A new proposal for school reassignment received the same public response as all the other plans – mixed.
In a public comment session that stretched to double the allotted 30 minutes, Wake County School board members this week listened as more than a dozen speakers took the microphone. Many of their comments addressed the Wake School Choice Plan, or “Alves Plan,” commissioned by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership.
The plan is a compromise of sorts between the current system of student reassignment based on socio-economic status and the neighborhood schools option favored by the board majority.
The Wake School Choice Plan is founded on four pillars: stability, choice, proximity and student achievement. The last item came up in the comments of many of the meeting’s speakers.
“While I’m definitely a fan of student achievement, diversity is part of a well-rounded student achievement plan,” said Amelia Lumpkin, a 2009 graduate of the Wake County Public School System.
Lumpkin referred to board member John Tedesco’s past comment, quoted in The Washington Post, “If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful,” Tedesco said. “Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it.”
Lumpkin called this a “false choice.”
“Who says we can’t provide services to [low-income] students in a diverse school?” she asked.
Several of the evening’s speakers expressed disdain for the new Walnut Creek Elementary, which will open next year with 80 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.
“In Walnut Creek Elementary, you have deliberately created a high-poverty school through student assignment,” said Betsy Lovejoy. “They deserve a good education, but you give them a high-poverty school.”
William Roston, who moved to Cary in October, relayed the story of his search for a home.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said, referring to the uncertainty his family faced buying a house with school options so fluid. “To have [our school] change on us would have been a disaster.”
A legislative agenda for the board
The board also voted 5-3 to adopt a legislative agenda, amended at the last minute to include a recommendation that the board chair be allowed to vote. Currently the chair only votes in case of a tie.Breaking from the usual vote along party lines, the board split the vote on the amendment, forcing Chair Ron Margiotta to break the tie in favor of this new power for his position.
In a work session before the regular meeting, Margiotta defended the amendment, observing that he is elected by district like the other board members.
“I have a responsibility to the people I represent,” he said.
Board member Kevin Hill countered, “It is incumbent upon all of us to represent all of Wake County.”
“I don’t have a concern with my district not being represented,” replied Margiotta. “It’s just being able to send a message.”
Other items on the 2011 legislative agenda include funding and policy proposals that would maintain the state’s ban on collective bargaining, change teacher employment law to a system of four-year renewable contracts instead of career status, and provide schools the flexibility to lengthen the school year.
The board must now draw up a draft of one or more bills enacting items on its legislative agenda and find a sponsor in the General Assembly.