Goldman hears praise, concern in open forum

Staff WriterOctober 13, 2010 

— A quiet Debra Goldman won praise from some Cary residents Tuesday about her stormy break from Wake County school board colleagues last week over a zone-based assignment plan.

But the school board vice chairwoman also heard concern about reassignments, delays in getting a new plan started and other outcomes that could follow her move.

About 150 people came to the high-security meeting with Goldman at Cary Town Hall. Police officers, fire officials and building supervisors in attendance likely outnumbered the 27 speakers who gave Goldman feedback.

It was the Cary Republican's first major public appearance since splitting with her colleagues over their student assignment proposal last week.

After last week's biting remarks and open verbal sparring with board member John Tedesco, Goldman said Tuesday she just wanted to sit back and listen to Cary residents.

"It's important that I hear from my constituents about their thoughts and concerns, so I can best represent you in my role as a school board member," she said.

"I'm looking forward to working with the rest of the board and figuring out what needs to happen in Wake County to further the goals we have set before us."

The lone additional board member to appear was Deborah Prickett, who represents a section of western Cary. Prickett sat in the audience and did not speak.

Most western Wake citizens who spoke told Goldman they were glad that the zone-based model was thrown out because it would have split up their communities. Others said they were unhappy that the directive to start over would postpone a community-based school model another year.

"It's not acceptable for our kids to wait another year," said Jennifer Duerr, of Cary's Carpenter Village. "We ask that you please not ask us to wait another year to make this change."

The only serious personal criticism came from Allison Backhouse, of Wake CARES, a group which backed Goldman for election.

"Shame on you, Mrs. Goldman," Backhouse said. "You turned your back on those who supported a new direction for our school system and our children."

She added: "Your double talk and empty promises serve no one but yourself. I think I speak for many when I ask, 'What's next?'"

Goldman, who represents Cary on the school board, moved to scrap the plan under development, which split the county into 16 zones that emphasized choice, stability and placing students in nearby schools. Instead of getting a guaranteed assignment based on where they live, families would pick from a set of schools without a guarantee of getting their request.

She has said previously that she supports community-based schools, but will not vote for a plan unless every student has a base school assignment, the option to attend a magnet program and a choice of year-round and traditional calendars.

Before the plan was revoked, Cary families sent e-mail to Goldman and other board members with concerns with the proposed zone plan, which split some neighborhoods on the town's borders.

Residents from Lochmere and its neighboring subdivisions took issue with a zoning model that would have sent some students to Athens Drive High School and others to Cary High School.

Some parents wanted their children to attend Athens Drive, a nearby Raleigh high school. Others wanted them to attend Cary because they said it was important to go to a school within the town's borders.

Many parents from the area attended the meeting to thank Goldman for her vote.

Debbie Kline, PTSA president at Athens Drive, said she thought the process behind the developing plan had been too reactive.

"It felt like we were just reacting to whoever is yelling right now," she told Goldman. "It didn't feel like there was enough attention to the whole problem."

Several attendees made the case for again adding socioeconomic status and diversity to the assignment process, hopeful that Goldman's new independent stance would sway her to reconsider tweaking the board's old diversity policy. But Goldman has said that she is not going back to the old model.

Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht introduced Goldman at the start of the event and then sat out of the rest of the conversation. Weinbrecht has remained publicly neutral on the actions of the school board. He said any elected official representing Cary has access to town facilities.

But the town was clearly worried about the crowds, guarding entrances with officers and closing off the front section of seats.

"We came prepared for the worst but we got the best," said Barry Mitsch, who moderated the forum.

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