Raleigh to review Wake student assignment policy

Mayor Charles Meeker said Thursday he will put together a group to review the school board's move toward community-based schools.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The city of Raleigh could be getting in the fight against a controversial decision by the Wake County Board of Education to eliminate a longstanding policy of busing students for socioeconomic diversity.

Mayor Charles Meeker said Thursday he will form a group of education leaders and attorneys to review the school board's move toward an assignment policy that would place students in schools as close as possible to where they live.

“They have already hurt Wake County’s reputation nationwide and they are taking steps in the wrong direction,” Meeker said.

Further action would be premature to comment on, he said, saying the review group is still just an idea that likely won't come together for several months,

"Obviously, litigation is a last resort," Meeker said. "If that is what our community needs to do to be sure to protect our children, that is what we will do."

Meeker's wife, Anne McLaurin, is one of four school board members that has voted against community-based student assignments.

The mayor also supports the school system's current policy, which places students in schools across the district in an effort to make sure no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

The goal, in part, is to boost student performance, but the school board's majority and proponents of community-based schools say the current system isn't working.

"I'm disappointed that (Meeker's) talking about a lawsuit while we're here trying to work with the community," board member John Tedesco, who is in favor of the schools.

By placing students closer to their homes, parents can be more involved in their children's educations, and there will be more stability in where children go to school, supporters of the new system say.

The new assignment plan is more than a year away from implementation, but opponents believe it will re-segregate schools, create pockets of poverty in the community and lead to high teacher turnover.

The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has vowed to fight the new policy with protests and legal action, if necessary.

The current assignment plan in place has become a national model for districts looking to achieve balance in student populations without violating a 2007 Supreme Court decision that limits the use of race in how students are assigned.

Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly disagrees strongly with Meeker. He believes the system’s old system was not helping low-income children.

Weatherly said second-guessing the work of the school board is unfair to the voters who put them there.

“The overwhelming majority of those who voted in the previous election are dictating a new direction for this school board and the school system,” Weatherly said.

Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams believes there is still room for compromise. He fears that if things go too far, it could get messy.

“If it continues, I think there will be more noise in the streets and things will be taking place that we don’t like,” he said.