Blog: May 18, 2010, school board meeting
In a vote that provoked a 10-minute demonstration that drove the Wake County school board from its meeting room, members voted 5-4 the final time for a school-assignment policy that no longer considers economic diversity.Posted — Updated
While most students who are moved among schools to balance the load on each building as the population grows and new schools open, some have been moved over the last decade based on whether they qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. Before that, race was the criterion.
After the board finished all its other business, it returned to hearing speakers who could not comment during the earlier session, which is limited to 30 minutes.
Many of the speakers had gone home, but those who were present told the board they were saddened by the earlier vote for a new school-assignment policy that does not include diversity in schools as a requirement. Several seemed to be near tears as they expressed disappointment.
The board voted to confirm a recommendation to lay off 16 staff members who were identified in a budget-cutting action earlier in the spring. Fifty-two other people were laid off immediately, but the 16 held certified teaching status, which allows them to appeal the decisions.
The board also took up personnel items involving transfers and promotions for staff and approved several contracts for services. Such actions are standard toward the end of board meetings.
The board returned from its hastily called closed session, sitting before only about a dozen people rather than the noisy room it had left after its policy vote.
A crowd in the board room began chanting "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Resegregation has got to go" after the board voted 5-4 to drop diversity from its school assignment policy. The board left the room after a hurried vote to go into closed session, and the demonstrators began chanting "Shame on you."
Board member Carolyn Morrison asked the board to postpone action indefinitely rather than drop diversity. Morrison is one of the four board members who have consistently opposed the change to a community-based assignment model.
Her suggestion was voted down 5-4, but Morrison asked later if the vote could cause the application to be out of compliance with federal rules. She asked again that the vote be put off until board attorney Ann Majestic could review that question. That motion, too, 5-4.
Morrison, member Kevin Hill said the board should tell the U.S. Department of education that it is changing the policy. The policy that has supported diversity for a decade was included with an application for continued funding for magnet schools.
Member John Tedesco, who has led the move away from the diversity policy, saying it has not produced the goals it was supposed to achieve, told Hill in a testy response that the application also included the board's earlier resolution saying it would move away from the diversity policy.
Members of the audience quietly held up signs saying "Separate Is Unequal" and "Support Diversity."
Before the vote, member Keith Sutton said he hoped to appeal 'to a different side of you." All board members want what is best for children, he said. "What I do want to underscore is the need to have an assignment policy that is fair and inclusive."
No child should be left behind regardless of race, income, location or needs, Sutton said. He added that diversity is not the cause of problems the system has, but it "is being blamed" and being eliminated.
Research shows that racially and economically diverse schools do better for students, Sutton said.
"What is needed to raise achievement in our district," Sutton said, are more teachers, smaller classes and more parental involvement in the schools.
His comments brought a standing ovation from the audience.
Member Anne McLaurin said she opposed the policy, but would vote for it if an amendment said the system will not allow the policy to cause segregation, and no school would have greater than a 50 percent low-income population. McLaurin lost that vote, then offered a new amendment saying only that no school should have more than 50 percent "poor" population. When that drew questions from member Debra Goldman, Sutton suggested "economically disadvantaged" and said he would vote for the policy if it were changed that way. That failed 5-4.
"We need to focus on all, all, all students," Tedesco said. The district has told some poor students they cannot go to their neighborhood schools, "and I don't think that's fair."
Tedesco earlier questioned the use of 50 percent rather than "60 percent or 52 percent" or another number.
Hill said a study of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools had shown that 50 percent was "about the break-even point" beyond which high-poverty schools could not have high student achievement.
Majestic cautioned that setting a race balance for schools could be seen as setting an illegal quota, and Sutton suggested changing the rule to no more than 50 percent "poor or minority" students.
The board voted 6-2 to approve a plan for early release days on Fridays for the school year that begins July 1.
Members Kevin Hill and Keith Sutton voted against the change. Hill had told the board during an earlier work session that planning sessions for teachers often go past the end of the school day and that having those on Fridays would be an imposition on teachers and their families.
The board also voted 7-1 to undo a 2008 decision that would have ended the International Baccalaureate program at Broughton High School after the 2012-13 school year. Hill voted against the proposal, saying he felt it will cause problems for the district's magnet program.
The board also voted 8-0 for a public participation policy that allows the board to "provide for the designation of spokesmen for groups of persons supporting or opposing the same position."
In a similar vein, the policy says that if more people want to attend a board meeting than can fit in the room, "The board may provide for the selection of delegates from groups of persons" for or against positions on issues.
Also, the new policy says the board "may" give speakers time to address the board at the ends of meetings when more people sign up than can speak in a half-hour during the meeting. Previously, it had been policy to hear everyone.
The language Tuesday differed somewhat from that in a version of the policy passed two weeks ago.
The board was introduced to and applauded the valedictorians of the district's 23 high schools. In a balanced result for the ACC, staff told the board that five seniors each are going to attend UNC Chapel Hill, NC State and Duke.
"This speaks to your character, your commitment and your dedication," Chairman Ron Margiotta told the top scholars. "We are very proud of you."
After hearing from about 25 speakers, the board called a 30-minute recess.
The school board began hearing from members of the public. All but one speaker on the assignment plan attacked the change away from a diversity policy. Each was met with cheers and whistles from the larger-than-usual audience at the meeting.
When diversity is not a consideration in assigning students, Peter Eberhart of Raleigh told the board, "We will soon have many failing schools."
