Sheehan: Board's deeds drown out words

Staff WriterApril 21, 2010 

On Monday, the Democratic majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners cast a symbolic vote, expressing "deep concern over any attempt to resegregate the public schools."

On Tuesday, the Raleigh City Council followed suit.

Meanwhile, the school board on Tuesday voted on its own "plan to preserve diversity" - a necessity for preserving federal funding.

All of which, taken together, means: nothing.

That's no slam on the commissioners and council members, trying to take a stand against what they see as a dangerous path toward schools divided along lines of race and class. I applaud their vote.

But if they think their pleas will sway the school board majority, they are out of their minds. Because while the new majority talks a pretty good game about listening, and being responsive, and keeping the public involved, you need to follow what it's doing, not what it's saying.

It's hard enough to keep up with the board's sweeping changes. But the pace of the tinkering - without notice, without public hearing - is astounding as well.

Last week, that resulted in the surprise reassignment of about 100 students from Southeast Raleigh who'd been attending school in Garner. As former school board member Lori Millberg put it to me once, "Garner always wanted to get rid of 'those kids.'" Now it has.

This week, I've been fielding calls from school media specialists (we called them librarians) scared about a board proposal to limit media specialists to one per elementary and middle school and two per high school. The board, of course, is trying to fill a massive budget hole. But at Ligon Middle, for example, this would mean one media specialist for nearly 1,200 kids. Yikes.

But what really chapped media specialists like Beth Obenschain, a 21-year veteran working at Leesville Road Elementary School, was the feeling that this was a done deal. Proposed one week, voted on the next. Bam. No notice. No memo. No chance for them to make their case.

Not when attending a school board meeting at this point requires arriving at Wake schools' headquarters at 9:30 a.m. to secure a ticket, returning later to sign up to speak, then showing up later still for the actual show. Funny, Obenschain and her colleagues were helping kids Tuesday and couldn't make it for the vote on their fate.

'Promise Zone'?

On Monday night at a board advisory committee meeting at Hilburn Drive Elementary, school board member John Tedesco presented his plan for "neighborhood school" reassignments not yet even shown to the full board. The plan, still a work in progress, of course, divides the county into 18 zones, including one in Southeast Raleigh he is calling the Promise Zone.

That's doublespeak for high-poverty zone. When the 100 or so attendees began to raise questions, Tedesco asked whether they were truly satisfied with the results of the current system. The answer is no.

But the "promise" rhetoric is pretty rich for the leader of a board majority that said it was going to be more responsive than its predecessors.

The members promised they were going to listen.

But actions, I'm afraid, speak far more loudly than words. or 919-829-4828

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