In 1973, voters in Wake County voted down a non-binding proposal to merge Wake and Raleigh schools. Popular support wasn’t there, but community leaders saw the bigger picture, and passed a merger resolution through the General Assembly anyway, leading to a 1976 merger.
Today, Wake has the state’s largest school system, and that system is credited with being better for all students, who are given opportunities in a variety of studies, and options such as specialty magnet schools and charters. It’s also a major selling point for those who work on the county’s behalf, and on Raleigh’s behalf, to draw new business: Look at our school system, one of the nation’s best.
Always, of course, there has been grumbling, just as there was in the early 1970s when some parents in the suburbs feared what would happen with a merger that would diversify schools racially and economically.
What happened was that schools got better for everyone.
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The merger also pooled resources from all over the county. A rising tide lifts all boats, the expression goes. And so it did.
Now some Republican lawmakers want to initiate a study of how to break apart some school districts, with the notable examples being Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg. It’s a bad idea, particularly with legislators in charge who care little for metropolitan areas where school boards and city councils and commissioners’ boards are Democratic.
Yes, it’s just a study. Chris Malone, a Wake representative who is a sponsor of the idea, said he’d never vote for anything that would hurt Wake County. Malone’s a former Wake school board member and may mean well.
But longer perspective on what happened with merger and what would have happened without it would show Malone and others that pre-merger, Raleigh’s schools were becoming more segregated in some areas, and Wake County schools seemed to be entertaining “white flight.” A merged system brought more diversity, a better education for all.
Those who fancy smaller systems need to step back and consider that a large, merged system means the financial burden and responsibility can be spread around and shared. In a small system, say, where there came a need for new schools, those local taxpayers would be looking at monumental tax hikes to cover those needs.
Smaller sounds like a better idea. It’s not. It would represent a retreat from the progress merged systems have made for all.