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INDY Week columnist Bob Geary's Raleigh news & politics blog

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Friday, February 26, 2010

School board on the brink; Debra Goldman has the comm

Posted by on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 11:18 PM

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The Wake school board will debate a resolution Tuesday calling for all hands on deck (not you, Del Burns; or you, Chuck Dulaney) to write and begin to execute a plan for community assignment zones over the next 9-15 months -- in time to take effect at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year. The full resolution is copied below the fold.

In short, the new majority, or at least four of its five members, are chomping at the bit to junk the current policy of balanced student assignments -- assignments which are based on proximity to a school but factor in as well the desirability of diverse student bodies -- in favor of their preferred "neighborhood schools" approach.

To critics, this amounts to re-segregation of the county system three decades after the Wake-Raleigh schools merger and integration.

Here's the heart of the majority's proposal:

Whereas, stability and continuity play a critical role in the positive development and support of our children, families, and communities. Within a framework of stability providing logical feeder patterns with limited disruptions in child placement, families should be provided with reasonable application options for their assignments, taking into account capacity and utilization of local facilities.

Whereas, extensive growth over the past two decades has resulted in our existing node-based assignment modeling to require numerous adjustments that have compounded over the years, resulting in challenges to meet demand and efficiency. Further, with the current three year assignment plan set to expire in 2012, a new plan will need to be implemented.

Whereas, the Wake County School Board supports community based school assignments. The alignment of these assignments with the existing zone based management tools of the Wake County Public School System, such as but not limited to Transportation Services, Facilities Maintenance and Management, and Staff Leadership, would produce more efficient and cost effective operations.

Be it hereby resolved:

1.    The Wake County Board of Education commits to establishing Community Assignment Zones. A zone based assignment model will be developed during the next 9 – 15 months with input from our community stakeholders (as noted above), WCPSS staff, and other government planning and zoning officials.

[If that's not John Tedesco's patented Pittsburgh syntax, I'll buy him a bagel.]

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I wrote about assignment zones as Tedesco seems to envision them a few weeks ago in the Indy. To put it mildly, I think they're a terrible idea.

Community assignment zones would sound the death knell for a unified Wake County school system that's earned national acclaim.

A unified system like Wake's (and Wake's system is rare in a country that segregates its residents, and their children, by income) stresses equality -- rich and poor kids in every school; no "bad schools." That's what the diversity policy is about.

Zones, by contrast, are inherently unequal. Wherever you draw the lines, you create winners on one side -- the more affluent side -- and losers on the other. Tedesco and Board Chair Ron Margiotta know that from first-hand experience, as I do -- all three of us are former residents of New Jersey, a state where virtually every one of the 566 municipalities is its own school district, or in some cases two districts. People move to be in the "better" district. The "bad" ones have schools with lots of poor kids and no taxes to educate them.

On Wednesday, the board's policy committee debated stripping diversity out of the current student assignment policy (Policy 6200). In a surprise, when Chris Malone moved to adopt the new majority's proposed language, fellow majority-member Debra Goldman demurred, declining to offer a second to his motion. She said she wanted to think about it awhile and look at whatever data people wanted to bring forward about the impact of diversity on student achievement.

Two days later, Margiotta puts out an agenda for the next full board meeting that, in effect, would go around Goldman -- if it passes. But it won't pass without her vote; the 5-4 majority isn't a majority without her. If she's not ready to go along, the resolution will fail.

Is she ready? Stay tuned.

It might be prudent for the board, before it plunges everyone in the county into the pitched warfare that will accompany any attempt to draw zones, to hold hearings on whether the idea itself makes any sense.

On the other hand, even if the majority does decide to jump off the cliff, it doesn't necessarily mean that their attempt to create assignment zones will actually result in zones; indeed, it may be that it will take them trying to do it, and flopping around in the public spotlight while they do, for them to realize how destructive zones are.

Committee of the whole meets at 12 noon Tuesday. Official session follows at 3, with a public comment period at 4 -- which should be prior to any possible action on the resolution.

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Wake elections: Democrat Jack Nichols to challenge Paul Coble, GOP threats

Posted by on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 12:42 PM

Jack Nichols
  • Jack Nichols

Former Commissioner Jack Nichols, the current Wake Democratic Party chair, versus Republican Commissioner Paul Coble, the uber-conservative: It doesn't get any clearer than that. Nichols said he had "an ace in the hole" if no other Democrat filed against Coble. Turns out he's the ace -- Nichols filed this morning, just before the 12 noon deadline. His statement is below the fold.

