RALEIGH — Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon, one of the region's leading businessmen, publicly lashed into the Wake County school board majority on Saturday over its elimination of the use of diversity in deciding where students attend school.
Goodmon, the closing speaker at a forum organized by supporters of the old diversity policy, accused the Republican-backed board majority of making decisions with a political agenda and not acting responsibly. Capitol Broadcasting owns several local radio and television stations, including WRAL.
"This is not where you get people with political agendas or ideological agendas," Goodmon said. "This is not what we're doing here. We've got a really big, important business that we're supposed to be working on. My view is that the wheels are coming off the bus because of the poor governance practices of the Wake County school board."
Goodmon addressed a crowd of nearly 200 people at a forum sponsored by the Great Schools in Wake Coalition at N.C. State's McKimmon Center. Speakers presented national research on the benefits of diverse schools and the challenges of getting good teachers to work in high poverty schools. They also warned that Wake could resegregate like Charlotte if it switches to neighborhood schools.
"This was a political rally," charged school board chairman Ron Margiotta, noting that several Democratic candidates in next month's election were at the forum.
Margiotta is among a Republican-supported board majority that came to office in December after voters in four districts elected new members. All pledged to eliminate the school system's long-standing diversity policy.
But what will happen next is unclear. Board vice chairwoman Debra Goldman broke with her colleagues in the majority this month and voted to halt work on the new assignment plan.
Goodmon has been a vocal supporter of the diversity policy, but Saturday's remarks were his first public criticism of the school board majority.
"Almost before their seats were warm, they changed a very significant policy," Goodmon said. "If you're a responsible board, a responsible manager, you don't do that."
The day before last fall's school board elections, Goodmon spoke at a rally of community leaders who endorsed the diversity policy. Goodmon also donated $750 last fall to losing school board candidates who backed the diversity policy.
Goodmon is also chairman of the board of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which is named for his grandfather. The Fletcher Foundation has been a major financial backer of N.C. Policy Watch, a liberal group that has been highly critical of the board majority
Goodmon also produced and aired public service announcements on WRAL-TV earlier this year touting diversity.
Board vs. the staff
He accused the board of fighting the school district staff. He criticized the elimination of the requirement that the superintendent be an educator and the decision to keep secret the names of the finalists. He questioned the decision to pull out of the N.C. School Boards Association and to cut in half the number of public comment sessions at school board meetings each month.
"This political, single-issue ideological focus can throw us off-track completely because of the way they're running the school board," Goodmon said. "We should demand a more professional and business-like governance of the school system."
Goodmon acknowledged Saturday that the old diversity policy wasn't perfect and that more must be done to improve the performance of low-income students.
Margiotta, the board chairman, said opponents aren't giving the board majority credit for initiatives undertaken over the past several months to improve student achievement.
Chris Malone, a member of the school board majority, said that Goodmon is repeating the same canned arguments used by opponents to block the move toward neighborhood schools in the state's largest school district.
"They didn't make these points when fewer and fewer were graduating and more were dropping out," Malone said. "They were fine with it because they were in charge."
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