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Busing, Race at Center of Controversy Concerning Mayor

The mayor of Garner says the town has too high a percentage of low-income pupils in its schools because of busing. The statement has offended some community leaders in southeast Raleigh.

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GARNER, N.C. — The mayor of Garner says the town has too high a percentage of low-income students in its schools because of busing. His comments have offended some community leaders in southeast Raleigh.

"With a higher percentage, there are lower test scores – end-of-grade and end-of-course scores," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said.

Town aldermen have threatened several times to hold up building permits for new schools if the Wake County School Board doesn't even out economic levels among the students in the schools in Garner.

"They are coming from the 27603 and the 27610 ZIP code(s), which is outside of Garner,” Williams said when talking about the underprivileged students.

The 27603 and 27610 ZIP codes are south of Raleigh.

"I was offended," Dr. David Forbes, pastor of southeast Raleigh's Christian Faith Baptist Church said of Williams' statements.

Forbes and other southeast Raleigh leaders want the mayor to further explain his position.

"The issue is one of trying to be good citizens and trying to respect all of the children and not victimizing the poor, black children of southeast Raleigh," Forbes said.

"I understand their concerns and I understand their sensitivity, and in hindsight maybe I should have worded it a little differently,” Williams said.

The school district measures economic diversity in a school by the number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. It tries to keep the level below 40 percent.

Of the nine schools with a Garner address, more than half of them are above that standard.

"We are not targeting any student from anywhere. The numbers are there, and they reveal the facts,” Williams said.

Forbes argues the issue is bigger than Garner.

"It's a systemwide issue and problem that needs to be addressed," he said.

The mayor said he hopes more schools can be built in southeast Raleigh to accommodate students living there. Community leaders said they aren't sure that is the answer, but it could be something to consider.

The mayor is scheduled to meet with community leaders Tuesday to discuss options.

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Erin Hartness, Reporter
Geof Levine, Photographer
Minnie Bridgers, Web Editor

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