Wake County Schools

Meeker says Wake school board 'way off track'

Posted January 17, 2011 11:58 a.m. EST
Updated January 17, 2011 8:42 p.m. EST

— Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker received a standing ovation Monday morning after criticizing members of the Wake County Board of Education for not upholding the dream and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Speaking to community leaders at the 31st Annual Triangle Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, the mayor called four school board members “way off track” for moving ahead with student assignment policy that places children in schools closer to their homes instead of busing them to help achieve socio-economic diversity in schools.

“This is a civil rights issue. We all have roles to play in this,” Meeker said. “Our community simply needs to stand up and get the board back on track.”

Meeker, like his wife, school board member Dr. Anne McLaurin, has long opposed the controversial and divisive measure that was narrowly adopted last year by the Republican-backed board majority.

He urged students Monday to write letters and for business leaders to “stand up for what’s right.”

“We all need to be involved,” he said. “This is an issue where the spirit of Martin Luther King needs to shine through. This is an issue on which we need to prevail.”

Meeker was one of a number of local and state officials speaking at Monday’s breakfast in honor of the slain civil rights leader, who would have turned 82 on Saturday.

In speaking about King’s legacy and fight for racial equality, Gov. Bev Perdue alluded to the school assignment controversy, saying King’s work is not finished in Wake County and that “we need to keep on pushing.”

“I believe that everything that we have and hope to be is defined by education,” she said. “I believe that the only way to give a young girl or young boy a chance to be somebody is through a free public education that works for all of the people.”

“Education is the thing that American promises for all of us, even in Wake County. Education is synonymous to equality,” she added. “Education was what Dr. King understood would be the fundamental promise of opportunity."

Opponents say they believe the new assignment policy will segregate students and keep economically disadvantaged students from getting the same quality of education as their counterparts.

Supporters say it will improve student achievement and allow parents to be more involved in their children’s education.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta, who supports community schools, responded to Meeker’s criticism Monday morning, saying it is “part of politics of the day.”

“The (school) system has been failing low-income children,” Margiotta said. “We're making a strong attempt to turn that around."

Newly hired Superintendent Tony Tata supports that view. When asked this month about the importance of diversity, he said that his priority will be increasing student achievement and preparing children to compete and succeed in a global economy.

The new assignment policy, still more than a year from being in place, led to the NAACP filing a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. The result of that investigation is pending.

Work on how to implement the new policy was also stalled in October, after board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman – the deciding vote in changing it – broke from the board majority and stopped a proposed plan, asking that the transformation slow down to include more discussion.