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

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How's Tata's student assignment plan? Today's elections will tell us the answer.

Posted by on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 5:59 AM

As Donald Rumsfeld might've said if asked by his former Army general and now Wake Schools Superintendent Tony Tata, you go to war with the army you have, not the one you want. And you work up a Wake student assignment plan with the school board you have, not necessarily the one you want or that'll give you the best outcome.

Thus we await the outcome of today's school board elections — on which the outcome of the two-year struggle over student assignment crucially depends. To put it simply, as the elections go, so goes the question of whether Wake will blunder into a set of high-poverty, low-achieving schools ... or avoid that fate.

Tata presented his assignment plan to the current, Republican-majority school board last Tuesday, and he asked for an up-or-down vote on it at the Oct. 18 board meeting. In between, a single public hearing was scheduled for this Thursday, October 13 at Broughton High School in Raleigh. It starts at 5 p.m.

The "choice" plan Tata presented puts parents in the first position on student assignments, with the school system at the rear. This would reverse the longstanding practice of the system assigning students except where parents choose a magnet school or ask for and receive a transfer.

In Tata's plan, the old practice of annual reassignments to fill new schools would go away. In its place, new schools would open — expensively — with many classrooms empty. Many, even most of the students attending them would be from families new to the county (whose choices could soon be severely limited) or families who've moved within the county to a neighborhood where the other schools are full.

And Tata's plan has a huge hole in it where equity/diversity in student assignments should be. I'm writing a piece for this week's Indy about the plan, and it will appear in the paper when it comes out tomorrow morning. But this is that awkward week in which we come out on Wednesday — the day after Election Day — having gone to press the previous evening before we know the election results.

So here's a preview of what I will say tomorrow:

If the Republicans hold or expand their 5-4 majority in today's elections, Tata's plan will continue to have a hole in it, because Republican School Board Chair Ron Margiotta & Co. want that hole to remain.

If, however, Margiotta falls in the District 8 race against challenger Susan Evans, and if that results in a 5-4 majority against the Republicans (meaning that incumbent Kevin Hill survives his challenge in District 3 from Republican Heather Losurdo), then the hole in Tata's plan can be filled by a new board — as Tata, if I understand him correctly, wants it to be filled.

Indeed, Tata emphasized in a meeting with reporters on Friday that he ended his presentation to the board with a list of issues still to be determined, and foremost among them is the question of how to assure equity and avoid the creation of high-poverty schools.

I watched a bit of the election eve coverage on television last night. The takeaway seemed to be that if the Republicans win, Tata's plan will be approved, but if they don't, his plan coulld die because the Democratic candidates don't like it.

This is fundamentally inaccurate. If the Republicans win, Tata's plan will be left incomplete. If they don't, and the Democrats win, the plan will be finished — improved — and then adopted. That's my view of it, anyway.

The crucial difference is between a "choice" plan that has a good chance of serving Wake well in the years ahead and one that, if the Republicans are in charge of it, is destined to split the county into "have" and "have-not" schools, with the latter proliferating in Raleigh and eastern Wake County.

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg went the Republican route a decade ago, the result — after a few years lull — was overcrowded schools in the suburbs and older, inner-city schools abandoned to the point that, this year, 10 were shut down. (The superintendent wanted 20 of them closed.)

Unequal schools are expensive — as Tony Tata can't say enough times.

***

Remember that a successful choice plan — or as it's often termed, a controlled-choice plan — is supposed to rest on four legs. One is stability. Two is proximity. Three is choice. Four is student achievement.

So said the Wake Education Partnership when it introduced the controlled-choice idea to us a year ago as a potential compromise in the student assignment wars. So said Michael Alves, the controlled-choice guru, when the WEP and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce brought him to town. So said Tata himself when, after the Republicans hired him, he adopted the controlled-choice approach.

All agreed, it isn't just that the plan has four elements. It's that the four — think of the four legs on a chair — are equally important and must be equally sturdy. If one leg is weak, the plan will topple eventually. If one isn't there at all, the plan won't stand in the first place.

In Tata's plan — as in Alves' framework — the stability leg is strong. Students who are in a school now are guaranteed that they can stay in the school until they age out of it, unless their parents make a different choice. Siblings of students in a school are guaranteed admission to that school.

