Schools panel dwindles, but Meeker holds a core

Review group down to four

Staff writersOctober 1, 2010 

  • Here's a head count on which of Wake County's 12 mayors have agreed to stick with Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker's attempt to form a committee to review the Wake school board's student assignment plan.

    In: Meeker, Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen, Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe, Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny

    Out: Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones, Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles, Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly, Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears

    Maybe: Wendell Mayor Harold Broadwell, Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne

— Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker's plan to assemble a committee to evaluate the Wake school board's student assignment proposal is losing steam, even before the group holds its first meeting.

Days after Meeker tried to get mayors countywide to assemble a group of "high-level" residents, including educators and lawyers, to scrutinize the student assignment plan being developed by the Wake school board, at least three mayors have changed their mind about joining.

"After having learned more about it, it's clear that it's not going to be a community-based group that's going to look at the plan," Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said. "[To evaluate the plan] is the responsibility of the duly elected Wake County Board of Education."

Mayors Dick Sears of Holly Springs and Ronnie Williams of Garner also have decided not to participate. They join three other mayors - Cary's Harold Weinbrecht, Rolesville's Frank Eagles and Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones - who declined an invitation this week. Williams, Weatherly and Eagles support the school board majority.

On Tuesday, Meeker had eight of Wake's 12 mayors on board - a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Now, he's down to about four, including himself.

Meeker wanted mayors to recruit citizens with educational or legal experience to meet and determine whether the preliminary assignment plan met community needs as well as state and constitutional standards. He wanted each mayor to appoint two people from his or her town to form a nonpartisan group to discuss the plan.

News of the group's formation led to harsh criticism from members of the school board majority, some mayors and area Republicans.

Meeker said he'll stay the course for now, despite the diminished numbers.

"Naturally, it would be better to have more mayors," Meeker said. "People from each town would obviously look at their own area first, but we'd still be looking at the whole plan."

Meeker also said if only a few mayors participate, they might appoint more than two members of their community.

Mayors John Byrne ofFuquay-Varina and Harold Broadwell of Wendell also previously said they would participate. But both said Thursday that they're confused by the composition and mission of the committee and that they need more information about how the group would work before appointing residents from their towns.

"I'm interested in gaining knowledge about what the school board is going to do," Broadwell said. "I would like some objective folks to take a look at it. But at this point, I'm not going to ask anyone to be on it until I figure out what's going on."

Byrne said he would wait to hear discussion at the next Wake Mayors Association meeting, scheduled for Oct. 18.

Several mayors, including Eagles and Weatherly, said the committee should have been formed through the mayors association, of which Weinbrecht is president.

On Tuesday, Sears and Weatherly, who have been strong supporters of the school board majority, said they would appoint members to the committee so that their towns could have a voice. Now, they say the committee isn't as previously advertised.

"It was not as originally described to me," Weatherly said. "His idea is to appoint career educators and lawyers, and I don't think that would be representative of the wishes of Apex."

Meeker called mayors with the help of Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen, who works in the same law firm. He said his vision for the group would include evaluating the plan for more than just its legality.

"Certainly, one of the things you look at is what is the standard for an assignment plan." Meeker said. "Is that a legal review? Maybe, and that'd be one issue."

Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe, who is participating, said a legal review is only one aspect of the committee.

"This is more a look at the plan from a number of communities' perspectives but also to open a dialogue, and I absolutely want to make sure that Morrisville is represented," she said. "At the end of the day, this is about education for our school kids and nothing else."

Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny, who said his town has been largely unaffected by reassignments, said he's taking part anyway. He plans to name a preacher and a lawyer to the committee but declined to give their names.

"I don't want this to be a contentious sort of thing," Matheny said. "I don't have a grudge against the school board, but ... I think citizen input helps."

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