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Garner High School Site Raises Issues of Busing, Race

The dispute over the site for a new Garner high school has fed into an ongoing debate over busing, race and poverty.

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GARNER, N.C. — The dispute between the town of Garner and the Wake County Public School System over the site for a new high school has raised issues of busing, race and poverty.

Garner town leaders told the Wake County Board of Commissioners that they do not like a 72-acre site off East Garner Road for a new high school.

“This is not suitable site for a high school for a number of reasons,” said Hardin Watkins, Garner's town manager. Watkins spoke to the county commissioners when the site came up for their approval Monday night.

A concrete plant is across the street from the site, and traffic is already heavy on the two lane road leading to it, said Watkins.

Town officials also claimed that the Wake County's policy of busing low-income students from southeast Raleigh drives up the poverty rate in Garner schools.

A school's poverty rate is measured by the percentage of students who receive free or reduced priced lunches.

“People have asked me is this about race. I say it’s about the human race,” said Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams. “If Garner schools were treated equally, we’d have healthy percentages of (kids who receive) free and reduced lunches."

WCPSS officials said race is not a factor in deciding where to bus students and that busing is based on the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

School officials said they aim to create “healthy schools,” where less than 40 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches. Officials said the school-system average is around 30 percent.

Town officials point to the fact that at six of the 11 Garner-area schools, 50 percent or more of students receive free or reduced priced lunches.

The town is considering filing suit against the Wake County Public School System after a recent Supreme Court ruling made it illegal to bus students based on race.

Garner officials said there’s an argument to be made that the school system’s policy of busing based on the free and reduced lunch rate amounts to busing based on race.

WCPSS officials said while they work to balance Garner schools according to the healthy school goal, it’s unfair to claim that southeast Raleigh neighborhoods alone drive up the poverty rate in Garner schools.

“It is true that Garner and eastern Wake County have higher percentages of affordable housing, which means you have a higher percent of low-income families,” says Chuck Dulaney, WCPSS's director of growth mangement.

As for the high school site, Garner town leaders said their main concern has more to do with location than assignment and that they are scouting for alternative sites.

WCPSS officials said if they hold off too long on the purchase of this site, they might miss out on a good deal.

Both sides said they expect to keep meeting about all of these issues.