Ditto the proximity leg. Students living with 1 1/2 miles of a school get in unless the school is over capacity. Students are guaranteed admission to a nearby elementary school (one of the five closest), a nearby middle school (one of two) and a nearby high school (one of two), unless they apply and are admitted to a magnet school.

Ditto the choice leg. Every student is offered a menu of year-round and traditional-calendar choices and magnet-school choices. Some won't get their first choice. But if the system works, virtually all will get their first or second choice.

While those three legs are strong, however, the student achievement leg is weak. Very weak.

The student achievement leg is the one that is supposed to assure that Wake County has no bad schools, no schools burdened with too many low-achieving, high-needs students. This is the equity/diversity leg by a different name and a different measure. Wake County formerly balanced student bodies by race, achieving integrated schools. Later, it balanced them by socioeconomic status and student achievement levels, achieving integrated schools.

Now, the Republican school board has dropped both socioeconomic status and student achievement levels from Policy 6200, the one governing student assignments; but Tata proposed to bring back student achievement as part of his controlled-choice plan.

In this election, though, Margiotta wouldn't hear of it. In his debate with Evans, he refused to acknowledge even that a controlled-choice plan has four elements, naming only three: Stability, proximity and choice. This explains why Tata's plan has just three strong elements even Tata himself has been clear that it needs four.

***

How, ideally, would the student-achievement element be executed in practice? When Alves and the WEP first discussed controlled-choice, they suggested a floor be set for student achievement levels in every school. If, for example, 80 percent of Wake's students score at grade level on reading and math tests, the floor for every school might be set at 70 percent.

If a school drops below that number, then some low-achieving students would be reassigned to other schools and some high-achieving students enticed? assigned? to replace them. Extra resources would be applied to the school to lift student performance. No school would be permitted to flounder.

There is no such standard in Tata's plan.

Tata himself proposed giving every student who lives in a magnet-school neighborhood in Southeast Raleigh— by definition, a poor neighborhood — the choice of attending a high-performing school elsewhere in Raleigh or the rest of the county. He suggested that as many as 20 percent of the seats in these high-performing schools might need to be "set aside" so the kids from Southeast Raleigh who apply actually get in.

(Remember, to make room for "magnet" students from outside Southeast Raleigh, about half the "base" population living around the magnet schools must go elsewhere. The question is whether the "elsewhere" schools will be high-performing or simply the next-nearest schools that will soon be overloaded with kids from poor neighborhoods who are, on average, lower-achieving. Hence, the creation of a "have-not" school.)

But in Tata's plan, there are no set-aside seats in the high-performing schools, and in fact the definition of a high-performing school has been rewritten so that more schools meet it — including schools far from Southeast Raleigh. This allows Tata to say, as he did at his press briefing Friday, that there's no need for set-asides because the high-performing schools have plenty of capacity to accept Southeast Raleigh applicants.

That may be true now. And with Tata's "test drive" of controlled-choice indicating that in year one 94 percent of students will stay in their current schools, it may be true for a year or two. But will it be true as the suburban neighborhoods around these high-performing schools continue to grow, and meanwhile the students from Southeast Raleigh who are already in a suburban school because of the old diversity policy are aging out and leaving?

Tata, early on, also discussed the need to strongly encourage Southeast Raleigh parents to choose the high-performing school(s) on their choice lists — including reaching out to parents who have little or no involvement with their kids' schools in the first place. All such talk has ceased.

The reason? Margiotta wants no set-asides. He wants neighborhood schools for the suburbs — upscale schools — and neighborhood schools for the inner-city. The word diversity is like a cuss word to him. And so far, pending the outcome of today's elections, Margiotta is running the school board.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Raleigh: 99% of us should be enough, and yet ...

Posted by on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Occupy Raleigh occupies Moore Square

First things first: Mark your calendars for this Saturday, October 15 from 11 am-3 pm. That's when #Occupy Raleigh will be occupying the State Capitol grounds for purposes of — well, that's a long story.

The short version is, #OccupyRaleigh (like #OccupyDurham and #OccupyChapel Hill/Carrboro) is an off-shoot of #OccupyWallStreet, and if you don't know what #OccupyWallStreet is: a) Blame the mainstream media for its/their abject failure to cover it; and b) Nobody knows how important it is yet, but #OWS may be the spark that finally lights this benighted country's candle.

