The dismantling begins

By: - December 2, 2009 7:10 pm

Not long after the Wake County Board of Education began its meeting Tuesday afternoon, two things became abundantly clear.  The members of the newly elected majority on the board are committed to resegregating the schools as fast as possible and they don't mind ignoring the democratic process or their own promises to do it.  

Four new members were sworn into office as friends and family members looked on in what was presumed to be a ceremony before a routine meeting. In hindsight, spectators should have known what was coming when Deborah Prickett effusively thanked the Republican Party for its help in the nonpartisan election.

After a break for a reception, the board reconvened and the new members went back on their words, electing Ron Margiotta as the new Chair and voting on resolutions that were not on the agenda and that no one else had seen.

There weren't even copies made of the resolution to stop using economic diversity in student assignment. It was shown on an overhead projector with lines crossed out.

Thanks to board member Keith Sutton, the student assignment policy proposal was sent to a committee for discussion. But proposals to change the location of a high school, end the early release schedule on Wednesdays, hire a law firm to audit the board's current legal services, and survey parents about turning year-round schools back to traditional schools all passed.

Parents who might have wanted to speak about the changes were out of luck unless they had ESP or were part of the crowd that elected the gang of five.  The resolutions were not listed on the agenda, not shared with other board members, and not announced to the parents of Wake County that the new board members claim to care so much about.  

The heavy-handed maneuvers came after several of the new members promised just the opposite. John Tedesco, who introduced the resolutions, told Bob Geary of the Independent Weekly after the election that "nobody's running in there roughshod. We're not going to do this as a rush job."

New member Debra Goldman pledged on her blog that she would "seek out information and to drill down on the issues, before making a determination or casting a vote."

Not much drilling down Wednesday and plenty of roughshod tactics. That thrilled the folks at the Locke Foundation, whose anti-public school ideology was warmly embraced by the resegregationists during the campaign.

The same Lockers who complain mightily when politicians they disagree with subvert the democratic process were silent about the gang of five's obnoxious behavior Wednesday.

The election of Ron Margiotta as chair is the most compelling evidence of the new majority's ties to Locke and other right-wing groups that want to dismantle public education.

Margiotta tried to abolish magnet schools earlier this year and wants to reinstate the abstinence-only sex education curriculum. He has called for breaking up the system into many smaller districts like in his home state of New Jersey, where there are almost 600 different school systems.

Margiotta and the hard-right crowd led the effort against the school bonds that Wake County voters passed handily in 2006.  He is clearly an ideologue, not a friend of public education, and he now chairs the board of the largest school system in North Carolina.

Tedesco also told Geary in October that before the board makes big changes, it should begin a community-wide visioning process to "make sure everybody's voice is at the table."

Not much talk of visioning Tuesday. The gang of five made sure of that as they made their first moves to dismantle a school system that has won national acclaim and spurred tremendous growth and prosperity.

The battle over the future of Wake County has begun.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066