Wake panel declines to change diversity policy

February 24, 2010 9:16:48 PM PST
The Facilities Committee of the Wake County School Board once again declined to change the wording of the district's student assignment policy Wednesday - saying the issue needs more analysis.

Board member Chris Malone made a motion to make a change, but it failed for lack of a second.

After a heated and emotional discussion the policy committee decided not to make changes just yet.

Instead, a work session of the full board is now planned.

The diversity in school assignments has gotten so big a New York Times crew was in the area Wednesday looking at the issue.

The new majority on the school board that was elected last fall has pledged to change the district's school assignment policy to favor neighborhood schools over promoting diversity.

Critics say that would lead to rich and poor schools, but John Tedesco, a member of the new majority, says the current system hasn't solved that problem.

"It hasn't helped academically," he said. "In the last five years our scores have plummeted. Our GPA has gone down every single year and our achievement gap has broadened so the policy has not worked."

Wake currently tries to create diversity by balancing out the number of lower income children, special education students, underperforming students, and those who are identified as limited English proficient.

The policy also limits the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch to 40 percent at a given school.

The new majority of the board wants to take some of these factors out and include proximity and calendar choice as priority.

"I'm completely against ranking them in a priority if I'm a parent," said Keith Sutton, a member of the minority. "It says that those students are not important to us, we don't care about those students."

Both sides argue that there is data supporting their ideas as being best for students.

With so much at stake and so many different opinions the entire board will now look at everyone's data together before changing anything.

Parents who've been critical of the new board are glad they'll be taking their time.

"I am absolutely glad that they hesitated," parent Patty Williams said. "I think it's absolutely prudent to step back. I like the idea that all the committee members, the board members are going to work together."

There has been a lot of talk, a lot of concern that so much will change as early as this coming school year.

Board members made it clear Wednesday that maybe three schools might change calendars next year and maybe a couple of nodes or neighborhoods might change assignments.

They say most of the county will pretty much stay the same with no huge sweeping changes taking place for some time as clearly more discussions are needed.

Parents still have a chance to weigh in on the issue. The last in a series of public forums on the issue will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Panther Creek High School in Cary.

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