In other words, it's a movement, and only later will you know whether it was The Movement. But if it was, do you wanna miss it?

For an introduction to #OccupyWallStreet, you can visit the OWS website. Or, check out DailyKos, which is all over it with a variety of diaries, including those of the suddenly famous — and rightly so — Jesse LaGreca, whose twitter handle is @JesseLaGreca. He's the man who schooled George Will yesterday on ABC's "This Week" program by noting, among other things, that he, Jesse, was the only working-class person on "This Week" — as he said, since maybe ever?

Suddenly the MSM is pushing the #OWS folks to publish an agenda, or a list of demands, or something to simplify why they're occupying Liberty Park in the Wall Street district of NYC. LaGreca's answer: We're the 99% of Americans who are pissed off that the richest 1% have stolen the country (and outsourced it to Goldman Sachs, China and other high bidders). So, LaGreca says, we're listening .... and it's up to our nation's alleged leaders to explain themselves to us.

What do they propose?

Update 2: Do see this.

Update: Here's something they should be talking about — in 4:25:


Second bit of news: #OccupyRaleigh voted last evening to meet twice daily, at 12 noon and 6:30 p.m., in Moore Square. Anyone who comes is welcome. See below for the rules on participation.

***

I was among the 300, or some say it was 400, who occupied Moore Square in Raleigh Sunday evening. This was #OccupyRaleigh's second General Assembly. (The first was last Sunday.) A General Assembly is a sort of People's Assembly, and if you're old enough to remember the movement against the Vietnam War, you'll understand the ground rules with no difficulty. Others may take awhile getting up to speed.

Going over the ground rules.
  • Going over the ground rules.

Quite a bit of time was spent explaining the ground rules. What's the agenda? It's whatever you decide it is. (The organizers bring a draft agenda, but it may or may not hold.)

The basic rule is, anyone can speak. They do so by putting their names on a 'stack list." But you don't necessarily speak in the order you signed up. Marginalized populations are favored, so if we've just heard from five fully abled white dudes in a row, the woman/minority/poor/disadvantaged person farther down on the list will come next before the sixth white dude. This is the sort of rule that drives conservatives around the bend. You know, because it's fair.

So now, folks are speaking. But the listeners have a role too — they ARE the General Assembly. So if they like what the speaker's saying, they're supposed to wiggle their fingers up in the air. Only OK with the speaker? Wiggle the fingers, but lower. Don't agree? Fingers down, like you're pawing the air. Have a point of process to raise? (Much discussion about what constitutes a point of process.) Form a triangle with your index fingers and thumbs. Point of information? One index finger up.

A moderator will recognize you.

Here's a signal you want to use sparingly. You've had it. You're being ignored. You sense the group is far off-course and about to sell out the mission. Before you storm off in disgust, you cross your arms in front of your chest, making an X.

This is called a block.

A block must be recognized, and you must be heard. But obviously, you don't want to wear this one out.

Democracy, as someone said, is messy. This is an attempt at pure democracy. Power to the people.

***

Mark Miller came from Apex last evening to be part of the #OccupyRaleigh group. His sign said, "I Can't Afford a Politician. So I Made This Sign." (Signs are key. Another one I liked: "The Beginning is Near."

Mark Miller couldnt buy his own pol so he made a sign.
  • Mark Miller couldn't buy his own pol so he made a sign.

"I can't go to New York City. I've got a job and a life and all that," Miller said. "But what I can do is come here and be part of the movement," which he likened to the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and so on. Others, too, talk about #OWS as the newest phase in a worldwide movement that, for example, recently caused the government in Iceland to resign.

Miller isn't a political activist, I gathered, but he is a TV watcher — not a good thing in these days of idiot political coverage. He's been watching Republican presidential debate audiences booing a gay soldier and cheering at the thought that if you don't have health insurance, you should just die.

"People are hurting in this country, people are desperate and losing their homes, and what's the biggest story of the last three years?" he asked me. Before I could answer — and I don't watch a lot of TV news, so I mercifully would've gotten this one wrong — he filled in the blank. "It's 'Was Barack Obama born in this country?' and where's his birth certificate," Miller said.

