Education

Wake school board splits over saying desegregation is still a goal

Posted April 6, 2010 7:26 p.m. EDT
Updated April 19, 2010 11:34 p.m. EDT

Education

— The Wake County Board of Education found itself back in a difficult and familiar 5-4 split on the diversity issue Tuesday, this time over a resolution that is part of a school district application for an $8 million grant to continue federal funding for magnet schools.

The resolution said the Wake system "stands committed to voluntary desegregation in an effort to reduce and prevent minority group isolation and promote cultural integration." The four veteran members of the board who voted twice against a change from diversity-based school assignments to a community-based system doubted the statement truly represents current policy.

John Tedesco, elected last November and the point man for the effort to have students assigned to schools near their homes, pleaded with his colleagues not to think that diversity and community-based assignments are contradictions.

"Community schools can go hand-in-hand with diversity," Tedesco told his colleagues. The district's eventual attendance plan with a community-based focus will show that, he said. Some in the community have a "false understanding" about the matter, he said.

Opponents were unconvinced.

"The previous decision the board has made in votes of 5-4 has been clearly not to honor diversity," board member Anne McLaurin said.

The new assignment model, which is still more than a year away from being implemented, would give parents schooling options closer to homes.

Opponents of the new plan fear that community schools will create pockets of poverty, unintentionally separate students by race and keep economically disadvantaged students from receiving the same quality of education as their counterparts.

Part of the resolution asserts: "The Wake County Public School System desires to provide the best education to all children served by the school district, and is committed to equal opportunities for all students in schools throughout the system."

"We value stability for families. We value parental choice, and we value diversity," Tedesco said. "They don't have to be exclusive."

The board on Tuesday also named Donna Hargens, the system's chief academic officer, as interim superintendent and undid some school reassignments it approved March 31.

Hargens became acting superintendent on March 9 after the board removed Del Burns from the post. Burns is on paid administrative leave through his June 30 resignation date.

Tedesco said Hargens, who had been the system's chief academic officer, could be among the candidates considered for the job permanently.

The board voted to undo 19 reassignments it had approved at its last meeting. The changes are all for the school year that begins July 1.

Chairman Ron Margiotta urged members to tread carefully, changing assignments only if they involved overcrowded schools or moves to fill new schools. It will take time, he said, to undo assignments that have accumulated over years.