RALEIGH — Using a rarely-exercised Wake County schools policy, Debra Goldman, school board vice chairwoman, received a midyear transfer for her middle-school-age daughter to an out-of-zone school, complete with door-to-door bus transportation.
Schools spokesman Michael Evans, citing confidentiality laws, would only confirm that the parent at Goldman's address in Cary made a verbal request of then-interim superintendent Donna Hargens for the transfer in January. Only 15 students now enrolled in the 143,000-student Wake system have been allowed to change schools under a "best-interest" policy, which requires no paperwork.
The policy says the superintendent can assign a student to any school in the system if the transfer is in the best interest of the student and school, and if the move would not work against the overall intent of board assignment policies. Efforts to reach Goldman on Friday were unsuccessful. She has declined to grant media interviews for the past several months.
Allison Backhouse, a former political ally of Goldman who now opposes her, had sought information about the transfer in a public records request.
"The fact that they were granting a favor to a board member should have made them leery," Backhouse said in an interview. "It's such an abuse of power on her part."
Since being elected in October 2009, Goldman has become the swing vote on the board. She joined her fellow Republican majority members in voting to eliminate the use of socioeconomic diversity in student assignment. But she's voted with the Democratic minority on several student assignment issues, including killing work on a plan by board member John Tedesco to divide the county into 16 assignment zones.
Hargens' decision allowed Goldman's daughter, who had attended Martin Middle as a magnet student, to transfer to Davis Drive Middle. Based on her Cary address, children in Goldman's family would typically be assigned to West Cary Middle School, which is closer to their home than Davis Drive, one of the system's highest performing schools.
Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a community group that supports the old socioeconomic diversity policy, said Goldman wasn't playing by the same rules as other parents.
"One of the things that the public wants to feel is that everything is transparent," said Brannon, a former Wake County commissioner who has both praised and criticized Goldman for previous actions.
"No matter what the circumstances, whether it's boards meeting privately or board members making private requests for transfers, that's not transparent. ...The child probably wouldn't have got that treatment had (Goldman) not been on the Board of Education."
Evans said that the request from Goldman's address complied with board policy although he acknowledged that it differed from the way parents typically request transfers. He said that Hargens found extenuating circumstances to grant the request but said he couldn't identify them for confidentiality reasons. He said Hargens, who agreed to remain the system's chief academic officer after the board hired Tony Tata, could not speak further about the matter.
For this school year, 6,260 transfer requests were reviewed by staff in the Growth and Planning Department. Requests that are rejected by staff can be appealed to the school board. Ultimately, 1,620 requests were denied, mostly by staff.
The school board's transfer policy warns parents that they lose the right to school transportation if their transfer is approved. But Wake extended a bus route an extra five miles to stop at Goldman's house on the way to pick up students who live close to Davis Drive.
Evans said only one student is picked up at the bus stop at Goldman's address. He said bus transportation is automatically provided when administrative transfers are approved by the superintendent.
Brannon said the situation sets Goldman's family apart from the rules that almost every other student and parent must follow.
"We've made a lot of transfers in the last couple of year and everybody's been told they have to go through the process," she said. "We have to honor the process."
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