I'm afraid that's right.

"This is not the country I want for my son," Miller said. Like Jesse La Greca, he doesn't pretend to have all the answers, or any of them, for that matter. He does think answers can be found if people pitch in together — or at least, if the 99% of people who aren't filthy rich pitch in together and take power from the 1% who are.

***

Stacie Borrello is a writer, blogger (liberallamppost.com; addictinginfo.org) and at-home mom from Fuquay-Varina whose first reaction to the OccupyWallStreet movement was, Raleigh needs to be part of this — I hope somebody organizes Raleigh.

Fingers up!
  • Fingers up!

Oops, that's not how movements work. So she started a Facebook page for OccupyRaleigh, and on Sunday there she was in the lead-off position with the megaphone shaking in her hand. But her voice was clear: "We don't plan on packing up and going home after a few hours of exercising our free-speech rights, do we?"

Wiggling fingers up on that.

The plan is for a four-hour demonstration at the Capitol Saturday, 11-3, a block of time for which the #OccupyRaleigh folks have a permit. But they've applied for a permit to continue a camp-in on the Capitol grounds beyond 3 pm Saturday — no response on that one yet — and they're pretty determined, Borrello said, to do it, permit or not.

Friendly lawyers believe they'd be within their First Amendment rights to occupy the Capitol grounds without a permit, and/or they'll litigate the issue is they're turned down for a permit.

Movements, Borrello said, require that people make a "leap of faith" to be successful. If enough people make the leap, movements do succeed — and the more successful they are, the more people make the leap with them. "I realized the passive approach wasn't the right one to take," she said. "I want to be part of the solution."

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Confused about your voting district(s)? It's EZ to look 'em up

Posted by on Mon, Oct 10, 2011 at 10:28 AM

The N&O leads off today with a story about how some people don't know what voting districts they live in for Wake school board elections in particular, but also for Raleigh City Council and Cary Town Council elections. This may because they're getting mail and/or calls (including robocalls) from the wrong candidates. E.g., my wife and I live in School Board District 6, but until this year we were in District 5 — and sure enough, yesterday the phone rang with a robocall from Cynthia Matson, the Republican school board candidate in District 5. Sorry, Cynthia, whoever you're paying to make these calls for you isn't using the correct voter list.

If you're in doubt about which school board district or council district you live in, you can look it up on the State Board of Elections website by clicking here.

When you fill in the blanks — your first and last name and your county — the page that comes up will have a pair of links. The first is to a list of your election districts. The second is to your sample ballot.

The Indy endorsed candidates in the Raleigh, Cary and Wake school board races. Click here for a handy clip-out list.

***

This year In Raleigh, the ballot is pretty simple. Everything fits on one side.

Elections for Raleigh mayor and at-large Council seats are, of course, at-large — everyone in Raleigh votes in these. The mayor and council members serve for two-year terms, so all eight are elected every other year.

Everyone also votes on the two bond issues — $40 million for transportation, $16 million for affordable housing.

The only contested district races are in District A (North Raleigh) and District C (Southeast Raleigh). In Districts B, D and E the incumbent council members are running unopposed for re-election.

The districts were redrawn slightly this year to bring them in line with the 2010 Census.

Ditto in the case of elections for Wake school board. The nine districts were redrawn a bit this year. Voting this year is in five of them — District 3 (North Raleigh), District 4 (Southeast Raleigh), District 5 (West Raleigh and part of SW Wake), District 6 (Central Raleigh) and District 8 (SW Wake).

The other four districts were elected in '09 for four-year terms.

Don't be confused. Do vote. It's important.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Perdue opposes anti-gay amendment because it's bad for business

Posted by on Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 3:58 PM

Gov. Bev Perdue came out against the General Assembly's proposed constitutional amendment to discriminate against the LGBT community, calling it bad for business. The amendment would ban gay marriage — as state law does already — and go further by banning civil unions and recognition by the state of any other form of domestic partnership except one man, one woman in matrimony.

Perdue says she does think marriage should be restricted to the one-man, one-woman variety.

