Forum on neighborhood schools sparks debate

Posted December 16, 2009 11:25 p.m. EST

— A discussion over whether to end busing in favor of neighborhood schools in Wake County quickly turned into a debate about race Wednesday evening during a forum at the YWCA at 554 East Hargett St.

Reassigning students and busing them away from their neighborhoods to achieve economic diversity in the school system has been a controversial issue for years.

Board member Keith Sutton said changing the school system's current policy, which is to have no more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches at any school,  would hurt the district's future.

"It does concern me right now,” Sutton said. "I think we will be in serious trouble in terms of going back to a segregated system."

The diversity policy was a key point in this year's election in which voters elected four candidates who said they supported changing the policy in favor of neighborhood schools.

Newly elected board member John Tedesco said the majority's vision for a new model of neighborhood schools is to give parents choices. He said the issue is not about race but about keeping children closer to home.

"Socially engineering our community by re-distributing our children, I do not believe that to be the right tool to do that for long term success,” Tedesco explained.

Tedesco said the goal is not to re-segregate and that the busing issue has been sensationalized.

"It brought up some old feelings from 40, 50 years ago. Using rhetoric of terms like segregation, which is just not even possible today,” he added.

Sutton disagrees and said re-segregation has happened in other places where neighborhood schools have been implemented.

Wednesday's forum was sponsored by the YWCA Greater Triangle and WakeUP Wake County.