Garner, N.C. — Members of the Wake County school board's facilities committee decided Tuesday to hold off on renovations at Smith Elementary School following a demand from Garner officials.
The town's Board of Aldermen voted to require the Wake County Public School System to reduce the number of low-income children in schools in order to get a Certificate of Occupancy at Smith Elementary and Aversboro Elementary schools.
Town leaders blame the school district's policy of busing in low-income students from southeast Raleigh. Poverty rates are measured by the number of students who get free and reduced lunch.
Smith Elementary has the district's highest concentration with 70 percent of students receiving free and reduced price lunches. Avensboro has 53 percent receiving free and reduced-price lunch. The board's goal is to keep schools under 40 percent.
School officials decided Tuesday to move ahead with renovations at Aversboro Elementary. They said students would be able to use a new elementary school currently under construction if they hit a road block with Garner town officials.
"People have asked me if this is about race. It 's about the human race," said Mayor Ronnie Williams. “If Garner schools were treated equally, we’d have healthy percentages of (kids who receive) free and reduced lunches."
"It is true that Garner and eastern Wake County have higher percentages of affordable housing, which means you have a higher percent of low-income families," said Chuck Dulaney, the school system's director of growth management.
Board members have argued that students who go to Smith Elementary live near the school. They said they may have to bus in students to balance the schools.
Garner leaders have fought the district over the issue on many occassions. At one point, they talked to lawyers in Charlotte about a possible lawsuit. This summer, they fought the location of a new high school.
School Board Chair Rosa Gill said she'll work to set up a meeting with Garner town officials to discuss the issue as soon as possible. It is not yet known if the meeting will be open to the public.