Here's Perdue's full statement:

“My top priority is creating jobs. Too many people are out of work and I’ve heard from several business leaders who’ve told me that the proposed constitutional amendment will harm our state’s business climate and make it harder to grow jobs here.

I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman: That’s why I voted for the law in 1996 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and that’s why I continue to support that law today. But I’m going to vote against the amendment because I cannot in good conscience look an unemployed man or woman in the eye and tell them that this amendment is more important than finding them a job.

In addition, a number of legal experts have argued that this amendment, if passed, could eliminate legal protections for all unmarried couples in our state, regardless of sexual orientation. Right now, my focus, the General Assembly’s focus, and North Carolina’s focus needs to be on creating jobs.”

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pope exposed! Yes, the robes come off at ArtPopeExposed.com

Posted by on Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 2:29 PM

ArtPopeimage.jpg
Unstinting as I am in giving Art Pope the credit he's due, I note with interest the new website, ArtPopeExposed, created by our Durham neighbors, the Institute for Southern Studies.

ISS Executive Director Chris Kromm and Editorial Director Sue Sturgis have made it their business to get to know Pope as well as it's possible to know him if you're not (as he told me in no uncertain terms recently that I was not) his friend. Chris and Sue have shared some of their work with the Indy, for which we're grateful. Sue is an Indy alum.

So what is ArtPopeExposed? It's an online compilation of stories, observations, facts and insights about Raleigh's multimillionaire moneybags to the world of conservative politics, Art Pope himself. For example, Pope was the subject of a Jane Mayer profile, "State for Sale," in The New Yorker this week. It's on the website. Then Mayer was on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. It's on the website too. So are the stories ISS has published, the stories we've published at the Indy, and — if you send in a tip — the stories yet to be published that may have your fingerprints all over them.

All in one handy place, so you'll never miss a moment of the action as Art Pope puts his money and his tax-sheltered family foundation's money to work gumming up progress in North Carolina. Check it out.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Meeker backing McFarlane in mayor's race: ICYMI

Posted by on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 3:19 PM

City Councilor Nancy McFarlane and Mayor Charles Meeker

No surprise, but a nice boost for the McFarlane campaign in front of the TV cameras: Mayor Charles Meeker, who's been a Nancy McFarlane supporter from the get-go but never made an on-camera endorsement, did so today at a press conference: He wants McFarlane to succeed him as mayor.

The event was held in a conference room at the Parker, Poe law firm where Meeker's a partner. It was festooned with McFarlane signs — done in the same green & blue motif that Meeker used in his winning campaigns.

For more on the Raleigh elections, and the Indy's endorsements, click here.

With a week to go until Election Day Oct. 11, the announcement helps focus attention on a mayoral campaign that, so far, has played second banana to the red-hot Wake school board elections. Meeker said McFarlane's been a key ally of his during her four years on City Council. (Meeker's been mayor for 10.) But he credited her with leading on stormwater issues, a key rezoning case in North Raleigh (the resulting Whole Foods complex is a whole lot greener than it would've been) and getting an ordinance passed that bars dog tethering, which speaks to the breadth of her interests, Meeker said.

For her part, McFarlane's claimed her role as a Meeker devotee. She says the fact that Raleigh was rated the No. 1 city in America by Business Week recently (among Raleigh's other accolades) speaks to how successful Meeker's been — with her support. She'll continue the policies that put Raleigh on top, she says.

McFarlane, a political independent who is endorsed by the Wake Democratic Party, faces Republicans Billie Redmond and Randall Williams in the Oct. 11 election. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election between the top two finishers on Nov. 8.

Early voting is underway now through Saturday; if you haven't registered yet, you're too late for Election Day, but you can register and vote at the same time at Early Voting sites. Information about one-stop voting and registration can be found on the Wake County Board of Elections website.

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Art Pope makes the big time: The New Yorker says Pope's the buyer and NC the "State for Sale"

Posted by on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 11:41 AM

"State for Sale" is the banner headline atop The Huffington Post this morning. It's Jane Mayer's profile in The New Yorker of our own Art Pope and his conservative empire in North Carolina. Subtitle: A conservative multimillionaire has taken control in North Carolina, one of 2012’s top battlegrounds.

No need to thank us, Art, for touting your accomplishments as Raleigh's right-wing potentate.

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