News

In county wracked by increasing segregation, Charlotte schools to weigh new student assignment plan

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bLast month, Policy Watch reported on the tremendous resegregation challenges facing North Carolina’s two largest school systems, the Wake County Public School System and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).

Fittingly, this week, leaders in the Charlotte school system will be considering a draft plan for a pending student assignment, and it’s likely to be a disappointment to those advocating for more sweeping changes.

CMS is planning a public hearing on the draft Wednesday, but as The Charlotte Observer reported last week, the proposal had generated applause from some, and disappointment from others.

It’s important to note in this discussion that, at last count, the school system reported that 93 of its 168 schools handle school populations where more than 50 percent of children hail from low-income families.

In 65 schools in CMS, the percentage of disadvantaged children exceeds 70 percent, despite long-held research that high concentrations of poverty can be harmful when it comes to student achievement.

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Despite calls to speed assignments that heavily weighed socioeconomic diversity, the draft plan unveiled last week would continue to prioritize so-called “neighborhood schools,” meaning students’ geography will continue to play a heavy part in their assignment.

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News

Wake County schools weigh how to fund more than $1 billion in needs

districtIn March, we wrote about at least one of the major challenges facing North Carolina’s largest public school system, Wake County Public School System, in the coming years, not the least of which being a growing number of schools heavily loaded with low-income children. 

Addressing the problem, which might involve a combination of small-scale reassignments and magnet programs, could be expensive.

But it’s just one of many issues the school system will face in the next four years, it seems.

The News & Observer reported this week that leaders on the county school board are mulling multiple ways to raise an estimated $1.4 billion in needs through 2020.

From the N&O:

Under one scenario, the Wake County Board of Commissioners could put a $852 million school bond referendum on this fall’s ballot with the next referendum scheduled for 2020. A second scenario has commissioners borrowing money, without voter approval, to tide the school district until a bond referendum is put on the May 2018 ballot.

With commissioners expected to put a referendum on the November ballot to raise sales taxes to pay for the transit plan, they’ll have to decide whether having a school referendum on the same ballot would be a help or a hindrance.

But if the commissioners nix a 2016 school bond referendum, state law would prevent the next one from being held until May 2018 when all the polling places would next be open on Election Day.

If the decision is made to go for a 2016 bond, the school board would have to make the formal request by June.

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Commentary

Tedesco and other gang of five members “vindicated”? Hardly

Christine Kushner

Christine Kushner

A new letter to the editor from Wake County school board chair Christine Kushner does a nice job of debunking the typically off-base claims of former school board member John Tedesco that appeared in a recent Raleigh News & Observer article.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Tedesco is now claiming that he and his fellow conservative members who (along with former Superintendent and novelist A.J. Tata) tried so mightily to destroy Wake County’s longstanding and successful efforts to diversify its schools, have been vindicated by the current board’s decision not to institute yet another massive and disruptive reassignment of students since coming to power.

As Kushner writes:

“The current Wake County school board brought stability to a system that was in chaos under the leadership of former board member John Tedesco, who was widely quoted in your article.

Your piece did not highlight the resegregating effects of Tedesco’s 2011 countywide choice plan, which also broke the school system’s overextended transportation system. When the current board did away with Tedesco’s choice scheme, members did not uproot children from their school assignments the way Tedesco and his colleagues did in their 2010 and 2011 plans. Instead, the board instituted a ‘stay where you start’ policy to bring much-needed stability to families after several tumultuous years.

As for Tedesco’s embrace of community diversity, Read more

Uncategorized

Editorial highlights the miracle of public education

There’s a great editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning that ought to be mandatory reading for every critic of our public schools — especially the ones who want to de-fund them and turn their mission over to the the “genius of the free market.” The piece is entitled “Don’t take public education for granted.” Here are a few highlights:

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, some 156,000 and counting students were back in school this week. And in what is a remarkable feat of derring-do, most things worked smoothly.

Teachers perform miracles, it’s true. But the running of such a system is a miracle in itself: Buses have to be scheduled, enough teachers hired and in the classroom by that first day, food bought and prepared, supplies stored, classrooms decorated, curricula designed and extracurriculars planned.

And this:

Teachers, we hope, will begin the year with adequate supplies, but it won’t be long before they’re off to Target to resupply out of their own pockets. More affluent schools will have fundraisers to cover the multitude of extras not in the school budget. Others will just do without.

At one Wake elementary school toward the end of the last school year, a teacher was overheard telling a principal her pencil sharpener was broken. “Do we have some money for that?” the teacher asked. “I’m sorry, no,” said the principal.

A miracle worker can’t get a pencil sharpener?

And, finally this:

Yes, our public schools have been much criticized, unfortunately of late by self-serving politicians who have actually used underpaid and overworked public school teachers as targets. But every day, from dawn until dark, custodians and principals and classroom teachers and coaches and cafeteria workers and bus drivers pull off the miracle, somehow, and then do it for another day and another and another.

Merlin and David Copperfield had nothing on them. Many a military leader aware of what public school people do would be happy to have them consult on logistics and battlefield strategy. It’s simply amazing, this institution called public education, and we forget that sometimes while we’re taking it for granted.

To which all a body can say in reply is “amen.”

Uncategorized

Court dismisses challenge to redistricting of Wake County School Board

In a ruling handed down yesterday, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle dismissed a challenge to the 2013 redistricting of the Wake County School Board as violative of the one-person, one-vote requirements of the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.

A diverse group of plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in August contending that the legislature over-populated their newly drawn Wake County School Board districts, thus weakening their vote in contrast to voters in adjacent districts.

In his ruling, Boyle found that the population disparities in the new districts did not reach levels necessary to support a challenge under one-person, one-vote provisions.

Boyle also found that at its core the challenge to the new districts amounted to a claim of political gerrymandering which the courts will not consider:

All of the factors which plaintiffs say point to taint of arbitrariness or discrimination lead back to politics. Plaintiffs allege a favoritism of rural areas of the county over urban areas and they allege the targeting of democratic incumbents by the placement of three democratic incumbents into two republican leaning districts with republican incumbents. However, plaintiffs admit that the end result is political advantage. Plaintiffs do not argue that the population deviations are a result of discrimination on the basis of race or some other suspect classification. They claim only an impermissible political bias.

Read the full decision here.