Wake school board looks beyond Debra Goldman

Wake board is already filling one vacancy; GOP shift continues

amoody@newsobserver.comFebruary 4, 2013 

And then there were seven.

The resignation by Wake County school board member Debra Goldman leaves another spot to be filled on the nine-member board, and marks the third departure among the five Republican members who promised sweeping change after gaining the majority in the 2009 elections.

Members will vote Tuesday for a replacement for state Rep. Chris Malone, who stepped down from the board after his election to the legislature in November. The former board chairman, Ron Margiotta, lost his race for reelection in 2011, leaving John Tedesco and Deborah Prickett as the only board Republicans. Board seats are officially nonpartisan, but Chairman Keith Sutton and the ruling majority were all backed by Democrats.

On Sunday, Goldman gave details of her future – becoming the leader of a Wilkes County nonprofit – saying she was proud to have left the Wake schools “a little bit changed.” At a news conference at her lawyer John Austin’s office in downtown Raleigh, Goldman announced she had accepted a position as the executive director of the Derie Cheek Reece Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to stroke prevention and awareness, headquartered in the Wilkes County town of Ronda.

Goldman offered an explanation for the short notice of her resignation, which she made public Friday. She could have chosen to run for reelection in October.

“I would not want to take a risk that I would be misleading anyone that I might be returning,” she said. “I think it is fairest to the school system, to our faculties, to our students, to our families, most importantly, to make the change quickly.”

Under recent proposals by the Wake County Board of Commissioners, the county’s system of electing all board members from districts could be changed this year by the General Assembly. But current statutes dictate that, just as the person elected Tuesday will have to live in the district formerly represented by Malone, Goldman’s replacement will have to come from her Cary district.

Reactions in Cary

“I hope, as any citizen does, it’s somebody who leverages their two ears instead of their one mouth, and listens to people and takes their passions and their thoughts forward,” said Cary Councilwoman Lori Bush, a Democrat, who added that she thought Goldman’s “heart was in the right place.”

Since 2009, Republicans and Democrats on the board have waged a back-and-forth battle on how students would be assigned, on whether proximity should be a key factor, and whether diversity of student population should figure into the mix.

“What she asked for is what a lot of our citizens want – and that’s to have their kids go to school at the closest school to their home,” said Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, a Democrat. “At the same time, we believe in diversity. Unfortunately, the school board made those competing interests.”

Cary council member Jack Smith, a Republican, praised Goldman as an active, involved school board member. However, Smith said, she had encountered credibility problems because of highly publicized personal problems and disputes with other board members.

“I found others to be more disingenuous and less caring about the kids than her,” he said. “I just think her personal situation made it more difficult for her to be effective.”

Goldman’s perspective

On Sunday, Goldman also spoke on the ups and downs she encountered during her time with the board, and the concerns she has about issues she leaves behind. She admitted she regrets not speaking out about the reasoning behind certain votes when she first joined the board.

“I am very proud of the policy changes I made, and am very proud to be part of the direction for Wake County Schools that got the story a little bit changed,” she said.

Goldman said one of her greatest concerns in leaving the board is the future of student assignment, noting that she worked to assign students to schools closer to home and give parents and students the options they wanted for base schools.

“I really worry, going forward, about the makeup of the board and how those decisions will be handled,” she said. “I pray they will bring someone in with the same mindset as me to represent the people of Cary the same that I have.”

Staff members Andy Kenney and Thomas Goldsmith contributed to this story.

Moody: 919-829-4806

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