Wake school board passes resolution on neighborhood schools

Posted March 2, 2010 11:19 p.m. EST
Updated March 3, 2010 4:45 p.m. EST

— The Wake County Board of Education voted Tuesday to end its long-standing diversity policy in student assignment in favor of a neighborhood schools concept.

By a 5-4 vote, the board approved a resolution to begin planning for the phase out of the policy. The move will allow students to go to schools closer to home, regardless of the socio-economic makeup of the student body.

The resolution calls for a second and final vote, which is expected at the next school board meeting on March 23.

Reassigning students to ensure schools had no more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches has been controversial for years. It was a key point in last year's election, in which voters elected four candidates who said they supported changing the policy in favor of neighborhood schools.

School board member Anne McLaurin said Tuesday before the vote that the resolution called for additional research, public feedback and financial cost analysis.

"We have not done any of these things,” she said.

School board member John Tedesco argued the resolution was only a direction and that more discussion would follow.

“We are going to have opportunities to have our committees and our communities participate in that process,” he added. (Read more about Tuesday's school board meeting.)

After hearing from dozens of people who signed up to speak before the board, Tedesco joined board Chairman Ron Margiotta and members Deborah Prickett, Chris Malone and Debra Goldman in voting in favor of the resolution, while McLaurin and board members Keith Sutton, Kevin Hill and Carolyn Morrison voted against it.

Those in the crowd who opposed the vote joined in an impromptu rally led by the Rev. William Barber, the state's NAACP president, who has said the move would re-segregate schools. Barber has threatened to sue the board over the matter.

"Your plan is wrong. It's wayward. It will make things worse, and you know it," he said earlier in the day, during a tense public comment period. "It doesn't matter if you are white and support it, this is bad policy. It doesn't matter if you are black and support it. The data doesn't support it. Morality doesn't support it."

Barber also asked the board again for 45 minutes to present information and data about what could happen if the school system moves away from the diversity policy. He says research shows schools with large majorities of poor children fail because they are underfunded, have a high teacher turnover and low student performance.

Margiotta, who has previously refused the request but has offered for board leadership to meet with Barber, said the district's new direction will not segregate students.

"We have laws, we have court rulings and we have morality. It is something that would never be tolerated by anyone on the school board,” he said.

Barber said he would be watching the school board’s proceedings closely.

"We are here. We are not going anywhere," he said. "We are not turning around. Don’t you be fooled. We may not sit in tonight. We may not go to jail tonight, but if it comes to that, we're going to draw attention to this nationwide and we're going to do it together."