Wake County Schools

Wake schools reassignment fight gets personal

Posted October 6, 2010 1:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2010 10:15 p.m. EDT

— With the movement toward a controversial student assignment policy in Wake County’s public schools now stalled, the architect of the plan fired back online at the school board member who shifted the board’s majority to one against the proposal.

On Tuesday, the school board voted 5-3 to kill a student assignment revision process that was headed toward assigning students to zones instead of the district’s longstanding policy of busing students to help create socio-economic diversity throughout the school system.

Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman introduced a resolution to scrap the 16-zone plan, saying there hadn’t been enough input from parents and other board members.

John Tedesco, who heads the board’s Student Assignment Committee, which drafted the plan, responded to Goldman on his Facebook page Tuesday night.

"Then tonight, Benedict Goldman voted with the four minority members to do away with our efforts for community-based assignments and declared things should stay as is with the forced busing diversity model in place,” Tedesco wrote.

The two former allies traded jabs at school board meetings Tuesday in what was sometimes a tense and contentious exchange of words.

During a work session Tuesday afternoon, Goldman told Tedesco to “calm down,” to which he replied, “I'm nice and calm, prom queen.”

Moments later, he was recorded on video, calling Goldman “Miss Pinky Hair-Do,” referring to a pink stripe in her hair to show her support for women undergoing treatment for the disease.

Tedesco declined an interview with WRAL News Wednesday but said he did not say anything about Goldman’s hair.

“I did not say that," he said. "I would never say anything like that. I know exactly why she has it and I commend her for it. I told her I thought it was cool.”

In a radio interview, however, he did address his behavior.

“I allowed my emotions and that zeal for children to act out. I was inappropriate in my tone," he told WPTF Radio. "Again, if Mrs. Goldman personally (took) to that, I apologize to Mrs. Goldman.”

A breast cancer survivor, Goldman said she heard Tedesco’s comment and that he was aware of why she dyed her hair.

“This is not about personalities, or personal issues,” she said Wednesday, of her moving away from supporting the student assignment plan. “ This is about operating as a board, a whole board, and doing what is right by the children of Wake County.”

One of four members voted into office last fall in support of moving away from the decade-old busing policy, Goldman said she still supports neighborhood schools but that Tedesco’s plan is not the best way to get there.

“I believe that we don't need to completely tear down and start over,” she said. “I believe we can keep what is working and address the areas where there are problems.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, she called for an "equity-based" system that still works toward community-based schools without “putting in lines and dividing communities.”

Parents from WakeCARES, a group that lobbied to get the conservative majority on the board, don't know what to think now.

“I want to say we're back at square one, but I don't even know if we're back at square one. I'm not sure where we are,” Allison Backhouse, one of the group’s leaders, said Wednesday. “Mrs. Goldman stated she supports community schools and doesn't support diversity busing, but I'm not sure what she supports at this point.”

Opponents to community-based schools say they are cautiously optimistic.

“We don’t want this to be a ‘stay of execution,’ after which we move to a plan that re=segregates students and creates more high-poverty schools,” said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake Coalition. “We hope that this vote signals a reinvigorated dialogue between the School Board and the community.

“Many in our community have felt that the zone process was too much, too fast, and with serious intended and unintended consequences,” she continued.

Rev. William Barber, the president of the state chapter of the NAACP, called Tuesday’s vote “a step in the right direction.”

“Not only must we vote not to go forward with a bad plan, we must also vote not to go backwards on any plan by removing a commitment to socioeconomic diversity and student opportunity/achievement,” he said in a statement.

“Any plan without intentional commitment to socio-economic diversity and student opportunity/achievement will lead to racially isolated re-segregated high-poverty schools, which will hurt our children's future and our community's character and prosperity.”

Board members who support community-based schools, however, say they are still optimistic that the vision will become a reality.

Board member Chris Malone said Wednesday he still believes Goldman is committed to the vision.

“We’re going to move forward. We’re going to make this happen. It’s going to be difficult,” he said.