The charges leveled by Republicans during the 2011 election campaign that a Democratic majority on the Wake County school board would lead to more forced busing and no neighborhood schools hasn't come to pass.
As noted in today's article, while the current board reinstalled wording about minimizing concentrations of low-income and low-achieving students at schools in the assignment policy, they haven't really done much to act on it in the past three years. What you've instead seen are things like an expansion of the magnet school program, talk about providing more resources to lower performing schools and how there's community resistance to busing for diversity.
"Low-income schools are not good for achievement, everyone knows that," school board member Jim Martin said. "How we can address that, we don't have any magic solutions. There's a significant resistance to extensive busing, although Wake County never had extensive busing as some people claimed."
Administrators are prepared to present in the coming weeks to the board and community about new approaches and support models to improve student achievement at lower performing schools.
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The board has given multiple reasons over the past three years for not addressing through assignment the issue of high-poverty schools that members complained about before they were elected.
The board allowed the choice plan to proceed in the 2012-13 school year. When it came time to scrap it and go back to a base school plan for 2013-14, board members said there wasn't enough time to make more changes.
The board then opted not to reassign students for the 2014-15 school year.
For the 2015-16 school year, administrators say none of the 2,734 students in the plan were moved solely because of the achievement pillar in the assignment policy. It's unclear whether board members even asked how the plan would affect the demographics and achievement levels at schools, data commonly developed in prior plans.
"The decision was made this year to focus on new schools," Martin said. "In the opening of new schools, attention has been given that we do not destabilize settings. There was not action taken to address any of the schools strongly out of balance."
Similar reasons about focusing on filling new schools in the new plan were given by other board members.
"The point of what we approved last night was to make sure new schools had enrollment districts," school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said. "That has in the past, as well as last night's plan, driven changes in enrollment.
We also have had a history of integration and working through balanced populations. We need to give renewed focus on that with magnet programs, choice as well as funding equitable programs. We have to be holistic on how we approach this problem."
"This year we were obviously trying to alleviate crowding in the Cary and Apex area and that has taken priority over a lot of things," board vice chairman Tom Benton said. "I think the school board will have to lead the community in a discussion about how much it values culturally and economically diverse schools. I don't know if we've reached a consensus on that yet (how the board will deal with high-poverty schools).
But we know that when you have high-poverty schools you've got to pump in a lot of resources or diversify the population. The issue we're running into is how far we can bus students for diversity."
Benton said they can only bus students a "reasonable distance" or face parental backlash.
"We can't go back to 'forced busing' of students in large numbers," Benton said. "I don't think we're at the point in society where we can do that. We need to be more creative."
Former school board member Ron Margiotta said people like the Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP who had criticized the former GOP board majority aren't holding the current board to the same standard.
"They had people arrested at meetings," Margiotta said. "Where are they now? Why aren't they concerned this school board isn't promoting diversity? They're not."
Barber, who had issued a press release on Election Night in 2011 saying the Democratic board victory was "a major step forward on the Highway of Justice and Love," didn't respond for request for comment for the article.
But Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, gave the current board a pass after having been harshly critical of the past board. Brannon said the current board has to contend with "a community that doesn't have a big appetite for using school buses to balance schools."
Brannon said the board should get credit for things like adding more magnet schools, opening the Vernon Malone College And Career Academy, reducing student suspensions, revising the school resource officer memorandum of understanding, winning a federal magnet school grant, supporting teachers and expanding alternative school seats,
"They've built a foundation of good solid policy for children - how they're treated and educated and keeping good teachers in place," Brannon said. "They're doing everything they can to enhance the policies for operating our schools. Let's give them big credit for that."