RALEIGH — Undaunted by high-profile opposition to their community-based assignment plan, Wake County school board majority members pushed ahead Tuesday by changing where more than 4,200 students would go to school under their draft plan.
School board member John Tedesco, chairman of the student assignment committee, and Republican colleague Chris Malone outvoted Democrat Carolyn Morrison to approve five major changes to the draft map.
The vote, in response to concerns from families affected by the change, came over heated objections from nonvoting community members of the committee appointed by board minority members. They argued that they need to first review the finished plan, which divides Wake into 16 community-school zones with boundary lines that are subject to change.
"We want to show the public that these lines are fluid," Tedesco said.
At the urging of other majority members, Tedesco also said he wants to try to meet an accelerated timetable to have elements of the new plan ready in the 2011-12 school year, a year earlier than projected.
Community member Anne Sherron, Morrison's representative on the committee, complained that the changes were made without deliberation or common sense.
"Right now, we're playing student assignment Whack-A-Mole," Sherron said after the meeting.
But Tedesco argued that committee members were responding toareas where they've heard the most objections, such as residents in the Lochmere section of Cary who wanted to stay at Athens Drive High School.
He said they're also correcting problems in the 16-zone map which split neighborhoods.
The changes were all recommended for western and southern Wake County, in areas represented by the board majority.
Morrison declined a chance to make a change in her district, and minority member Kevin Hill was not present when a change in his district was proposed.
Changes to other parts of the county will follow, Tedesco said.
The meeting came just days after the school board received an accreditation agency's threat to yank the system's credentials and after a federal civil rights complaint from the NAACP and other bodies.
In addition, two powerful Republican county commissioners, of the same party of the board majority, showed only muted support for the school board in recent days, with Chairman Tony Gurley openly questioning their methods.
Even though the student assignment committee includes only three of the nine board members, every board member turned out Tuesday for the meeting.
Tedesco introduced elements of the plan that would overhaul any schools that are underperforming in the new assignment plan, responding to criticism that the board's developing plan will leave large numbers of low-income students in failing schools.
Under Tedesco's accountability plan, schools could be found to be underperforming if they do not have seven of 10 students showing proficiency or significant gains on standardized tests.
"Instead of reassigning the kids, I want to hold the system responsible for educating them," Tedesco said.
Those schools would face consequences including firing the principal, removing up to half the teachers or conversion of the school to a charterlike academy or full-service community model, with social services and other help available.
Keith Sutton, a minority board member, called it a "slap in the face to teachers" for Tedesco to proposeremoving them from underperforming schools.
The school board majority, mostly elected last fall, discarded Wake's former diversity-based assignment plan and substituted one based on nearness and stability in the schools that students attend. The previous standard used socio-economic background as a standard for diversity, but the current board has said it will not measure the effects on diversity of any kind in drawing up its plan.
Sutton argued that poverty should be an indicator for student assignment just as much as proximity to home or stability.
But Tedesco disagreed, insisting that reassigning high-poverty students hasn't worked in the past.
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