Wake County Schools

NAACP doubts linger over Wake schools assignment plan

Posted July 7, 2011 9:13 a.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2011 5:23 a.m. EDT

— One of the most vocal critics of the Wake County school board's new student assignment policy says he still has concerns about it, despite a private meeting Thursday with the school system's superintendent.

State NAACP President Rev. William Barber said after a two-hour conversation with Superintendent Tony Tata that he's still not convinced that the district's move – from busing students to achieve socio-economic balance in schools across the county to a model which would focus more on keeping students closer to home – won't result in segregation.

Unless the wording of the policy is changed to specifically address diversity, Barber said, the school system won't be able to guarantee that it won't segregate schools.

"If you don't have a policy that speaks to the issue of diversity and distinctly says how you are not going to see more racially identifiable, high-poverty schools – we know, without a policy, we are doomed to reverse," he said.

Barber and the Wake County Board of Education have been at odds for more than a year when it comes to the best way to assign students to schools.

For a decade, the Wake County Public School System has relied on a policy that shifts students to schools across the county so that no school has more than 40 percent of its population receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

Last year, the school board majority voted to change the practice, saying it wasn't working.

"Right now, we have 60 schools that are high-poverty schools, that are above 40 percent (of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch), so this notion that the old plan prevented high-poverty schools is a myth," Tata said Thursday.

The school system, he said, is moving in the right direction.

"We're focused on student achievement, and I believe the plan is going to get us there," he added.

That plan, the so-called "Community-Based Choice Plan," allows parents to choose from a variety of schools based on their address. It also takes into account achievement balance and capacity at each school.

Nearly 14,000 Wake County households participated in a test run last month, and Tata and his student assignment task force plan to modify it before it goes to the board for final approval this fall.

If approved, it would go into effect for the 2012-13 school year.

Barber said the NAACP will continue scrutinizing the assignment plan and take lingering concerns to the polls in October.

"The issue for us is not the issue of choice or proximity," he said. "The issue for us is the Constitution, the standard of the law."

Barber also said that Tata's hands are tied when it comes to being able to ensure diversity, because the board changed the student assignment policy before he got there.

"He has to operate within the narrow mandate of the conservative members of the board," Barber said.

Tata disagrees, saying the task force also presented to the public a "Base Schools Achievement Plan," which is similar to the assignment model already in place.

Public feedback, however, favored the Community-Based Choice Plan.

"To say we didn't consider it or that I felt like my hands were tied, I don't feel like that is an accurate statement," Tata said.