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October 24, 2012

Wheeler: Looking at Debra Goldman’s votes, with benefit of hindsight

When a school board vote has the potential to alter the very fabric of our county, the suggestion that Debra Goldman used high school-esque romantic revenge as a motivator is incomprehensible and enraging.

Startling. Surprising. Game-changing.

That’s how news stories in October 2010 described Debra Goldman’s mind-blowing, electrifying, astonishing vote to throw out the proposed 16-zone assignment plan that her fellow Republican school board members had crafted.

An elected official doing something so completely unexpected understandably filled us with wonder as to what possibly could have been the motivation.

I remember having what-in-the-world conversations continuously after that vote, trying to plausibly infer why Goldman would upend months of work by the Republican majority on a plan that ended diversity-based assignments and created “neighborhood” schools.

Had Goldman actually come to realize that a plan guaranteed to increase the number of majority-poor schools would be bad for the kids and the county? Had she reluctantly grasped that reality and its difficult details always muddy the promises of campaign rhetoric? Had heat from the public made her too uncomfortable?

Excluded from planning

Goldman, one of four board members elected in 2009 on a pledge to end the socioeconomic diversity policy, said after the vote that she still favored community-based schools. She was upset that she had been excluded from the planning, and she didn’t like that the zones also would end assignments based on home addresses.

My theory at the end of the day wasn’t that Goldman had had any change of heart. She hadn’t moved to the left at all; she had moved to the right of the right.

Her insistence on address-based community schools would mean neighborhood schools in the truest sense, with no room for choice to mitigate the realities of our economically segregated housing patterns.

Another break with GOP

But then in December 2010, Goldman broke again with Republicans, voting against a plan to move Southeast Raleigh students assigned to suburban schools under the diversity policy to schools in their neighborhoods.

She said she was concerned that suburban families, not Southeast Raleigh parents, had sought the move because they wanted those children out of “their” schools.

It was remarkably difficult to reconcile that admirable acknowledgment with her earlier pronouncements that address-based neighborhood schools were paramount.

How galling it is now to have spent any time at all trying to assign to Debra Goldman intentions that actually involved children and parents and education.

Now we know that during this sensitive, crucial time in our county, she was offering up fellow Republican board member Chris Malone as a suspect in a $100,000-plus burglary at her home after participating, by Malone’s account, in a “personal and physical” relationship with him.

Ron Margiotta, the Republican school board chairman in 2010, told The N&O last week that he believes the relationship played a role in Goldman’s votes.

“She was trying to push back against him and show her independence,” Margiotta said.

Safe to say, given a million years, we never could have stooped to come up with that as her motivation.

Unbelievable. Unconscionable. Nauseating.

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