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No. 1 issue for HK on J rally Saturday: School re-segregation

Posted by on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 11:54 AM

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The HK on J march and rally, snowed out two weeks ago, starts at 9:30 tomorrow (Saturday) morning in front of Shaw University. Marchers head for the General Assembly on Jones Street (the "J" in "HK (Historic Thousands) on J"), where a rally is scheduled to begin at 11. The NAACP's statement is copied below the fold. Note the number-one issue: "the re-segregation of public schools."

For more information, visit www.hkonj.com or www.naacpnc.org.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lightner: Council trio says it's not smart, secure or affordable

Posted by on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 6:28 PM

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City Councilors Russ Stephenson, Bonner Gaylord and Thomas Crowder today came out strongly and, it would seem, irrevocably against the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center on Nash Square. It would not be in the best interests of the city nor of the public safety officials involved, they said, to put all of them, and all the emergency equipment, into a single high-rise building.

The trio once again said the Council should look at splitting the project into two phases, the first of which would be a new low-rise building for Emergency Operations. The location: somewhere downtown, but in a more out-of-the-way place than the north side of historic Nash Square.

The statement may sound the death knell for the Lightner tower, at least in its proposed form. Mayor Charles Meeker put it on the Council agenda again next Tuesday, the fifth time it's been there. But unless Councilor John Odom, also an opponent, has a change of heart, the five votes needed for passage just ain't there.

The three councilors' statement is copied below the fold. The highlights:

1. Security

We firmly believe that it is not in the best interest of the City of Raleigh or our public safety staff to consolidate all of our most important public safety assets in one high-rise building.

2. Cost

We believe our more modest approach will provide both a much safer Emergency Operations Facility without a tax increase, or sacrificing other citywide priorities such as public transit, bus shelters, road repairs, sidewalks, bike lanes, parks, greenways, sustainable initiatives, cops on the street, promotion of the arts, and economic development.

3. Moving to Resolution.

We believe it is important that we do not leave this important issue for future councils, but instead continue to move forward with a plan to provide for our critical Public Safety needs in a way that meets these fundamental criteria for success:

• take advantage of current low borrowing rates and competitive bidding,

• meet our most important long-term emergency services needs in a highly secure and cost-effective way.

• do not require a tax increase and

• do not overshadow other important current and future needs of our citizens.

We have proposed one alternative approach to resolution and remain open to any other alternatives that meet these criteria for success.

... we believe the best way to move forward is to thoughtfully evaluate the cost savings of a 'Plan B' low-rise facility in a less vulnerable location, housing the most important emergency functions: 911 Call Center, Emergency Operations Center, Traffic Control Center and IT Server Center. In the current design these are proposed to be housed in 4 floors at the top of a small floor-plate high-rise.

The alternate site should be in or near downtown, but provide better vehicular and pedestrian access control to reduce expensive threat mitigation costs. Accordingly, we have asked staff to provide a list of potential city-owned sites (city Council 2/16/10)

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lightner: The 7 good questions that haven't been answered

Posted by on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 5:26 PM

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At first, it was just the timing, and the fact that it was attached to a property tax increase when people could least afford it. But the longer the plan for the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center in Raleigh lays on the table, the more questions are being asked about it by a trio of City Council members—and they’re not getting good answers from the project’s proponents, including Mayor Charles Meeker.

The questions are:

One, does it make sense, in an age of backpack bombs and crazy people flying their planes into government buildings, to put all of the city’s top police, fire and emergency operations officials and all of their communications equipment in a single high-rise?

Two, if it does make sense, should the first two floors be open to the public with no screening—and a café?

Three, should the emergency operations and IT functions, which require a “hardened” structure with very limited public access, be in a separate building from the police and fire functions, which require less hardening and which must be at least reasonably accessible to the public?

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Friday, February 19, 2010

School board to Burns: You think you can quit on us? You're --

Posted by on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 4:23 PM

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The Wake school board has called a special, closed-door meeting to discuss whether Superintendent Del Burns, who resigned in protest effective June 30, should be replaced before then. Yes, but with whom would they replace him? (Insert amusing nominations here.)

