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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wake school board: Taking the public out of public education

Posted by on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 2:44 PM

schoolboard.jpg

The Great Schools in Wake coalition is out with a statement ripping the new school board majority for its seat-of-the-pants approach to policymaking. You can read it below. It prompts me to write a quick post about the "public meeting" the majority is holding tomorrow and announced yesterday with barely the legally required 48 hours notice. What kind of public body holds a meeting at 4 pm on Friday afternoon to do anything, let alone take up a presentation that should've been heard in a committee that never seems to meet at all?

That's what's happening. The Student Assignment Committee, chaired by the inimitable John Tedesco, has not met yet to consider what the new policy on student assignments is supposed to be. (It did meet once to rubber-stamp some piecemeal moves the board wanted to make before it figures out what its policy is going to be — i.e., shoot first, aim later.)

Remember, it's the board majority that keeps saying we need a new policy, because the old one that's served the county quite well for 30 years, the one that includes diversity as a factor, doesn't suit them.

OK, you named the committee. (And promised a nine-to-15 month public process.) Why doesn't it ever meet?

Turns out, though, that Tedesco's been showing folks a "conceptual" plan — not THE plan, he emphasizes, just HIS plan — and now people want to see it, including the other members of the school board.

How about doing that in a properly announced committee meeting held at a time when the public can attend?

But no, the new majority gets antsy when the public shows up, muttering things like "Here come the animals."

Public hearings? It reassigned 100 kids from Garner to Southeast Raleigh High School without so much as a good-bye wave, let alone a hearing or prior notice.

Hearings on diversity? Never been one.

Hearings on student achievement? The same.

So the board will meet Friday at 4 in its cramped conference room to hear Tedesco's presentation, and the only way the public's going to see it is the invaluable WRAL, which will stream it online and make it available afterward on its website, as it's doing with all the school board meetings.

Great Schools in Wake has called on the board majority to move its meetings to a bigger hall so the public can attend without having to get tickets in advance. Board Chair Ron Margiotta's response? No response.

The GSIW press release is copied below:

RACE TO THE BOTTOM?
Without Public Engagement, Wake County School Board Majority Continues Focus
on Assignment, Not Achievement

Raleigh, NC—April 22, 2010—At a time when student achievement should be the top
priority for Wake County Public Schools, the Board of Education majority has once again
put special interest politics ahead of the interests of children and taxpayers of our County.
In recent actions, the Board majority has:

• reassigned between 1,000 and 1,500 students without public hearings and in
response to political favors;

• converted school calendars against the findings of a survey initiated at their own
request;

• cut almost 20 percent of the staff of Project Enlightenment, the County’s premier
early childhood education program serving the community for more than 40
years;

• delayed by two or more years the opening of a desperately needed high school in
northeastern Wake at a minimum additional cost of $15 million to taxpayers; and

• virtually censored public input into Board decisions, by cancelling and
rescheduling meetings and limiting public access to their meetings.

“The lack of transparency and lack of fiscal responsibility has torn our community apart,”
said Yevonne Brannon, Chair of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition. “Our Coalition has
received an outpouring of questions regarding how the Board is spending our money, and
Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are wondering why they are cutting staff and
resources that focus on student achievement while spending tax dollars recklessly.”

Almost 95 percent of 40,000 parents surveyed at the request of the Board majority said
they were satisfied with their assignment.

“Yet this Board persists on a quest to radically change assignment—while abdicating
their responsibilities for leading us through the local, state and national crisis in public
education funding,” Brannon added.

The Coalition is calling for the Board to suspend any further consideration of
reassignments, including work on the Community-Based Assignment Plan, and instead
focus its efforts on the budget crisis and work to secure the resources and teachers our
students need for the coming school year.

Despite a public call for transparency and openness, Board Member John Tedesco has
held a series of private meetings to build his own coalition in support of his Community
Zone Assignment Plan. These meetings have excluded fellow Board members—who
have repeatedly requested data and information from Mr. Tedesco—as well as WCPSS
staff and the general public.

Now, with barely 48-hours notice, the Board announced a specially called meeting for
Mr. Tedesco to "share a presentation of a conceptualized vision for Community
Assignment Zones and how he will lead through the planning process over the next 9-15
months." The meeting is called for 4 pm, Friday afternoon, in the Board Conference
Room at the WCPSS Board of Education administrative offices, 3600 Wake Forest Road,
Raleigh. The Conference Room seats about 30 observers.

"This Board majority is making policy by the seat of its pants and not in a deliberative or
responsible way,” Brannon said. “If they spent as much time focused on student
achievement as they have on assignment, we’d be further along fixing problems rather
than creating new ones.”

###

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