Looking for the best assignment plan

By: - September 28, 2010 11:56 am

It is now clear after ten months on the job that the members of Gang of Five majority on the Wake County Board of Education either didn't understand how difficult it would be to develop a new student assignment plan for the largest school system in North Carolina or really didn't care as long as they dismantled the current one.

The dismantling was not easy. It came despite widespread outrage and protests from parents, students and community groups who packed board meetings and demanded that the new majority fulfill its promise and listen to the parents of children whose education is at stake.

And the battle is not entirely over yet. The NAACP filed a civil rights complaint with the federal government Friday alleging intentional discrimination in the reassignment of students.

But the members of the Gang of Five have held fast and remained loyal to their ideological crusade and the wealthy right-wing interests who are bankrolling it. A series of 5-4 votes abolished the nationally recognized diversity policy and the chaotic process to replace it began in earnest.

After contradicting public statements about creating high poverty schools and input from various experts and college professors, Gang of Fiver John Tedesco seems to be settling on a rich zone poor zone scheme that will divide the county into 16 assignment areas which will vary widely in racial composition and economic makeup.

It's not yet clear how the popular magnet program will fit into Tedesco's grand design or if parents will have more have choices under his plan than the current one or less. But the more specific Tedesco gets, the more problems he creates and not just with opponents of the school board majority.

One member of the Gang of Five, Deborah Goldman, is upset that the latest scheme under consideration by a three-member assignment committee does not include a base school for every student and instead assigns students using a series of criteria that includes proximity but does not guarantee assignments.

That has some parents wondering how they can evaluate the plan if they can't be sure where their children will go to school.

Goldman also thinks the entire board should be part of the committee's work, not just three members. It's not clear if her discomfort could lead her to oppose the plan the committee creates, but at the very least it illustrates the problem facing the Gang of Fivers.

They are desperately scrambling to come up with an assignment plan that allows most students to attend a school close to their home, gives parents other choices if they want a specific curriculum, and avoids packing poor and minority kids into a handful of schools, thus making it more difficult for them to learn.

The good news for Tedesco and the other members of the Gang of Five is that such a plan is available if they want to look for it, a plan that allows the vast majority of students in Wake County to attend a school within a few miles of where they live unless they choose to ride a bus to a school with a specific focus or program.

It is the assignment plan currently in effect, the one passed by the old board that balances schools, resources and families' choices so that 94.5 of parents are satisfied with where their children go to school.

It's time to call off the charade and end all the talk of the confusing permutations of the 16-zone scheme.

The current plan could certainly use some tweaks and improvements, but it's still the best one for Wake County students and the community. And if the members of the Gang of Five really have the best interests of Wake County students at heart, they will find the courage to admit it.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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