Wake school board focuses on proximity, not poverty

School board's new student assignment panel is preparing proposals for fall.

Staff WriterMarch 19, 2010 

— Even though a resolution ending busing for diversity hasn't officially passed, Wake County's new school board majority showed Thursday that it is not considering school poverty levels when it makes student assignment decisions.

The school board's newly formed student assignment committee recommended seven changes for this fall's student assignment plan and left for further review a dozen other changes. All were based on parental requests to have their children attend schools closer to home.

"We're not talking about socioeconomic status anymore," John Tedesco, a board member and chairman of the student assignment committee, said after the meeting. "Once we pass the resolution, we won't be talking about it again."

The full board will vote on the recommended changes Tuesday when the final vote is scheduled to end Wake's nationally recognized diversity policy in favor of having students attend school in their communities. The resolution received initial approval by a 5-4 vote on March 2.

If the resolution is adopted, the student assignment committee would spend the next nine to 15 months developing a new model that would divide Wake into community assignment zones.

For now, the assignment committee focused on making changes to the plan adopted by the old school board in 2009 that set student assignments through the 2011-12 school year.

Parents who were unable to persuade the old board to make changes to the plan last year made their pitch to the new board in public meetings last month.

Among the loudest were residents of the Brier Creek section of northwest Raleigh who didn't want to be reassigned this fall from Panther Creek High School to Broughton High School, which is much farther away. The reassignment of this area affected Deborah Prickett's son, helping motivate her successful run for a school board seat last fall.

The committee is recommending that the students stay at Panther Creek and that students from Daniels and East Cary middle schools be moved to Mills Park Middle School.

The committee also recommended students from a high-poverty Cary neighborhood not be moved this fall from Reedy Creek Elementary School, which is 2.4 miles away, to Alston Ridge Elementary, which is much farther way.

"The bottom line we're hearing from people is leave us alone," said school board member Debra Goldman. "We want stability."

Tedesco said it's time for communities to educate their low-income students instead of busing them elsewhere.

Proposals for Garner

He proposed moving some high-poverty neighborhoods in old downtown Garner from Middle Creek High School back to Garner High School.

"They're low [socioeconomic status] kids, but they're our kids," said Tedesco, whose district includes Garner. "We want to take care of them. We want to bring these kids back to Garner."

In turn, Tedesco suggested freeing up the space for the students by moving some Southeast Raleigh students out of Garner High School and sending them to Southeast Raleigh High School.

Administrators asked for more time to study the effect of the proposal on both schools, particularly how it would affect magnet spots at Southeast Raleigh.

Despite all the changes on the table, Tedesco stressed that only a small number of the district's 140,000 students would be affected this fall. He said he'll look into whether public hearings need to be held for the students in the neighborhoods facing changes.

Anne Sherron, a citizen member of the new student assignment committee, said she isn't surprised that proximity ruled the day Thursday. But Sherron, who backs the diversity policy, said another public hearing for the affected students needs to be held so that not just a few parents who spoke out last month influencewhere hundreds of children go.

"I'm hoping the parents will stay informed and know they're being affected so it won't surprise them," Sherron said.

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

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