Wake school board newcomers push agenda with consistent 5-4 victories

Posted July 21, 2010
Updated July 22, 2010

— A school board meeting that got the most attention for protests, angry comments from the public and the arrests of 19 people provided a glimpse into the deep 5-4 division on the Wake County Board of Education and the determination of the majority to push through its approach to running the state’s largest school district.

Chairman Ron Margiotta, who had been a lone conservative on the school board before last November’s elections and who now is the consistent fifth vote for changes in tie after tie between four incumbent and four new members, on Tuesday proposed changing the board’s meeting schedule.

School board policy requires two public meetings a month, usually on the first and third Tuesdays. The chairman suggested one.

“Let’s give it a try,” Margiotta said in a pre-meeting work session.

He got an informal “thumbs-up” and the idea of suspending the policy and changing the schedule for about four months went onto the regular meeting agenda along with a related idea of abolishing the board’s standing committees and keeping only ad-hoc, or issue-specific, ones such as the Superintendent Search Committee and the Student Assignment Committee that is charged with coming up with a community-based plan for the system’s 140,000 students.

The power move came when the board got to vote on the proposal in the public meeting.

It takes a two-thirds vote (six votes) to suspend board policies. It takes a simple majority vote at each of two meetings to change a policy.

After Vice Chair Debra Goldman moved to suspend the policy and test the one-meeting-a-month plan, the four-member minority – Keith Sutton, Anne McLaurin, former chair Kevin Hill and Carolyn Morrison expressed their doubts about how the board could get the same work done with fewer meetings. The plan stalled. It got the now-usual 5-4 approval, but not the six votes needed to suspend the rule, though Goldman said it had enough support in the work session.

Within seconds, Goldman said, “OK, then I move to change the policy,” using the same language as the suspension proposal – one work session per month and one formal, voting meeting. If she prevailed, the policy would be changed permanently, or at least until it was changed again some time in the future.

The debate resumed, including objections from McLaurin that cutting out one meeting a month would also cut in half the time the public is allowed to address the members, currently slated for a half-hour per meeting, though that is sometimes extended, as it had been Tuesday before the scene broke down into shouting, chanting, singing and handcuffs.

There was some talk of putting an hour of public comment on the agenda for each single monthly meeting, but then the majority members closed ranks in the same way they did to change the student assignment policy, forcing the resignation of Superintendent Del Burns in the process, and to change the qualifications for hiring his replacement.

The vote was 4-4. Margiotta broke the tie, and the policy change was half-way to becoming permanent.

School board members serve four-year terms. The change agents elected last year – Goldman, John Tedesco, Deborah Prickett and Chris Malone – are assured of a role until 2014 if they want it. Margiotta’s term expires next year, as do those of Sutton, Hill, McLaurin and Morrison.

The 5-4 divide over controversial issues has become familiar to board observers. Sometimes there are several 5-4 votes on a given issue as the four minority members try to amend language and are voted down time and again before the original action passes.

“And I’ll break the tie and vote yes” from Margiotta seems likely to be seen in meeting minutes for some time to come.


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  • ajeralddavis Jul 21, 2010

    I think this is all blown out of proportion. This has some good points and some bad points. Let's take a look at the good at the total picture. As an employer, that has an employee that is working within 15 minutes from home and has a child that needs clothes brought to them due to an accident at school has to go 45 minutes one way to handle the situation. Better yet neighborhood school will allow the parent to be able to take a lunch break and have lunch at the school instead of taking a half of day. We need to look at this as far as expenses go and the exposure. I think its something that needs to be addressed but the way the majority is going about it is wrong.

  • afteradeal Jul 21, 2010

    "If you want to get mad at something, get mad at the rapid growth of our county and the people who keep coming here in droves."

    I think we should charge a yankee tax; $10,000 should do it.

    A mom from Ohio asked me why our schools are so overcrowded. I asked her if she and the gazillion others made a reservation or did you just show up here unannounced? And did you bring a big bucket of money with you?

  • afteradeal Jul 21, 2010

    "influx of people from other parts of the country which adds tens of thousands of students to the school system EACH YEAR."

    tens of thousands? Sorry, S9, but we already had our joke for the day; check back tomorrow.

  • S9 Jul 21, 2010

    To Boylan, yes this is common sense. The cuase of frequent reassignments is called "growth" not "minority". Use your common sense and get educated with the actual facts 91% of all elementary school kids go to a school within 5 miles of their home. If you want to get mad at something, get mad at the rapid growth of our county and the people who keep coming here in droves. Growth can't be sustained forever. We have added 35 new schools and 31,000 new students in the past six years!!! Many school systems don't even have 35 schools. Does that not tell you something? Those new schools were needed because of the influx of new students - new people who didn't live here before. Your frustrations are very real and justified, but are misguided. Leave diversity alone, it affects a small fraction of the students, tackle the real issue, out of control growth.

  • S9 Jul 21, 2010

    Parents who are upset by frequent reassignments in schools, you need to realize that diversity has nothing at all to do with frequent reassignments. Yes frequent reassignments must stop, but ending diversity will not stop that. The problem is caused by the success of our county, by the huge influx of people from other parts of the country which adds tens of thousands of students to the school system EACH YEAR. You can not ignore that and attack minorities for your frustartions. Saying you will have set assignments of students to particular schools without addressing our rapid growth will only lead to overcrowed schools. We already have several schools that have illeglally overcrowded classes. You need to put your energy into the rapid growth of the Wake population. Either speed up new school construction, buy more trailers, illegaly overcrowd the schools, or tamp down on growth. Only a very small percent of students are bused for diversity and most asked to be bused.

  • Boylan Jul 21, 2010

    "This is not segregation, this is common sense."..woodkay

    Well said.

  • 27615 Jul 21, 2010


  • 27615 Jul 21, 2010

    The NAACP is a joke!

  • afteradeal Jul 21, 2010

    "We need to realize that kids should not be out in the dark getting picked up at 6am to go to a school that starts at 7:25"

    Exactly. Where is the outcry about kids riding in the dark unsupervised?

  • woodkay Jul 21, 2010

    I moved here six years ago from Pa, we only had community schools there. I moved down here and in 3 years my kids were changed three times. The other thing that amazed me was that the other children in the neighborhood all attended different schools. I never realized that some homes even had children. We need to bring the community back together! We need to realize that kids should not be out in the dark getting picked up at 6am to go to a school that starts at 7:25 of course this is after we pass two closer schools. This is not segregation, this is common sense. Parents can easily volunteer at schools if they are closer to their neighborhoods, they can pick up sick children. Please consider all the advantages that this will have!