RALEIGH — In an often contentious meeting Thursday evening, a largely black crowd lashed out at both Wake school board member John Tedesco and the leader of Raleigh's oldest civil rights group for abandoning busing for school diversity.
Dan Coleman, president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, had asked Tedesco to talk to his group about the changes taking place in the student assignment policy. The result was sometimes heated as nearly 100 people in the room complained that the board's new policies would create extremely high poverty schools in Southeast Raleigh.
"It feels rather impudent at this point to ask people for their perspective when you dismantled a plan that had value in the community and nationally," said Lynette Aytch, a downtown resident who had applied for a vacant seat on the school board last year.
Southeast Raleigh is home to a large portion of the county's black community. The majority of the nearly 10,000 students who live there are bused to schools outside their neighborhoods to promote diversity and to free up seats for suburban children to attend magnet schools.
The new plan being developed by the school board doesn't take into account diversity but seeks to assign students to schools near their homes. It could return many poor children to Southeast Raleigh schools.
Most local black leaders have come out in opposition to the attendance zone changes, but Coleman recently broke ranks by pointing out that less than half of the students who live in Southeast Raleigh are passing state reading exams in elementary and middle schools, no matter which school they attend.
"What we have done in the past is settled for a trickle-down situation," Coleman said during Thursday's meeting. "If Wake County was doing great we were hoping that it would trickle down and Southeast Raleigh would do great. We have to be more diligent."
Coleman also complained Thursday that many children who are bused outside Southeast Raleigh are being deprived of the academic extras offered in magnet schools.
The crowd responded by accusing him of exceeding his authority as head of the RWCA. The group, which has represented Raleigh's black community since 1932, didn't endorse any of the new school board members in last fall's election and passed a resolution calling for the new board to keep the diversity policy.
At one point, local activist Bruce Lightner called for a vote of confidence on Coleman's statements. No vote was taken.
Tedesco also found himself the target of sharp questions, his answers frequently interrupted by the audience. He argued that the school system's old policies weren't helping poor and minority students and were in fact leading to cultural biases that deprived children of educational opportunities.
Tedesco said the new plan will create stability for families and end the "false hope" that sprinkling low-income students around the county will result in those kids doing better.
"I do not feel that student assignment is a strategy for student achievement," Tedesco said. "There are many who disagree."
Tedesco was repeatedly challenged to explain how eliminating the diversity policy would improve student achievement. Audience members complained that he wasn't giving them real answers.
"You don't know me but I know you," said Montica Talmadge, a North Raleigh resident and member of the RWCA, to Tedesco. "The program that you want to implement is crap ...Watch out for your job. After I get my master's degree I'm coming for you."
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