Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County School Board member John Tedesco appeared on the Fox Business Network Monday to defend the board's controversial decision to abandon a long-standing student assignment policy that bussed students to achieve socio-economic diversity in schools.
Many opponents of the school board's decision spoke out against it Monday, calling it a civil rights issue. Monday was a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Tedesco told Gerri Willis of the Willis Report that the decision is primarily a "money-saving issue."
"We spend $72 million a year on a fleet of 925 buses for transportation... We spend a lot of time getting 5 and 6-year-old kids on bus stops at 5:30, 6:30 in the morning on one side of the county to commute an hour to the other side of the county with 10 kids on a bus here and 10 kids on a bus there, so it's somewhat inefficient," Tedesco told the Willis Report.
He said ending diversity in schools is not the goal of a neighborhood schools model and that Wake County is "one of the most integrated and diverse communities in the country right now."
Student achievement, he said, has suffered under the busing program, and underprivileged students would be better served by attending schools closer to home.
"Having a mindset that simply reassigning kids is the answer to education has failed us," Tedesco said. "I think we need new paradigms." (Watch Tedesco on the Willis Report.)
School board member Chris Malone echoed Tedesco's call for a renewed focus on student achievement, not diversity.
"We need to find a way to be a little more equitable, spread it around and not deny anybody good basic resources," he said.
Five of the nine seats on the school board will be up for grabs later this year. Four of those seats are currently held by pro-diversity board members.
Earlier Monday, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker received a standing ovation after criticizing members of the Wake County Board of Education for not upholding the dream and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Speaking to community leaders at the 31st Annual Triangle Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, the mayor called four school board members “way off track” for moving ahead with a neighborhood schools assignment policy.
“This is a civil rights issue. We all have roles to play in this,” Meeker said. “Our community simply needs to stand up and get the board back on track.”
Meeker, like his wife, school board member Dr. Anne McLaurin, has long opposed the controversial and divisive measure that was narrowly adopted last year by the Republican-backed board majority.
In speaking about King’s legacy and fight for racial equality, Gov. Bev Perdue alluded to the school assignment controversy, saying King’s work is not finished in Wake County and that “we need to keep on pushing.”
“I believe that everything that we have and hope to be is defined by education,” she said. “I believe that the only way to give a young girl or young boy a chance to be somebody is through a free public education that works for all of the people.”
Malone said Meeker and Perdue used the King holiday as rally cries for elections in the fall.