Wake diversity policy stays for now

New board member Goldman breaks with majority, calls for more policy study.

Staff WriterFebruary 25, 2010 

  • Wake County parents will have one more chance to speak out about school calendars at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today at Panther Creek High School, 6770 McCrimmon Pkwy., Cary.

— A second attempt by the new Wake County school board majority to push through the elimination of busing for diversity in favor of neighborhood schools failed Wednesday when one of its members didn't back the change.

New school board member Debra Goldman again broke ranks with the majority when she killed a motion Wednesday by refusing to second proposed changes in the student assignment policy.

Goldman was also one of the members of the majority who backed down on adopting the changes when they were introduced Dec.1, right after the newcomers took office.

Goldman stressed Wednesday that she's still a critic of the current policy. But Goldman, who also split with the majority to pass a compromise resolution that doesn't completely ban mandatory year-round schools, said more "due diligence" needs to occur before the student assignment policy is changed.

"I didn't feel right about the wording," said Goldman, chairwoman of the policy committee, after Wednesday's meeting. "I need to eyeball this more, especially when the policy has such major implications."

The committee unanimously agreed Wednesday to recommend scheduling a work session of the full board to discuss what changes to make on student assignments.

Goldman's position caused at least one group that supports the new board majority to say it's beginning to have doubts about her.

"We have seen this nightmare before, where new school board members do not vote to do what they said they were going to do in their campaigns," said Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, in a written statement.

Not in my melting pot

Wake has received national recognition for trying to balance the percentages of low-income, low-performing, special education and limited English proficient students at individual schools.

But opposition to the diversity policy helped fuel the election of Goldman and three other board members last fall. They formed a new majority with veteran board member Ron Margiotta.

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The proposed changes eliminate all references to diversity and prioritize the formation of neighborhood schools. New school board member John Tedesco justified the change by saying the current policy isn't working.

"We are a good school system," Tedesco said. "I'm not going to deny that by any means. Like Toyota, we sold a lot of cars, but we lost sight of quality."

To support his point, Tedesco pointed to the rising suspension rates, low graduation rates and below-average academic performance of Wake's poor students.

But Keith Sutton, a member of the board minority, said it would be "unconscionable" to forgo mentioning those high-needs students in the policy. He said the current policy avoids having all those students dumped in one school or area.

Goldman and Tedesco argued that it's not the role of the assignment policy to deal with diversity.

"This is an assignment policy," Goldman said. "It's not how to address these students and how to address these needs. Is it fair to tell these students that you fit in one of these categories so you can't go to the schools near their house?"

The meeting took place less than a week after schools Superintendent Del Burns publicly warned that ending the diversity policy would lead to economically segregated schools.

The board met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss whether to remove Burns ahead of his announced June 30 resignation date. Board members agreed to continue the discussion Tuesday.

Woodhouse, of Americans for Prosperity, speculated that Goldman may have been the vote that helped keep Burns from being removed. He's urging residents in Goldman's Cary district to contact her.

"They're not related," Goldman said of Burns' resignation and her decision Wednesday. "My job is to do my job."

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

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