New school board gets off to contentious start

December 2, 2009 6:16:06 PM PST
Newly sworn in members of the Wake County School Board wasted little time Tuesday night pushing a brand new agenda.

At their first board meeting, Debra Goldman, Chris Malone, Deborah Prickett, and John Tedesco took their oaths of office and jumped into action. Much to the surprise of veteran board members, a list of resolutions and changes was added to the agenda for immediate action.

"I like to study before I vote, but then again this is an unusual evening," existing board member Anne McLaurin said.

The four new board members - paired with current board member Ron Margiotta - make up a new majority picked by voters that have pledged to overturn Wake County's current diversity policy in favor of so-called neighborhood schools.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the majority proposed a new assignment plan that would end busing students to help balance socio-economic diversity and sent it to a committee for review.

The NAACP has said it believes if the board reverses the current busing policy, it could re-segregate schools. The group has threatened to sue if that happens.

However, new board members say re-segregation won't happen.

"Absolutely not, absolutely not," Goldman said. "Nobody wants that to happen. I don't think that could happen in Wake County. Wake County is inherently diverse as it is. Certainly nobody would want any kind of effort in that direction."

Traditionally, picking a board chairman happens later in the year, but the new majority instead voted Margiotta as chair and Goldman as vice chair.

"The next four years will be as they say interesting times," said Malone, who replaces Lori Millberg.

Overwhelming the now minority of old board members, the board voted 5 to 4 to end the district's early release Wednesdays - that had allowed teachers extra time one day a week to conference with their colleagues.

The board decided the policy will end at the end of this school year and instead voted to study the program's effectiveness. Board members voting in favor of the change said if it can be shown the policy was effective, they'll look at other ways to give teacher's conference time without inconveniencing parents who had grumbled about finding and paying for expensive child care when school got out early on Wednesdays.

There was discussion of an immediate end to mandatory year-round schools, but the new board backed away from that - instead deciding to study the issue further.

The board did agree to immediately stop spending money on the proposed Forest Ridge High School site in northeast Raleigh. It wants to look at alternative locations - even though it's been warned a delay will keep the school from opening in 2012.

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