The meeting is Tuesday, 5 p.m. at Leesville High School, just prior to the public hearing in the HS auditorium on the subject of year-round schools -- it begins at 6:30.

Just a guess, but there's sure to be four votes against canning Burns prematurely (Hill, Maloney, McLaurin, Sutton). One more -- Debra Goldman? -- and he stays.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Burns' decision: I will not allow myself to be a political pawn.

Posted by on Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 3:51 PM

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  • Del Burns

Del Burns gave an interview today to News 14. It's about 13:00 -- well worth your time. He couldn't implement the policies adopted by the new school board majority in good conscience, and he saw worse coming if they dismantle diversity. He's never seen politics on the school board like he's seen it over the last 10 weeks.

Update: WRAL interviewed him too. So far, only a short summary is online. The money quote: "I think the potential is here for a change that will result in segregating rich schools and poor schools in the Wake County Public School System," he said. "And that concerns me greatly."

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Burns' resignation today makes it official: Wake County is in crisis

Posted by on Tue, Feb 16, 2010 at 5:04 PM

The Wake Commissioners have a 4-3 Democratic majority and a Republican chairman elected by chicanery -- or fraud, take your choice. Anyway you look at it, it's a disfunctional group unless and until Democrat Harold Webb, who is recovering from a stroke suffered in October, either returns or resigns and is replaced.

The Commissioners decide what the Wake school board's budget will be, and that's a train wreck waiting to happen this spring. The new school board majority, ostensibly conservative, is talking about sweeping policy changes that, unless they're accompanied by enormous tax hikes, could destroy one of the nation's top urban school systems. But the school board isn't likely to ask for new money, and even if it did, the Commissioners aren't likely to grant it -- especially with the faux-majority Republicans running things.

And with Del Burns' resignation today as superintendent, effective June 30, and Assistant Superintendent Chuck Dulaney leaving the building (retiring) March 1, the schools staff is rudderless in the storm. Not to say that Burns should've stayed. With what the board majority was telling him to do, he couldn't in good conscience have stayed.

Then there's the Raleigh City Council, which fought a virtual Civil War today -- in a 4-to-4 split -- over whether the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center is (a) the great building ever designed and must be approved virtually intact or else the world will end (Mayor Meeker and his bunch); or (b) the wrong building on the wrong site and a huge waste of money (Councilor Bonner Gaylord, speaking for the rest). There was no vote -- again. But there was a whole lot of pissing going on, with Meeker (and he pretty much admitted it) the pissiest of them all.

As bad as Congress looks, this doesn't look any better.

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Del Burns resigns as Wake schools leader -- in protest

Posted by on Tue, Feb 16, 2010 at 3:59 PM

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Wake Schools Superintendent Del Burns announced his resignation at the school board meeting today. It's effective June 30. He can't, in good conscience, continue to do what the school board majority is telling him to. Here's his statement.

More than 33 years ago my career as an educator began at Aldert Root Elementary School. And since that time, I've served in a number of positions: as an elementary and high school special education teacher; as an assistant principal and as an elementary principal in magnet schools; as the principal of two high schools; as associate superintendent, deputy superintendent, and now as superintendent-all in the Wake County Public School System.

In each role, I have worked to the best of my ability for all children, supporting a strong school system, not just a system of schools.

I was proud that day in 1976 when I first became an employee. To this point I have always considered myself fortunate to be a part of the Wake County Public School System.

With that said, based upon personal and obligatory considerations, it is clear to me that I cannot, in all good conscience, continue to serve as superintendent.

Therefore, out of respect for the Board, out of respect for its direction and its decisions, I provide to the Chair written notice that effective June 30, 2010, I resign my position.

Update: WRAL has a report up: Chairman Margiotta hopes Burns didn't quit because of anything he/the majority did. Of course that's why he resigned, Anne McLaurin replies.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

HK on J postponed to 2/27 on 'count of the weather

Posted by on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Democracy NC and N.C. Justice Center both tell us so. It was scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday) in Raleigh.

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The mayor can and should point to Dix Park as a tangible accomplishment that will have lasting ramifications for Raleigh. …

by Protect Falls on McFarlane fundraiser kicks off 2015 Raleigh election year (Citizen)

As is Chavis Park, Doug. But both are relatively small compared to Umstead, NCMA and, when it happens, Dix Park.

by Bob Geary, INDY Opinion Columnist on Dix Park: The Deal is Done (Citizen)

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