Education

Wake schools chair: NAACP protests 'sad'

Posted July 21, 2010 7:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2010 7:39 p.m. EDT

— The head of the Wake County Board of Education on Wednesday called a disturbance and nearly 20 arrests at Tuesday's school board meeting "sad" and called the state NAACP "irrelevant."

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to recognize that there are other motivations other than what's going on in the Wake County Public School System," board Chairman Ron Margiotta said. "That's a sad commentary, because the ones that are being punished will be the children and the families of this county."

An estimated 1,000 people took to the streets of downtown Raleigh Tuesday morning in a rally organized by the civil rights group to protest the school board's decision earlier this year to do away with a policy that assigns students to schools based on socio-economics.

Nineteen people, including state NAACP President Rev. William Barber, were arrested during protests.

Barber and others fear that ending the longstanding policy in favor for one that places students in schools closer to their homes will lead to resegregation, high teacher turnover and poor students receiving a lower quality of education than their economically advantaged counterparts.

Five of the school board's nine members disagree and believe the move will help improve test scores and give parents more chances to be involved in their students' education.

"I think we do have a great school system and that is recognized. However, there are some flaws in the system, and they're going to be corrected," Margiotta said.

"We want to truly help these low-income kids that aren't doing very well in the system. No one, in the past, has gone after them."

Margiotta said he thinks Barber and the NAACP are using the school-assignment debate to generate headlines and keep their names in the news.

"I've tried to be nice. It's quite evident people have other motivations, other than what's going on in the Wake County Public School System," Margiotta said. "They're an organization trying to become relevant again."

Barber defended the NAACP.

"What (Margiotta) can't deflect is the legitimate criticism of him trying to dismantle a nationally recognized system," he said. "It's not just the NAACP."

Barber said the board majority is ignoring parents and that socioeconomic diversity and school excellence go hand in hand.

Margiotta said, however, that 15 people arrested Tuesday were not from Wake County – evidence, he believes, that points to many residents liking the plan.

Barber, he said, is misguided.

"I hear what they're saying, but I don't understand why they're saying (what they are)," Margiotta said. "The plan has still not been enacted. The plan has not been put in place. What we're talking about – and what they should start to listen to – we're talking about choice for parents."

Under the plan currently in place, students can be reassigned each year to help make schools diverse. The goal is for no school across the district to have more than 40 percent of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches.

"We're talking about stability for families," Margiotta said. "Do you have any idea what that would mean for this county? That's something we've never had before."