Wake board issues commitment to diversity

The school board vote was required to keep federal money for Wake's magnet schools.

Staff WritersApril 21, 2010 

  • Members of Wake County's Board of Education and Board of Commissioners will hold a joint meeting from 9 to 11 a.m. today at the county schools administration building, 3600 Wake Forest Road.

    County manager David Cooke will offer both bodies a look at the dire financial situation that both face while crafting budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

— Majority members of the Wake County school board promised the federal education department Tuesday that they stand committed to voluntary desegregation to reduce minority isolation and promote cultural integration.

But the 5-4 vote came amid heated expressions of concern - including resolutions by two other local governing bodies - that the new board majority's decision to discard diversity as a factor in assigning students could lead to resegregation of Wake's 140,000-student system. The board had to pass the "resolution of commitment to efforts of voluntary desegregation" or risk losing as much as $12 million in federal magnet grants for three county magnet schools.

The board majority first voted down as redundant an amendment offered by member Carolyn Morrison that called for the board to make every effort, in drawing attendance zones, to avoid minority-group isolation in schools.

"I want to be real clear that our intent is not to resegregate," Morrison said.

The board is developing a community-based student assignment plan aimed at providing families with school choices that are consistent and close to home.

"I don't want to be put in the box of resegregating the schools," said majority member Deborah Prickett. "That's not what I am trying to do; I am trying to hopefully help the magnet program."

Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh City Council passed a unanimous resolution opposing resegregation of the Wake County schools. The largely symbolic resolution was the same document passed Monday by the Wake County Board of Commissioners, which has a Democratic majority.

"We need to do anything in our power to stop the school board," Mayor Charles Meeker said at the council meeting.

Meeker's wife, Anne McLaurin, serves on the school board and was in the minority on the board who opposed the move to neighborhood schools. She voted against the resolution along with the rest of the board minority - Morrison, Keith Sutton and former Chairman Kevin Hill.

Not convinced

Hill said he thought the resolution wasn't strong enough to ensure voluntary desegregation.

"I know we need the magnet money," he said. "I hope we get it, but we are going to end up with more high-poverty schools."

Asked about the other bodies' resolutions, Tedesco accused the City Council and Wake Board of Commissioners of playing games.

"They're continuing to back a system that promoted institutional racism," he said. "We are trying to break away from that. I'm not going to support a system that led to the failure of thousands of students."

The new majority on the school board won office in last fall's elections with promises to create the community-based school system in place of a system that factored in families' income levels to ensure that no school had an overly high proportion of poor students.

Mixed feelings

John Odom, the lone Republican on the Raleigh City Council, joined in the resolution because of the way it was worded, but he said that he's also supportive of his fellow Republicans on the school board.

"I am for diversity," he said.

With no completed plan in place from the school board, Odom said he didn't think the Raleigh City Council should weigh in on the issue.

The City Council is officially nonpartisan. Five members, including Meeker, are Democrats. Council members Nancy McFarlane and Bonner Gaylord are unaffiliated.

But Wake commissioners control the purse strings for the school system.

The resolution passed by the council and the commissioners expresses "deep concern over any attempt to resegregate Wake's public schools by either race or socio economic status."

"You have a new plan for our school system, which I am trying to understand and have yet to see," Cary resident Betsy Lovejoy told board members during a public comment period at Tuesday's board meeting. She said, however, that she felt the Republican-backed board majority was only giving lip service to the concept of diversity.

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

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