Strong emotions, opinion surround Wake diversity debate

Posted March 3, 2010
Updated March 10, 2010

— When Wake County decided to do away with race-based busing as a means to desegregate schools more than a decade ago, local officials came up with a new way to maintain balance – assign students by their socio-economic background.

The longstanding busing policy, however, has never sat well with many parents who have argued that the student assignment plan sends their children too far from home.

Now, those parents appear to be getting their wish.

Emotions strong on both sides of busing debate Emotions strong on both sides of busing debate

After a heated and sometimes intense debate, the school board on Tuesday voted 5-4 in favor of a resolution to begin moving away from the diversity policy toward a new model that would give parents choices while keeping their children close to home.

What's being considered is a plan calling for "community assignment areas," meaning each home would be given a number of education options. Ideally, board member John Tedesco has said, that would include a mixture of magnet schools, as well as those on year-round and traditional calendars.

"The community zone-based model gives us an opportunity to get that win-win by creating broader geographic zones – 5-, 6-, 7-mile areas," Tedesco said Wednesday.

But critics of the plan and the new school board majority – four new members campaigned last fall on the platform of ending the diversity policy – argue the plan will lead to re-segregation.

The public has voiced strong opposition over the past several months. School board meetings have drawn large crowds with the public expressing outrage over the matter.

Nearly 100 people lined up to speak at Tuesday's meeting. One audience member urged the board not to dump the diversity plan and decried "white racists."

"If you want to go to hell, don't expect to take our children with you," he said to the board as authorities approached to calm him down.

The state chapter of the NAACP has threatened to sue, likening the plan to school policies in Wayne and Mecklenburg counties, where it claims segregation does exist.

Board Chairman Ron Margiotta has vowed that the change is in the interest of students and bristles at any suggestion that the move had something to do with race.

"It's something that offends me," Margiotta said. "Nobody's going to go back to Jim Crow days."

Wake's diversity policy became a popular model in 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court limited the use of race in how districts assign students.

The current policy to send students to schools to achieve socioeconomic diversity, which also improved racial diversity by frequently sending lower-income black children from the city's center to predominantly white schools in the suburbs.

Some schools also created magnet programs to attract students from other neighborhoods with advanced courses in foreign languages, science and other subjects.

Margiotta said the busing program has not helped minority students and has distracted from focusing on stronger education policy.

"What we're doing isn't working," he said.

Even among board members though, there's contention and apparent aggravation. At Tuesday's meeting, members with opposing views traded strong words and comments left looks of bewilderment on some members' faces.

"I don't know that I was frustrated. I think we were able to accomplish what we set out to do," Margiotta said. "I feel a little disappointed in some people in the way they're trying to block what's going on, instead of join us to improve what's going on."

Some observers call the meetings dysfunctional.

"The bickering at the table is discouraging for the public. It's very discouraging and seems unprofessional," said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a community group that opposes the board majority's move.

Brannon believes the board is moving too fast. Those who side with the majority, however, say it's not fast enough.

Kristen Stocking, founder of Wake Schools Community Alliance, likens the school system to a sick patient. Having worked for large businesses, she says change must be quick for there to be success.

"I know drastic change has to be done quickly. You've got to pull the Band-Aid off quickly in order to let the wound heal," Stocking said. "I think it's going to be painful. It's going to be messy, but in the long run, I'm supremely confident the results will be beneficial to all of the kids in the system."

Still unanswered are many questions. Among them: What will the school board do to prevent opponents' fears from coming true?

Tedesco says the resolution, which must go up for a second vote on March 23 to be official – is a direction and that more discussion will follow. It will take about 9 to 15 months for a plan to be in place.

"Wake County is probably one of the most diverse counties in this state," Tedesco said. "This is 2010 in the Research Triangle. We are very integrated. We are very diverse."

Chuck Dulaney, who retired March 1 after four years as the school system's assistant superintendent for growth and planning, however, has concern about separation in the southern and eastern parts of Raleigh.

"If you draw a zone that includes that cluster of schools, how could you ever have much diversity – other than African-American and Hispanic students coming primarily from low-income families?"

"I don't think diversity makes success happen, but I think it enables success to happen," he added.


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  • MileageDontTakeYourKidsCrap Mar 4, 2010

    MrMiddle: I don't claim that education is free, and I realize that there are expenses with running a public school system. What I ALSO realize is that it is extremely wasteful to throw money at a failed program. Diversity bussing is a waste of money and I am glad to see it going away. To compare diversity bussing to bussing a child because the closest school is far away is ignorant. Take that same child and subject him to this policy, and he's looking at passing schools that have room for him, on the way to the school that needed his economic statistic. There is a big difference between carting someone on a bus to fit a statistical need, and carting someone on a bus because they live far away from a school. Do you really think that ppl are calling for an end to ALL bussing? Because we aren't. We are calling for an end to 'diversity' bussing.

