Wake school board begins review of diversity policy

Staff WriterFebruary 11, 2010 

— Wake County's new school board majority is promising a detailed review of the student assignment policy before it attempts to implement members' campaign pledge to end busing for socio economic diversity in favor of neighborhood schools.

The school board's policy committee began the review of Wake's diversity efforts Wednesday with Debra Goldman, chairwoman of the committee, stressing the need to carefully review the changes. It's in contrast to the first meeting of the new board on Dec.1 in which the majority tried to vote on policy changes without advance notice.

"This is the beginning of the discussion," Goldman said Wednesday. "This is not a discussion that's going to be wrapped up in one or two meetings."

Goldman, one of four members elected last fall, reiterated that she's against social engineering. But she said she wants to see whether there's a way to get members of the board minority to support the change.

On Dec. 1, the new majority announced changes that would have eliminated all references to diversity in the current policy, with the inclusion of wording saying that school assignments will be based on proximity to residence.

Initially, the majority had rejected by a 5-4 vote an effort to send the changes to the policy committee for further review. But after heated complaints, the majority reversed itself and agreed to send the changes to the committee.

Currently, Wake has the goal of trying to balance the percentage of low-income students at each school. Supporters of the policy, which has garnered Wake national recognition, say the policy is based on research showing that academic performance suffers at a school when it has too many poor children.

Parents' complaints about the diversity policy helped four board members who pledged to end the measure win office last fall. Those four joined veteran board member Ron Margiotta in forming a majority on the nine-member board.

One potential byproduct of sending students to neighborhood schools is that it would increase the number of schools with high concentrations of poor children.

On Wednesday, Goldman opened the policy discussion by asking members what they considered to be the most important issues in student assignment, drawing answers that show the divide between newcomers and veteran board members.

Deborah Prickett, one of the newly elected members, argued that there's no proof that the diversity policy works. She focused on the low graduation rates for Wake's poor and minority students.

"This policy doesn't have the data to back it up," Prickett said.

But members of the board's minority said Wake's diversity efforts are essential to bolstering academic performance.

School board member Kevin Hill said maintaining comparable student demographics among schools is key to retaining good teachers.

"I don't want teachers picking and choosing different schools because of the perception, real or imagined, that one school is good and another is bad," said Hill, a retired Wake teacher and principal.

The board's policy committee will discuss the student assignment issue Feb. 24.

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

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