RALEIGH — Supporters and opponents of neighborhood schools and the diversity policy are mobilizing for a contentious showdown at today's Wake County school board meeting.
Much of today's attention will be focused on the first of two votes on a resolution that would call for ending busing for socioeconomic diversity in favor of assigning students to schools in their community. There will also be heated discussion of an expected board vote to convert some year-round schools to a traditional calendar for the 2010-11 school year.
School administrators got the process moving Monday by identifying four year-round schools that the board might want to consider converting: Wakefield Elementary, Leesville Road Middle, Mills Park Middle and Salem Middle. Not on the list is Leesville Road Elementary, which school board member Deborah Prickettt had campaigned on converting.
The four schools on the list, which staff members stressed is not meant to be an official recommendation, had a majority of the parents who responded to a recent districtwide survey say they prefer the traditional calendar.
"We're going to look at the data and listen to the parents," said Ron Margiotta, the school board chairman.
Margiotta and the rest of the board members are preparing for a long day that will begin at 10 a.m. with a discussion on whether to oust Superintendent Del Burns before his announced June 30 resignation date. Later, board members will hear a budget proposal for the coming fiscal year that's expected to call for cuts and layoffs.
Then the board will deal with what could be a marathon public-comment session focused on the calendar conversions and the resolution that would lead to neighborhood schools.
Members of the board majority have drafted a resolution that calls for Wake, the state's largest school system, to be divided into separate community zones, each with year-round and magnet school options.
Margiotta said it will take two votes because the resolution involves a policy change. But even after the second vote, which could take place March 16, the change is not a done deal.
Members of the majority would still have to stick together over the next nine to 15 months as they work out the details of the zones, or the new system might not be implemented.
Drumming up a crowd
A standing-room only crowd is expected to witness today's meeting. Leaders of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, who say the group represents more than 10,000 parents, students, business leaders, taxpayers and civic organizations, accused the new board majority of "failing the students of Wake County." The coalition, which backs the diversity policy, is urging people to show up today to speak out against the community zone resolution.
"With reckless disregard for the facts, their resolution calls for 'suggestions' only in support of their policies - which will lead to massive reassignment for thousands of students, less school choice overall, and ultimately the resegregation of our schools," Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the coalition, said in a news release Monday.
Wake County GOP Chairman Claude Pope Jr. told Republicans in a Sunday e-mail message that people need to show up to counter the "left-wing obstructionists" who've packed the board meetings "with often unruly protesters." The Wake GOP heavily backed the four new school board members who were elected last fall, beating Democratic-backed opponents.
"Our board members are facing the slings and arrows every day trying to accomplish what we want them to do," Pope wrote. "I promise you they will appreciate more than you can ever know if you show up and let them know the people whose wishes they are serving haven't abandoned them."
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