Wake County school board members are just like the population they represent - most were born elsewhere and moved to the Triangle.
One school board member is a Raleigh native. But the other eight board members came to the Triangle for work and family reasons, mirroring U.S. Census data showing that a majority of Wake County residents weren't born in North Carolina.
Three of the five members of the board majority intent on bringing neighborhood schools to Wake County relocated to the area within the past decade, including John Tedesco, who will be chief architect of the new assignment plan. Three of the four board minority members who favored the policy of keeping schools socioeconomically diverse can trace their ties to Raleigh to the 1970s and earlier.
The latent tension between longtime residents and newcomers became public last week when Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker charged that the people who make up the school board majority "are not from the area" and "don't share our values." Meeker is a lawyer who was reared in Washington but moved to Raleigh in 1975.
Meeker's comments, made at a community meeting in East Raleigh, have angered the members in control of the school board and their supporters.
"You've been encouraging people to come here," said Debra Goldman, a member of the school board majority who moved to Cary in 2005. "How do you say to those people that their votes don't count the same?"
Wake County Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope Jr. has called on Meeker, a Democrat, to publicly apologize for his comments. The Wake GOP heavily backed the four new board members elected last fall, who joined school board chairman Ron Margiotta in forming a majority that recently voted to eliminate the socioeconomic diversity policy.
Margiotta, who moved to Apex in 2000, called Meeker's remarks "insulting." He said his southwestern Wake district, which includes Apex, Holly Springs and part of Cary, likely consists of 95 percent non-natives.
Margiotta, like fellow majority members Tedesco and Chris Malone, moved to Wake from New Jersey, which has 591 school districts, compared to 115 in North Carolina. Nearly every small town in the Garden State runs its own school system.
By the end of next year, the board majority hopes to adopt an assignment system that would divide Wake into zones with children going to school in their community. Majority members said the new model will provide more family stability and choice.
But opponents say that eliminating diversity in student assignment will lead to de facto resegregation of schools. Meeker plans to form a group to review the new assignment plan and potentially to find someone to sue the school system.
Board minority members, who hope to influence the details of the new assignment model, played down the idea that the majority members have different values.
"The majority values stability a great deal," said minority school board member Anne McLaurin, a Raleigh resident since 1978 who is married to Meeker. "I agree with stability, too. I doubt we're so extremely different that we can't work something out."
Fellow minority members Carolyn Morrison and Kevin Hill say it's important to remember what Raleigh's schools were like before the merger with Wake County in 1976. Morrison was a teacher and Hill was a student in Raleigh in the 1960s before large scale-integration was begun in 1971.
"For me, there's an important perspective that comes from having graduated from a segregated school system and having worked in an integrated school system," said Hill, a retired Wake teacher and principal.
Wake different today
But for Deborah Prickett, the only board member to have been born in Raleigh, the concerns that ending the diversity policy will lead to school resegregation are overblown.
"Wake County looks completely different now," Prickett said. "Things have changed."
A big reason for that change is all the newcomers who've moved into Wake County. The county's population has more than doubled from 423,380 people in 1990 to an estimated 866,410 in 2008.
"The community's view of the school system has been changing over the past 10 years," Hill said. "They're bringing their own ideas and views with them, but I'm not sure necessarily that they represent the majority of the views."
Goldman, the board member, said that it would be a mistake to think that the board majority is in power only because of the support of newcomers.
"I know a lot of people who've lived here a very long time who were frustrated at what was going on," Goldman said "It's not just newcomers who wanted change."
News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.
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