Board votes to change diversity policy, year-round schools

March 2, 2010 9:00:00 PM PST
On Tuesday, Wake County school board members tackled big topics like the system's socio-economic diversity policy, year-round schools, massive budget cuts, and their leader's future.

At Tuesday's regular board meeting, the Wake County Board of Education voted to scrap a policy of assigning students by socio-economic background in favor of a system of neighborhood schools.

The 5-to-4 vote approved a resolution to begin ending the policy of busing children to achieve diversity in schools.

A second vote is required, but it's expected to be a formality.

Before the vote, more than 50 people spoke out on the plan.

Opponents outnumbered supporters, but the board forged ahead.

At one point, it appeared security was about to arrest a well-known minister, Curtis Gatewood, when he refused to stop speaking, but instead the board took a break.

Although opponents had the numbers, the comments from both sides were heartfelt.

"What you are doing reeks of the self-serving manipulation of latent racial resentments," one parent said.

"I want to congratulate the board on taking the stand that you've taken," another parent said. "I appreciate your position, and I hope that you'll continue in that direction."

Some supporters of the new board majority say the true will of the people was spoken during last year's elections when four members of the board were voted in by large margins in those districts.

So when it came time to vote, the tally was exactly as expected -- 5-to-4 in favor.

Some on the board minority cried foul.

"I'm presenting to you a list of procedural requirements violated by this resolution," Wake school board member Anne McLaurin said.

McLaurin stopped short of calling the resolution illegal.

But protesters did not -- threatening legal action.

During a recess after the vote, state NAACP President William Barber, asked opponents to come forward and held an impromptu rally of sorts.

"They thought they were going to make it just an NAACP black issue, but now it's a community issue," Barber said. "And we're not going anywhere."

But threats of continued protests and possible lawsuits didn't deter the sponsor of the resolution to change the way Wake County schools are assigned.

He says it's the current diversity policy that's hurting poor children.

"It's time that we end discrimination in Wake County based on income and that we help all of our poor kids," Wake School board member John Tedesco said.

The Wake County plan was adopted in 2000 to keep school campuses integrated and quickly became a blueprint for other school systems.

Year-Round Schools

Another change Tuesday was switching some schools from a year-round to a traditional calendar.

Based on a survey of parents and a series of public hearings, the board's Committee of the Whole recommended Leesville Road Elementary and Middle, and Mills Park Elementary and Middle be considered for a switch from year-round to a traditional calendar for the 2010-11 school year.

The full board did act quickly with a preliminary vote to change the four year-round schools to a traditional calendar for the upcoming school year.

The changes will likely lead to overcrowding at some schools. But it's unclear what impact ending the diversity policy will have.

Budget Cuts Loom

And as if there wasn't enough going on, Tuesday was also budget day. The district faces millions in new cuts thanks to dwindling state and local tax revenues.

The proposed budget will now include more than $21 million in cuts to Central Services. While it's not expected to impact classrooms at standard schools, they could hit Central Services based teachers such as those at Project Enlightenment which helps special needs students succeed.

The discrict could lose 23 vacant positions, 83 full time filled positions, and see a significant reduction in contracted services and non-personnell expenses.

Burns' future

Before Tuesday's historic changes, board members held a closed door meeting to consider the future of Superintendent Del Burns. The board came out of the session and did not hold a vote, so it appears Burns will stay on through June 30, when he said he would step down.

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