Talk of dividing Wake fizzles

Margiotta, allies won't try it

Staff WritersMarch 13, 2010 

— Wake County school board Chairman Ron Margiotta caused a stir this week when he said that the 140,000-student district is too big and should be split up. But on Friday, Margiotta and board allies said they have no intention of pursuing such a major change.

Margiotta, at a meeting Thursday of the Northern Wake Republican Club, said the county is so large and so different from one border to another that its school system could fare better as autonomous regions or even separate districts. On Friday, he said those statements were strictly his personal opinion and not a board goal.

"I'd like to see smaller districts," he said, "but there's no way the General Assembly would ever approve them."

Added Chris Malone, another member of the board's new majority, "My plate is already too full. I'm not even thinking about breaking up the district."

Margiotta has long supported the idea of splitting up the county into smaller systems, but he was usually just a lone voice on the board. Now he is the chairman, with a 5-4 majority on the board. He has a greater ability to affect events.

There has been other talk about splitting up the school district since the Raleigh City and Wake County school systems merged in 1976. Wake's rapid growth over the ensuing 34 years has made it the 18th-largest school district in the nation and the largest in North Carolina.

"People who move here are used to school districts being smaller," said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a group that backs busing for diversity. "But that's just not cost-effective. It's not something we should do."

At a February 2008 Cary Town Council meeting, citizens proposed either a Cary system or a Western Wake system that could also include such areas as Apex, which Margiotta represents on the board.

Breakup a huge hurdle

Breaking up the district would require a vote by the legislature, which approved the Wake merger in 1976.

State Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Cary Democrat, said Friday that she had not heard about Margiotta's comments. But she noted that he was elected to represent all the children of Wake County.

"That's an issue that would have to come to the General Assembly, and I do not believe it would be met with a favorable response," Weiss said.

School board member John Tedesco, another of Margiotta's allies, was blunter about his opposition to breaking up the district.

"It will never get as far as the General Assembly," he said. "It would stop at the Wake County school system."

Instead of dissolving the school system, the board majority has backed a resolution to end busing for socioeconomic diversity in favor of assigning students to schools in their community. The second and final vote on the community-based school assignment resolution will be March 23.

In the absence of a breakup, Margiotta said, the community zones will better meet the needs of the community. He said the issues facing Zebulon are not the same as those in southwestern Cary.

"It doesn't mean that you can't develop districts within the larger district that respect the differences in the community," he said of the new zones.

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

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