Was Tuesday's adoption of a new Wake County student assignment plan the culmination of years of study and discussion or a rushed decision?
As noted in today's article, school board members and administrators defended the vote as being necessary to avoid delaying implementation of the plan. But critics, particularly during the public comment section, urged the board to hold off adoption until the newly elected members have their say on the plan.
"The voters spoke," said Robert Hyman. "You lost the election. In effect, the chair of this board has been fired. You owe it to the new board to discuss it with them before you completely lose your moral authority and your legitimacy.”
"This board can use its short-term political advantage to do as it pleases, but that means leaving more of a mess for the next board," added Bob Siegel. "If you really want to make a difference, put the politics aside, reach across the aisle and take a closer look at this plan."
David Zonderman said that as a history teacher he had to give his history lesson about how the "narrow board majority staged a parliamentary coup d'etat in 2009" and "dismantled a nationally recognized assignment policy."
Zonderman also took a shot at Superintendent Tony Tata for his insistence that the plan needed to be adopted Tuesday.
"The current narrow majority, now a rump lame duck faction egged on by the superintendent, is tonight trying to ram through a radical change in school assignment policy that remains vague on crucial details such as key feeder patterns and projected school transportation costs," Zonderman said.
Zonderman said he could find no evidence how delaying the plan a year would harm parents and students.
“The demand for an immediate vote is yet another example of poor governance driven by smash mouth sour grapes politics rather than due diligence and thoughtful deliberation," Zonderman said. "Any member of this board, regardless of their political affiliation, who votes tonight to move peremptorily with this new assignment plan is undermining the incoming board members by denying them a role in the decision-making process and saddling them a policy riddled with troubling questions.
This vote is also a slap in the face of thousands of citizens who turned out last week and voted resoundingly for a policy of good governance and careful analysis. I say shame on anyone who disrespects the democratic process and votes to push through this assignment plan tonight.”
Erica Kirschner-Dean complained that the people "who are rushing to have it approved will not be the ones to implement it."
“Why all this rush to vote on this plan?" Kirschner-Dean said. "That’s what I’d like to know. This plan could be a disaster in the making. It could be an absolute nightmare to implement and result in creating more schools of poverty.'
The Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church, accused the school board of “playing political football with our children’s future”
"I don’t understand what the rush is," Johnson said. "Why not hold off on implementing this assignment plan until after the runoff election on Nov. 8th? I’m afraid people see this as a rush to judgment, as a plan that is politically motivated and not student oriented.”
When the plan was presented later in the evening, Tata responded to those who called for a delay.
"We understand and have seen first-hand many times that assignment is an emotional issue," Tata said. "There could hardly be a more divisive issue politically. But this isn’t about politics. This is about parents and the children who are entrusted to our care. And if we delay, it is precisely the parents and children who are the bill payers."
Before later voting no, school board member Kevin Hill had some nice things to say about the plan.
"I think it’s going to be a good plan," Hill said. "I think it will be a plan that moves Wake County forward with some work. But I can’t support that without seat set-asides at the regional high-performance schools.”
Board member Anne McLaurin explained she was voting yes but warned that more money would be needed.
“To make this plan work it will require additional resources and I would hope this board is prepared to ask our county commissioners and the state for the funds that we need to make this a good plan that provides an education for all our students," McLaurin said.
School board member Carolyn Morrison read her statement in support of the plan.
School board member Debra Goldman argued the vote wasn't rushed as she mentioned how she had introduced the Dec. 1, 2009 resolution to revise the student assignment policy and had sponsored the October 2010 resolution halting work on the zone plan.
“This is not a rush to vote in a plan," Goldman said. "This has been as solid two years in the making, not to mention all the discussions in this county for years prior to that.”
School board member Keith Sutton said he agreed that the plan hadn't been rushed. But he suggested delaying the vote by 30 days to build a bigger consensus and to have the current and new board members involved in the plan.
Sutton's "friendly amendment" for the 30-day delay wasn't accepted by board vice chairman John Tedesco, who had introduced the resolution.
School board member Deborah Prickett said Tata should be commended for bringing forward "a totally family-friendly assignment plan."
School board member Chris Malone said it was time to move the process along.
“People were calling me and saying, ‘Will you please get on with this. Please pass it. It looks good. We like what it’s doing,'" Malone said. "I can’t think of a better time to move forward and go on to other things like student achievement and whatever else we can find ourselves doing.”
Tedesco said that while the plan wouldn't satisfy everyone, it would deal with the "most pressing issue in our community: growth."
“It is time that we come together as a community, work together to make sure this plant is implemented with fidelity and success on behalf of all of our children in all of our schools and begin anew again to ensure that this works for the good of Wake County," Tedesco said.
After the plan was passed, school board chairman Ron Margiotta gave his speech.
"While the plan isn’t perfect, it is a major improvement, a huge step in the right direction," Margiotta said. "Node assignments are gone. There will no longer be assignments based on one’s socioeconomic status or race. In fact, students won’t be moved for any reason.
Parents’ cries for stability and sensible options have been answered. This plan empowers them with their choice in their child’s education and students will be guaranteed long-term stability in assignment with predictable feeder patterns. It’s a new day in Wake County, one that I've looked forward to for a long time.”