County growth impacting neighborhood schools?

WAKE COUNTY Wake school board leaders say their controversial new neighborhood student assignment policy may not be fully implemented until the fall of 2012.

That will add a lot of pressure to the next school board election, a year earlier in the fall of 2011. But that election could be greatly influenced by data from the U.S. Census.

The Census data will be analyzed early next year. Once every 10 years, the geographic borders of elected districts are re-drawn for Congress, state legislatures, and even school boards.

Wake County over the last decade has seen huge population growth. It will likely lead to dramatic changes in Wake school board districts and those changes could greatly impact the neighborhood schools debate.

Currently, a thin five to four majority on Wake's school board is driving the push for neighborhood schools -- all five represent areas of Wake County outside of Raleigh.

"It's really pretty simple," said Francis DeLuca with the Civitas Institute. "The part of the county that's growing wants change."

All Wake County towns are growing, but the outlying towns like Rolesville, Morrisville, and Holly Springs are growing at much faster rates than Raleigh.

And the outlying areas have elected school board members who want neighborhood schools.

"The old guard downtown Raleigh is not the majority," DeLuca said. "They still may have some financial impact. But in terms of voting power, they are quickly losing their grasp on the county."

Currently, four of the nine Wake school board seats represent parts of Raleigh and all four of those board members want to keep the current diversity policy. But some of those Raleigh districts have a lot fewer voters.

Board Member Carolyn Morrison, who wants to keep the current diversity plan, has 63 percent fewer registered voters in her central Raleigh district than Deborah Prickett has in her Morrisville/Brier Creek district.

"You've got the old part of the county, downtown Raleigh, that area, represented by too many people. That has to change," DeLuca said.

The result of redistricting is likely to be more voters who want neighborhood schools will go into new districts of board members who have fought to keep a diversity policy.

Some fear the new board majority, who will approve new district maps, might try to stack the boundaries for a permanent majority.

"It's just typical of the efforts to divide our community and politicize our schools." Democratic Strategist Perry Woods said. "If redistricting is done without an eye toward partisan affiliation, than we can have a fair fight wherever it is."

Others say with the big changes coming to the political map, conflict is unavoidable.

"You'll see lawsuits," DeLuca said. "You'll see threats, all the things you are seeing in the current environment."

The new districts will be in place for the school board election in October of next year.

Wake County School Board Chair Ron Margiotta says he thinks his neighborhood schools majority will pick up another two to three seats.

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