Wake board speaks on schools

Staff WriterApril 20, 2010 

  • The Wake County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to smooth the financial path for what could be a downtown landmark, the 12,000-square-foot headquarters for the North Carolina Chapter, American Institute of Architects.

    The building is to be located at the corner of Peace and Wilmington streets, across from Peace College.

    David Crawford, executive vice president of the chapter, said the building will include the group's headquarters, a significant public space dedicated to architecture and design, and a 2,200-square-foot fourth floor available for rental.

    Raleigh architect Frank Harmon won a competition to design the building in 2008.

    Technically, commissioners agreed to allow the county's Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority to issue $4 million in bonds for the project. The arrangement produces lower interest rates for the bond issue, but there's no liability for the county or the authority.

    The institute's longtime headquarters in a historic water works building off West Morgan Street will be sold, Crawford said.

    Staff writer Thomas Goldsmith

— Setting up a budget-time conflict with the school board, the Democrat-dominated Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday formally expressed "deep concern over any attempt to resegregate Wake's public schools by either race or socioeconomic status."

Commissioners voted along party lines to approve a resolution by member Stan Norwalk expressing concern that the county school board's recent moves toward community-based schools could lead to high-poverty or mostly minority schools, which many equate with resegregation.

The Democrats on the board said they have been approached recently by constituents asking that they respond to the Republican-dominated school board's ending of Wake County's practice of working toward socio economic diversity in each school by busing and other means.

"They would ask me, 'What are you going to do about it?'" Norwalk said. "Elected officials can put themselves on record as to where they stand."

The Raleigh City Council may vote on Norwalk's resolution today.

The resolution has no binding force, but it puts the Board of Commissioners at sharp odds with the school board as the time nears when the school system's governing body will have to ask commissioners' approval for funding the schools budget.

The board's three Republicans sharply denounced the resolution as political gamesmanship, but they engaged in some theater of their own.

As the vote neared, Chairman Tony Gurley and commissioners Paul Coble and Joe Bryan placed in front of them signs reading "54.2%" - the rate of graduation among Wake students receiving free or reduced-price lunches - in an apparent statement that the current system is not working.

Bryan called it sad that the board was forced to take a position that was "presupposing of things that haven't happened. I think it's very inappropriate that we are going down this path," Bryan said.

Former Chairman Harold Webb took part in the votes, his first in-person appearance at a regular board meeting since his stroke last year.

"Segregate, segregate, segregate is what you are doing!" said Webb, who at times had problems framing sentences, an apparent lingering effect of the stroke.

The board by the same 4-3 margin voted not to recommend that the legislature allow more charter schools.

"Y'all obviously have decided you want to punish the Wake County school board right now," Coble said before the charter schools vote. "So go ahead and do what you want to do."

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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