Will school changes help or hurt business?

March 11, 2010 3:34:01 PM PST
Raleigh and Wake County have grown by about 40 percent over the past 10 years. Businesses move here and others expand. Wake County School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta predicts that the direction the new majority on the board is taking the school district will only make things better.

"It's gonna be a great boon to the county once we get in there and start giving families stability. I've talked to parents as long as I've been here. Many that moved here from other parts of the country wanted to come until they realized, actually arrived, and learned how many times their children would change schools and would never encourage others to attend," Margiotta told ABC11.

He believes stability will come in the form of community schools and optional year-round schools - changes that will also scrap Wake's nationally recognized diversity policy.

But others aren't so sure.

"I'm very concerned about what it says nationally what kind of tarnish to our reputation as a community," said Beverley Clark, a former school board member now with the Great Schools in Wake Coalition.

Clark is now a critic of the new Republican backed majority, and the head of Wake's Democratic Party says some business leaders are so concerned they've urged him to run for county commission, which funds the schools.

"They think that the school system that's been laying the golden egg in the past might not continue to do that in the future for economic development. I think the school board has stirred up the business community and they're concerned," offered Jack Nichols.

Republicans, as expected, couldn't disagree more.

"I think this kind of structure could be a tremendous aspect to the economic development community in this market. It could probably be the biggest selling point that we have," said Claude E. Pope Jr. with the Wake County Republican Party.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce says only time will tell which side is correct. It says employers want good schools to send their employees kids to, but also schools that'll educate the type of people they'd like to hire in the future.

"What we're focused on and what companies are focused on is the health of the schools. We've had a great story to tell and we want to make sure we have a great story to tell moving forward," said Adrienne Cole, Executive Director, Raleigh Economic Development/Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.

So will a new direction hurt or help business?

"I don't think we know yet. I don't think we have enough information. Companies look at a lot of different drivers when they consider the area. Education is just a piece of that," said Cole.

There has been no official survey of businesses asking whether they're more likely or less likely come to Wake County with the new school board direction.

County Manager David Cooke said he feels there is one thing that's not helping: the negative publicity surrounding the school board meetings.

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