you for bringing a more responsive attitude to the school board," he said. "Families and taxpayers are demanding changes in Wake County schools."

Unlike recent school board meetings, Friday's discussion was never heated.

The meeting attendees pledged to work together to make sure every student has access to the same quality education - even if there's no consensus yet on how to get there.

"We know there's a divide in the county on some of the key issues," school board member John Tedesco said. "But I'm excited about crafting a vision together."

sadia.latifi@nando.com or 919-460-2612

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