    I'll be glad when my hard earned tax dollars are being thrown at worthwhile ventures. I prefer the govt to spend MY money wisely.

  • MileageDontTakeYourKidsCrap Mar 4, 2010

    rich son: you wanted me to explain the premise of the 'economic diversity' policy? i can't tell if you are being sarcastic or asking an honest question, but if that's an honest question, it's equivalent to asking why the two main political parties are Republican and Democrat. It's common knowledge that essentially everyone knows. Where have you read anything about an 'overcrowding policy'? Is this your first day on WRAL? First day in Wake County? The phrase 'economic diversity' is not a new one, nor is it a new concept. It's been a highly publicized and debated topic locally for many years.

    I'm sorry if I am coming off as brash if your question was indeed sincere. I'm just having a hard time believing it was. In case it was truly sincere, try opening up a google search and enter this phrase 'Wake County busing for economic diversity'. You'll find all the information you need.

  • stafa287 Mar 4, 2010

    I would like to see statistics not on overall graduation rates among ethnic groups in Wake County, but on how many of those who do graduate from Wake County schools go on to higher education and receive college degrees. While some students will remain lost no matter what the system due to many outside social and economic factors I bet that surrounding many of these at risk students in a culture of success rubs off on them and I believe they are more successful because of it. I went to high school in Wayne County in a school that was mixed among races and income levels and I greatly benefited from it in seeing a much different world view than the predominate world view of my college classmates. Also in Wayne County there is the inner city Goldsboro school districts with at risk numbers close to 100%. Even with all kinds of money poured into the school to try and bring it up the graduation rates are dismal and teacher turnover is extremely high. There is a culture of failure that is

  • Nancy Mar 4, 2010

    "Except population growth happens much much faster than new schools can be approved, funded and then finally built. So the question is how do you handle the increased requirements with the existing resources? It's not as simple as you're making it out to be."

    So tell me, why doesn't WCPSS meet with developers ahead of schedule and make sure they're on the inside loop on future development plans.

    And furthermore, why doesn't Wake County require 'in kind' funding from developers toward basic facilities needs that will increase due to developments? Seriously, that's done all over the country quite successfully. So that new developments are not falling solely on the existing tax base.

    It's not rocket science here.

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Mar 4, 2010

    mileage, you are going to to be very disappointed by the new system if you think its going to be cheaper and cut down much on bus time. BTW, what happens when the next school don the road is full, or the next nearest school is far away? You are very naive if you think this is going to signifcantly reduce busing and increase eduacation time. And it will be expensive. Better plan on getting that second job to pay for it.

  • NorthofNorthRaleigh Mar 4, 2010

    dlh - I think there is a big lack of planning in Wake County. Not just the school system. Before a builder builds large neighborhoods like Wakefield, Bedford, Bier Creek, etc. They should be required to build the roads and schools to support the population of these neighborhoods first.

  • JOBMO Mar 4, 2010

    "Gee, population growth requires new schools to be built, just like in the past. Funny how that works." -Nancy

    Yeah funny. Except population growth happens much much faster than new schools can be approved, funded and then finally built. So the question is how do you handle the increased requirements with the existing resources? It's not as simple as you're making it out to be.

  • rich son Mar 4, 2010

    Someone, anyone, please help me understand......if all schools are staffed with educated and quality teachers, access to the same quality resources, why are so many in favor of neighborhood schools? As a parent I'm always accessible in the event of an emergency no matter where my kid goes to school. And if I felt the bus ride was too long, I would have to make other arrangements that would better benefit my child. Instead of blogging out of emotion of what may seem wrong, i would like someone to help me with some facts....what's really going on!

  • RWDJ Mar 4, 2010

    "Only 54% of minorities pass - that means a greater majority fail."

    What......? are we working with a total greater than 100% because I thought 54% was a majority.

  • mgratk Mar 4, 2010

    I've said it before, I'll say it again. Kids will benefit a lot more when resources are used to educate them, not transport them. Two to three hours a day on a bus is idle time. Those kids could be spending that same time sitting in school with a tutor instead. I'd rather pay for a tutor for each child that needs one instead of a tank of fuel, a set of tires, etc. At least the tutor can help the child to learn. What are these kids learning on the bus?

    What they're learning is that it is easier to make yourself a victim of imagined racism.