School board won't rush into change

STAFF WRITERSNovember 17, 2010 

  • Four Republican-backed candidates joined incumbent Ron Margiotta on the nine-member Wake County school board in fall of 2009. They vowed to bring dramatic change and a return to neighborhood schools for one of the nation's largest public-school systems.

    With Margiotta as chairman and John Tedesco heading a school-assignment committee, the board axed diversity as a factor in school assignments and began drawing up a new zone-based assignment model based on proximity, stability and choice.

    Their direction was met with vocal opposition by magnet-school parents and students, by the former education establishment and by civil rights groups led by the NAACP.

    Republican board member Debra Goldman, who objected to the lack of base schools in the zones being drawn up, voted with Democrats to scuttle the plan. She still favors community-based schools.

— Wake County school board members voted Tuesday to start a new, deliberate approach to student assignment, a move that means the state's largest school system is unlikely to move to neighborhood schools next year.

Republican board member Debra Goldman voted against her GOP colleagues, siding with Democratic colleague Kevin Hill's proposal to hold a series of board and public meetings and develop cost estimates before designing a long-term assignment model. The vote effectively kills any possibility that elements of a new plan could be in place for the 2011-12 school year.

Goldman joined with Democrats last month to kill a plan backed by the other Republican board members to divide the county into 16 community-based assignment zones. She argued Tuesday that Hill's approach would ensure the entire community is heard. She insisted the board is still moving forward with community-based schools, even if it's at a slower pace.

"If it comes down to a 5-4 vote for which community-based school plan we pick, then that is what it will be," Goldman said. "But at least the entire board will have had a piece of that discussion."

Goldman was one of four Republican new members, elected in fall 2009, who joined now-Chairman Ron Margiotta and embarked on a drive to eliminate Wake County's diversity-based student assignment method.

While Hill welcomed Goldman's support, he wouldn't go as far as saying they had all agreed on going with community-based schools.

"I'm hoping we can all come together without prejudging things and come up with something we can agree upon," he said.

School board member John Tedesco, whose student assignment committee had taken the lead in developing a new assignment model, warned that Hill's approach will delay adoption of a community-based assignment plan past the October 2011 school board elections, when supporters of the diversity-based student assignment policy could regain the majority control of the board.

"For the past 11 months, the Democrat members of the school board have to tried to stall, stop and hinder what the people elected us to do," said Tedesco, who was also elected last year. "They've found the support of Mrs. Goldman to help them."

Only board members Tedesco, Chris Malone and Carolyn Morrison were part of the committee, led by Tedesco that was designing the new student assignment plan. Goldman and the Democrats wanted the full board to be involved.

"It's really important that every inch of this county, every person in this county, every stakeholder, every parent, every taxpayer feels that they are being represented in this discussion," Goldman said.

Goldman's vote on Tuesday followed her Oct. 5 ballot with Democrats to derail a zone-based plan that opponents had argued would lead to high concentrations of low-income and minority students in Southeast Raleigh.

It passed over the opposition of the board's former majority members.

"It carries," Margiotta said tersely. "Meeting adjourned."

After the meeting, Hill said an all-day meeting with a facilitator would be necessary to get the new process going.

A three-year assignment plan adopted by the old board expires next year, so the current board needs to have a new plan in place for the 2012-13 school year. In the meantime, administrators said they're considering some changes to next year's plan that will reflect the new assignment policy. For instance, they are looking at relieving crowding at Leesville Road Middle School in North Raleigh and Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary by reassigning students who've been bused from Southeast Raleigh to balance socio-economic diversity.

"We're trying to find a home that's more proximate," said Laura Evans, senior director of growth and planning.

thomas.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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