More than 40 elected officials and community leaders, mostly Democrats, came together Thursday to begin working on how to reverse the trend of growing resegregation in the Wake County school system.
The forum at Fairmont United Methodist Church took place as the number of high-poverty and racially isolated Wake County schools has doubled in the past seven years. With the county and school demographics shifting to include more minority and lower-income families, speakers said Thursday it will take a joint school, county and municipal effort to build a community diverse enough to maintain integrated schools.
“This is not a problem that can be solved by any one organization,” said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, the group that organized the forum. “The Wake County school board can’t reassign 150,000 kids. The Wake County Commissioners can’t fix everything.”
Wake County has been known nationally over the years for its efforts to keep school enrollments diverse, first by race and later by family income. But Wake now buses fewer students than ever to make schools more economically diverse.
The Democratic school board majority has left in place assignment changes made in 2010 and 2011 by the former Republican majority, changes that shifted low-income students to schools closer to home. Those changes also are being scrutinized by federal civil rights investigators.
“We still have to deal with a lot of the ramifications from that election,” Wake school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner, a Democrat, said of the 2009 elections that briefly put Republicans in charge.
The current board, instead, has focused on maintaining stability.
Instead of reassigning more students to try to stem the growing number of low-income schools, the district is providing more resources to those schools. In the past four years, the school board also has added 11 magnet schools as a way to diversify those schools that have seen an increase in low-income students.
Great Schools in Wake was highly critical of the former GOP board majority’s efforts to end busing for diversity. But since board control shifted in 2011, the group has blamed the increased number of high-poverty schools on segregated housing patterns outside the school board’s control.
“We’re not going to be able to fix every high-poverty school in the next two years,” Brannon said.
Wake continues to see growth, but a larger percentage than in the past are working poor, those who receive federally subsidized lunches and have limited English skills.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who is registered unaffiliated but is supported by Democrats, said that affordable housing to promote diverse schools means also providing a good public transportation system.
“The right people who can make the change are in this room,” said Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, a Democrat.
During the meeting, speakers routinely criticized the Republican-led General Assembly, saying they’re passing bad policy and are a hindrance to Wake’s efforts to improve public education.
“We need to get rid of those clowns,” state Rep. Rosa Gill, a Raleigh Democrat and former Wake school board member, said of GOP state legislators.
on student assignment
Great Schools in Wake will hold forums from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
on Oct. 27 and Nov. 19 at Fairmont United Methodist Church, 2501 Clark Ave. in Raleigh, to discuss the issues raised Thursday. Go to http://bit.ly/1MLGDVW for more information.