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Can Forced Busing Solve Diversity Problems In Wake County Schools?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County spends $5 million a year of your tax money on forced busing. It is all part of reassignment. Each year, parents protest the student shifts, clamoring for neighborhood schools, but is the drive for diversity dying?

The move to end forced busing does not just have parents complaining. Even school board members are not sure busing is the best road to diversity.

"I think we have to make a better effort. Is busing the way to do that? I don't know," school board member Amy White said.

Children who ride a bus in Wake County do so for one of three reasons: It's too far to walk, the closest school is overcrowded or they're put on a bus to diversify another school. In DeAnthony King's neighborhood, it is almost always the last reason.

"They wanted him to get on a bus and to be bused to Leesville Elementary, which is a 45-minute bus ride," King said.

His old school, Wiley Elementary, is less than a seven-minute drive, but Wake County needs inner city kids to diversify the suburbs. King thinks it is unfair the board forced her son to give up friends, foreign language study and after-school care.

"I don't think anyone should be demanded or commanded to go to a certain school for their child," King said.

Jeffrey Wopat's son goes to Baucom School, a short bus ride away from his home. The school board reassigned his son to Dillard Drive Elementary, which needed more affluent white students.

"Diversity is important, we think. However, we think the way to achieve diversity is through choice," Wopat said.

Many parents do choose magnet or year-round schools to gain stability in Wake County's rapidly growing schools, but parents said they are frustrated by forced moves that claim to improve diversity and test scores.

"We have to look at why we're busing. Are we busing sheerly to change our members, diversity for diversity's sake or are we doing it to benefit the child?" White said.

"We've been challenged and accused of social engineering. The fact is we've (been) doing education engineering," school board member Bill Fletcher said.

Busing helps spread around high-needs students and gives all a change to interact with different children.

"The community must answer. If you want diverse schools, what are you going to do and what are you prepared to do to insure that that happens in Wake County?" school Superintendent Bill McNeal said.

Reassignment affects fewer than 10 percent of families, but it is a different group unsettled each year. Officials with the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce wants more discussion, but it sees value in diversity.

"The longer we go with the reassignment plan and the pain it creates without understanding what the gain is, you're going to find an erosion of support for the public school system," said Harvey Schmidtt, director of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. "A very healthy school system works very well in recruiting new companies and new people into the community."

After the school board denied repeated requests for a transfer back to Wiley, Desaidra King enrolled DeAnthony in a nearby charter school. Wopat is leading a group online that is recruiting members to dismantle the present reassignment effort.


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