"Tonight you have a chance ... to step up for our children," Diana Bader told the board. If the board approves the community-based assignment policy, it will "have dropped the ball," she said as she dropped a baseball from the speakers' podium.
"Today there will a vote to dismantle the school assignment system" that has been acknowledged to be successful, Mary Martorella of Raleigh told the board.
"This effort to take us back will ultimately fail," Rob Schofield of Raleigh said, because voters will reconsider the election of the current board majority.
Hardin Englehardt of Apex told the board that research shows students do poorly in high-poverty schools that the diversity policy was intended to create. She also told the board that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system has lost federal aid money for magnet schools since it stopped moving students to achieve diversity.
"I've been discouraged by your unwillingness" to look at data, another parents told the board.
The board, another speaker said, had ignored results of a parent survey and was taking the school district toward a "train wreck" as a result of the diversity decision. Nationally, she said, Wake's diversity policy has been cited as needed for a strong population in the 21st century.
Lynn Edmonds of Raleigh said that other cities are creating assignment policies to copy a "policy that you have thrown away." The board "and your policies are taking us backward," Edmonds said.
Charlotte parents are abandoning the public school system there despite community-based assignment, Cyndi Soter O'Neil told the board. It is too expensive, she said, to try to make successes of high-poverty schools.
"Stop partisan grandstanding and do your jobs," Ann Campbell of Raleigh said to the board majority that has favored the community-based policy. She criticized a statement on the board's agenda that listed "fiscal implications: none" for the assignment policy.
Low attendance at board meetings does not indicate approval of the board's direction, Aaron Henderlite said. It shows instead that the board meets at times when it is hard for working parents to attend, he said.
Jonica Rowland of Raleigh asked the board if it had considered the opportunity costs of the new policy if it creates low-performing schools with high concentrations of poverty. "Show me the money ... for the new plan," she said. "You haven't shown it yet."
Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens reported on how the district is responding to a 2007 audit of how the system is managing the curriculum in the district's schools. There were 117 action items in the audit, Hargens said, with No. 1 being to meet students' needs equitably and eliminate the achievement gap.
The staff is more than halfway through responding to the audit and expects to make a final report on its progress in October 2011, she said.
The process has involved trying to make good programs work better and eliminating things that are not working. Data about student achievement and other factors are driving the process, she said.
"We are more aligned, consistent and data-driven," Hargens told the board.
Member John Tedesco said the board needs to see cost-benefit analysis because the achievement gap between groups of students has not changed since the audit.
"What's going to become an issue for our board moving forward is equal access to our programs," Tedesco said.
As the board opened its voting meeting, Chairman Ron Margiotta praised the county board of commissioners, saying they had "favored us" by reportedly agreeing to keep school funding at the 2009-10 level. The school board pleaded for funding at a joint meeting last month with the commissioners.
With level funding, the school board has cut $20 million from its proposed budget and is working on how to cut another $20 million because of more funding reductions expected when the state budget is approved.
The schools,Margiotta said, may be the only county department not to face a cut in funding.
The board took up a policy change that will make it clear that student athletes who transfer schools can get a waiver to allow them avoid a yearlong red-shirt year in their sport.
The district allows appeals to the rule, requiring first the approval of the principal from which the student is transferring and then of the principal at the new school. If they agree, senior athletics official Bobby Guthrie said, no other review is usually needed.
The district has to be sure that the transfer was not for any athletic purpose, however.
A formal board vote will be put off because of remaining questions about wording changes, however.
The board decided it will vote Tuesday evening on a proposal to reverse its 2008 decision to kill the International Baccalaureate program at Broughton High School. The IB program would now not end after the 2012-13 school year.
The change will cost about $180,000 a year after spending had been planned to end.
Member Kevin Hill objected to the plan, saying it would effectively undermine magnet programs at other schools. Other members were unpersuaded, however.
The board heard a staff report about the various ways that schools will arrange professional planning time for teachers. The issue is different at each school, depending on schedule and curriculums, staff said.
For early release days, the staff suggested Wednesday or Fridays, and board member John Tedesco suggested Fridays. The plan the board saw calls for eight days for year-round schools and six for traditional-calendar and modified-calendar schools.
Member Kevin Hill, a former teacher and principal, said that having early release days on Wednesdays would remove the imposition on teachers to stay late for planning work on a Friday because meetings can last past the end of the official school day.
Both plans are subject to change, however, if closings or late openings for weather cut into the required 1,000 hours and 180 of instruction.
The board decided 5-4 to have a Friday plan on the agenda for the official meeting later Tuesday.
The board decided in its work session to have the district staff bring them policy changes that will have two members of the staff hear each appeal of a school assignment and make a recommendation to the full board for action.
Previously, a panel of two board members heard each appeal and made the recommendation. The process, which will probably begin nearly next month, staff said, takes place over two long days, with parents getting about two minutes to present their reason an appeal.
The board meets in a closed session to decide on appeals.
Don Haydon, the district's chief of operations and facilities, said there were about 1,600 appeals for the 2009-10 school year, and the district needs to plan for the same number for the 2010-11 year that begins July 1.
Community members were lined up in the lobby of Board of Education headquarters a half-hour before the start of the board's biweekly work session, called the Committee of the Whole. The committee meeting happens in a smaller room than regular board meetings, and most of the public that wants to attend is seated in another room where video of the work session is shown.
The board did not have items on its work-session agenda that were expected to be controversial, with the vote on the assignment policy to come at the regular meeting that was slated to begin at 3 p.m.
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