Politics & Government

NC lawmaker says he’ll stop ‘needless’ Wake student reassignments. But what can he do?

John Adcock, Sydney Batch and Guy Meilleur are competing in 2018 for the N.C. House District 37 seat that covers southern Wake County.
John Adcock, Sydney Batch and Guy Meilleur are competing in 2018 for the N.C. House District 37 seat that covers southern Wake County.

A candidate campaigning against “mandatory student reassignment” is running not for the Wake County school board but instead for the North Carolina General Assembly.

State Rep. John Adcock is hoping to hold on to the N.C. House District 37 seat in southern Wake County that he was recently appointed to by tapping into parental discontent about reassignment. Adcock, a Republican with two children in public schools, says on his campaign website that one of his legislative efforts will be focusing on “putting a stop to needless mandatory student reassignments.”

Adcock, an attorney from Fuquay-Varina, also says on his website that “mandatory student reassignments unfairly disrupt families and break apart our communities.” It’s a message repeated in a campaign ad that’s appeared on television and online.

Student assignment is a concern for families in District 37, a fast-growing area that includes all or part of Apex, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs and Willow Spring. The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation considers the District 37 race to be one of the most competitive in the state.

“Fuquay-Varina in general feels like they’ve been more of an afterthought in some of the changes that have been made in Wake County,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the conservative John Locke Foundation.

Adcock, whose father-in-law passed away this week, did not immediately return requests for comment. But his two opponents, Sydney Batch and Guy Meilleur, both criticized Adcock for injecting student assignment into the campaign.

“School reassignment is the responsibility of the Wake County school board, not the state legislature,” Batch, a Democrat and attorney from Holly Springs, said in a statement. “It is disappointing that John Adcock either doesn’t know that or, worse, he is willfully misleading his constituents about what he can do as a state representative.

“As a mother with two young boys in Wake County Public Schools I can understand the frustration parents feel when a child is reassigned to a new school, but the state legislature is not the place this issue will be solved.”

Meilleur, a Libertarian and arborist from New Hill, said that based on his past experience as a parent of Wake County schoolchildren that “the way Wake County reassigns students in response to rapid population growth does not seem like a state issue.”

“I do not support state legislation to manage county school assignments,” Meilleur said in an email message. “The Libertarian Party is for less state power over all of its citizens.”

The Wake County school system annually reassigns thousands of students to different schools to help fill new schools, ease crowding at existing schools and fill under-enrolled schools. To a lesser degree than in the past, the district also reassigns some students to balance the percentage of low-performing students at individual schools.

The latest draft of the 2019-20 student enrollment plan was presented to the school board Tuesday. Some parents have voiced frustration about their children being moved to more distant schools.

Wake County school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said she’d want to see what legislative changes Adcock might propose. But she rejected the idea that students are needlessly reassigned.

“There’s no denying for me as a school board member and as a parent that assignment is a difficult thing,” Johnson-Hostler said. “But I don’t think we’ve ever had a needless or pointless proposal.”

Adcock was already running for the District 37 seat when the leadership of the Wake County Republican Party chose him in September to fill the vacancy caused by Rep. Linda Hunt Williams’ resignation.

Both Stoops of the Locke Foundation and Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the liberal N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, say that it would be unusual for the General Assembly to intervene in student assignment even though it has the authority to do so.

Stoops said legislators should be mindful that the districts are best able to make assignment decisions.

Nordstrom said the Republican-led legislature has also shown its willingness to step on local governments when it disagrees with their actions.

“They can use state power to maintain segregated schools for their rich white constituencies,” Nordstrom said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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