Local News

Wake Reassignment Plan Hurts Raleigh Neighborhood, Residents Say

Posted February 20, 2006

— Despite controversy with the Wake County Public School System's busing policy for economic diversity, student test scores show that it works.

Test scores show lower income students are doing better because of the policy, which is one factor the school system considers when it comes to school reassignment.

Math scores since 1998 for students who receive free and reduced-priced lunches rose from 60 percent of students in grades 3-8 performing at grade level to 80 percent. Reading scores rose from 56 percent to 75 percent in the same time period.

Some Wake County residents in North Raleigh's Riverside neighborhood, however, argue that although busing may help schools, it hurts neighborhoods because they are having to send their children to schools farther from local neighborhood schools.

Diversity for the school system is about balancing lower income students -- those who receive free and reduced-priced lunches -- called the "F/R" percentage.

That F/R percentage is important to many people. Schools and communities say if the F/R percentage is too high they have negative image problems.

Board of Education member Carol Parker believes the school system worries moving students who live in the Riverside neighborhood, which is racially diverse, from their current school, Fox Road, could make the F/R percentage at the school too high.

That's exactly what the town of Garner says it's currently battling.

"I'm a proponent of busing to achieve diversity," said Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams.

Garner residents are petitioning the town's Board of Education to reduce high numbers of F/R students at Garner schools, which could mean more busing.

But Williams believes higher income families opt for year-round schools and Garner does not have a year-round middle school.

"Our new focus for these opted out students is to get them back to Garner schools," Williams said. "A year-round middle school would help us address that."

Riverside parents understand the county's balancing act, but they don't feel keeping them from schools within walking distance is the solution to the problem.

They've been lobbying for five years to attend their neighborhood school. The school board likes to keep that F/R percentage below 40 percent. Garner schools are above 50 percent.

Public hearings begin next week on Wake County's reassignment plan. The school board is expected to vote on it next month.

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