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Wake Board Set To Vote On Assignment

The Wake County School Board is close to voting on a new student assignment plan. Last night, the Board conducted its only public hearing on the plan. It was a chance for parents and interested residents to address the Board directly as it considers how to assign more than 140,000 students to schools.

The plan is front and center in the ongoing political fight for control of the Board.

When his good friend and mentor Ron Margiotta lost his re-election bid on Tuesday, Republican John Tedesco offered this warning…

John Tedesco: "In all honesty, the way the new choice model works, if you realign the assignment priorities, you could have more busing in this county than you ever had before. It’s not just moving a few nodes, it realigns the whole county if those folks are in charge of the way this district works."

“Those folks” are democrats. And Tedesco says if Kevin Hill defeats Republican Heather Losurdo for the final seat on the board in next month’s runoff election, the new plan is out, and the old diversity plan will be back in.

Hill says he’s tired of that kind of false rhetoric.

Kevin Hill: "I’m on record that the old plan is water under the bridge. Staff invested a great amount of effort on this. I’d say we’re getting close but there’s rough edges we need to work out. But as far as a choice plan, I think we’re going to end up with this, maybe in a different iteration, maybe."

The assignment plan has been almost a year in the making. It’s a choice plan that, within certain controls, allows parents to choose their kids’ schools. It ends mandatory assignments as well as the use of socio-economic diversity.

The plan started out as a proposal offered up in January by the Wake Education Partnership, a non-partisan education think tank associated with the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. But it’s now Superintendent Tony Tata’s baby. And he says the political upheaval isn’t going to derail it.

Tony Tata: "And I’m confident that this is the right plan for Wake County now, and I’m confident that we have bi-partisan support for this plan."

But what Tata and the Board members heard during the one and only public hearing was anything but confidence. They heard words like “secretive” and rushed”.

And while the rhetoric was tame in contrast to other board meetings, it still caused some parents, like Jody Gross, to pound the podium in frustration.

Jody Gross: "It concerns me that you all are pushing through with a plan without letting anybody help you look at it or even observe it before you’re going to pass it and affect lives of 146,000 kids in this county."

Sitting behind Gross, in the front row of the auditorium, were the three newly elected Board members, Christine Kushner, Susan Evans, and Jim Martin. Martin believes the choice plan needs better safeguards against creating low-performing schools.

Jim Martin: "Before I could approve or disapprove a plan – I don’t oppose or support yet – but before I can support I need to know what are we going to do to those bottom 20 selective schools to make them selectable schools."

It appears, right now, that Martin and his democratic colleagues and board-members in waiting will not weigh in before the plan becomes policy. Republican chair Ron Margiotta is adamant that a final vote will happen Tuesday – three weeks before the Hill-Loosurdo runoff, and one month before the new board is sworn in.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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