Local Politics

New Wake school board members sworn-in

Posted December 1, 2009 6:04 a.m. EST
Updated December 2, 2009 11:49 p.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

— Four newly elected members of the Wake County Board of Education were sworn in Tuesday afternoon and began carrying out their promise to help change to the county's controversial student reassignment program.

The new members – Debra Goldman, Chris Malone, Deborah Prickett and John Tedesco – gained endorsements from community groups, including WakeCARES and the Wake Schools Community Alliance, for their willingness to move away from the district’s busing for diversity policies in favor of neighborhood schools.

"We heard your calls for reform, you carried the day. Thank you,” Malone said following the swearing-in ceremony.

"I think all the newly elected board members are very like-minded, and I think we will do a good job together. We make a good team,” Prickett said.

The school system's policy is to have no more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches at any school. Students are reassigned each year to maintain that level of socioeconomic diversity, as well as to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

Outgoing board member Eleanor Goettee, who supports the diversity policy, said most recent reassignments have been driven by growth, not diversity. Growth will also make the new school board members' promise of neighborhood schools hard to fulfill, she said.

"It's impossible in some of these really dense neighborhoods for all those children to go to the 'neighborhood school,'" Goettee said during an interview Sunday. "In fact, the new board is going to have a difficult time determining how you define a neighborhood school."

In the election, support for the student assignment policies came from the North Carolina Association of Educators and the Friends of Diversity, a group newly formed by local political and business leaders that made a last-ditch campaign.

Supporters argued that reversing current policies would hurt the school system's future, and the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, said it would essentially re-segregate schools.

“Absolutely not, nobody wants that to happen. I don't think it could happen in Wake County,” Goldman said.

Goldman argued that the county is “inherently diverse,” and as a result, reverting to segregated schools is no longer possible.

School board member Keith Sutton said newly elected members will need to take time to become familiar with the school district before making big changes.

Sutton was appointed to the school board in August. He supports the Wake County Public School System's current assignment system and said he's concerned about the potential consequences of dropping the busing policies.

"I do think it would have a severe or significant impact on what we currently do in terms of maintaining those diversity policies,” he said.