Local Politics

Perdue backs maintaining diversity in schools

Posted December 23, 2009 5:17 p.m. EST
Updated December 23, 2009 6:53 p.m. EST

— As Wake County and other school districts across North Carolina shift away from busing students to achieve socio-economic diversity, Gov. Beverly Perdue and other officials fear the districts will become racially segregated.

"It's the most troublesome thing I think that's happened," Perdue said of the push toward neighborhood schools from Goldsboro to Charlotte.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake, a former teacher, said she believes Charlotte's schools are becoming re-segregated 10 years after court-ordered busing for racial integration was ended there.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suit three weeks ago against Wayne County Schools, alleging the district has created "apartheid education" in its schools by its student assignment policies.

Perdue said neighborhood schools that are almost all-black or all-white won't provide all students with a quality education, saying schools in low-income areas will be at a significant disadvantage.

"Whether it's racially done or economically done, there has to be some kind of momentum to continue to have diversity in our schools," she said.

A new majority on the Wake County Board of Education has vowed to dismantle the district's policy of assigning students so that no school has more than 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches because they're from low-income families.

John Tedesco, one of the Wake school board members who favors the neighborhood schools model, said the group isn't against diversity. Current assignment policies only hide low-performing students, however, he said.

"Our system looks great. Our kids don't," Tedesco said.

"If we have 5 or 10 percent of the children shuffled out among resources in other parts of the county, where they're not getting the appropriate attention they need but we're meeting some arbitrary goals, then we're not serving those children well," he said. "We're losing them in exacerbated dropout rates (and) crime and violence rates. We have to begin to help these children."

Perdue acknowledged there's little she can do to support school diversity because student assignment decisions are up to locally elected school boards and superintendents.

"All that I can do is use the bully pulpit (to speak in favor of diversity)," she said. "I don't believe anyone benefits from a country or state where we write off a certain segment of the population."

Tedesco said the governor should use her bully pulpit to get more teachers in the classroom and more funding for schools. That is what's needed to help students in Wake County and across the state, he said.