SE Raleigh students to stay put next year

Staff WriterDecember 15, 2010 

— Proposals to move thousands of minority students back to schools in their Southeast Raleigh neighborhoods next year are all but dead.

GOP Wake County school board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman, who held the critical swing vote, backed Democrats on Tuesday in rejecting a motion to put the Southeast Raleigh moves on the table for the 2011-12 school year.

The outcome of the proposed moves will not likely be known until after next fall's school board elections.

Goldman, who says she still backs community-based schools, said she's concerned that it's not the Southeast Raleigh families who are asking for the moves but the families at the suburban schools who want those children out.

"Are those recommendations being made in regard to their own children or in regard to other people's children?" said Goldman, who has now broken with Republicans on three major reassignment votes in the past two months. "That's a defining point for me."

Election may change all

The 5-3 vote means that any attempt to implement a large-scale reassignment of Southeast Raleigh children to neighborhood schools likely won't happen until the 2012-13 school year at the earliest. Their reassignment might not happen at all, depending on the October 2011 election to fill five of the nine school board seats.

"It's going to have to wait until next year to see what we can do," said school board Chairman Ron Margiotta, whose GOP majority on the school board has become increasingly fractured by Goldman's defection.

But Democratic board members said putting the Southeast Raleigh moves on hold is the right call considering that federal investigators are looking into an NAACP complaint about racial bias in Wake's student assignments.

"We are in the teeth of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education," said Keith Sutton, a Democratic board member. "It would be unreasonable and irresponsible to move so many students, particularly so many African-American students."

Last week, school administrators presented a plan to move 3,224 students to different schools next fall to carry out the final year of a three-year plan adopted by the previous school board.

Their recommendation largely excluded the reassignment of an additional 6,000 students, many from Southeast Raleigh, that was proposed on Nov. 30 by the GOP community members of a student assignment committee. Those moves went beyond the scope of the three-year plan, the administrators said.

Margiotta missed last week's meeting because of a family illness, and Democrats used their temporary advantage to block consideration of most moves not recommended by staff, including the Southeast Raleigh moves.

Back at the school board helm on Tuesday, he pushed for a new vote to at least allow discussion the moves. He noted that the moves had included more than just Southeast Raleigh children.

Goldman was one of four new Republican school board members who were elected last year and joined Margiotta in forming a majority that eliminated the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignments. The new student assignment policy stresses proximity, family choice and stability.

"It's clear that parents are tired of the old assignment practices and want neighborhood schools," Margiotta said. "We changed the policy based on what the community requested but haven't followed through on it."

Margiotta also pointed out that they were only asking for the moves to be put on the table for consideration, not that they'd necessarily be approved for next year.

"There are some people who want changes now, and they deserve at least to be heard," said GOP school board member John Tedesco. "They deserve a chance to go to schools near their homes."

But Democrats said the Southeast Raleigh moves need to be considered as part of a new consensus-building approach on student assignment that will be used to develop a long-term plan. That process was made possible when Goldman defected from the Republicans.

"It's premature to consider these moves right now," said Democratic school board member Kevin Hill.

Other moves on table

After the vote, board members agreed to consider more than a dozen moves not recommended by staff. Those moves were exempted from last week's motion because they had been brought up earlier this year when the board reviewed changes to the 2010-11 plan.

The board will hold five community meetings in January to gather feedback on the staff plan before potentially giving a final vote on Feb. 1. or 919-829-4534

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