Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is trying to enlist other Wake County mayors as part of his ongoing efforts to put the student assignment process under the microscope.
As noted in today's online article by Sadia Latifi and Ray Martin, Meeker has been contacting other mayors to form a committee to review whether the new plan that's being developed "“complies with state statutory and constitutional standards." This special committee would consist of mayors and "high level" residents of each town who have educational or legal experience.
“Our goal is to get an objective group, to get good advice and see if it’s a good plan or bad plan that needs some changes,” said Meeker, a sharp critic of the new board majority and the husband of school board minority member Anne McLaurin.
In June, Meeker said he wanted business, legal and community leaders to join him in reviewing the school board’s plan, raising the possibility of legal action in the future if the board’s plan seemed to violate a student’s right to a sound education, which the state constitution requires.
Meeker said the group of mayors and citizens he is trying to assemble has a similar aim. He said he waited to see if either the Wake Education Partnership, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports public schools, or the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce would review the plan before he took action.
“Those groups are creating their own assignment proposal, and there really isn’t anyone looking at the current plan from a state law perspective,” said Meeker.
The response to Meeker's committee has been mixed among Wake's 12 mayors.
“I’m not sure what having yet another group of individuals giving their opinion is going to do,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “As of right now, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of Cary to be involved with something perceived to be political.”
Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said he wanted to know more about it. Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles slammed Meeker for trying to be “king” of Wake County, and Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones said she wouldn’t participate.
“That is a job for the school board,” Jones said. “I don’t think the mayors looking at it is necessarily an appropriate thing to do. I wouldn’t want the school board to come in and look at what I’m doing. We have to let them do their job.”
Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly, who has strongly supported the school board majority, said the move was political on Meeker’s part – but that his town would participate.
“If they’re going to constitute some group, then I will certainly pick somebody from our town to represent us and certainly make our views known,” he said.
Mayors John Byrne, of Fuquay-Varina, Ronnie Williams, of Garner, Jackie Holcombe, of Morrisville, Harold Broadwell, of Wendell, and Bob Matheny, of Zebulon, said they supported forming a separate group.
“Between the 12 [mayors], we represent a great, great majority of Wake County,” Matheny said. “They should listen to us, and I’m not sure, frankly, if this school board wants to listen to anybody except the people who sing their song.”
Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen, who has been helping Meeker contact the mayors, said he doesn’t think starting a different committee would step on the school board’s toes.
“It is easier to get feedback when you know you have representation from across the community, and you’re going to put them in a room together and get a back and forth dialogue,” he said. “The idea is not to make this a political committee... so hopefully [the school board] will be open to it and listen to it.”
Retired attorney Eric Braun will do staff work for the committee. Braun has discussed land use issues before the Raleigh City Council and told Meeker he was free to help with any issues after he retired earlier this year. All the work is pro bono, and no city staff members are involved.
“It is an unusual situation,” Meeker said. “But the kinds of changes in the proposed assignment plan are so serious that mayors really do need to get involved.”