You would have gotten two pretty different views on the last two years if you had attended Tuesday's District 8 forum for Wake County school board candidates.
As noted in today's article, school board chairman Ron Margiotta touted a list of accomplishments that he said showed Wake was going in the right direction. Susan Evans argued that Margiotta and the board majority had made Wake a laughing stock.
Among the issues they expressed disagreement on were balancing school enrollments, the decision not to ask for more school funding from county commissioners this year and the recent approval of the single-sex leadership academies.
Margiotta repeatedly expressed his support for neighborhood schools and proximity while Evans argued that strict neighborhood schools will cause high-poverty, racially-identifiable schools like the new Walnut Creek Elementary.
Evans pointed to the additional funding being provided to Walnut Creek as a example of how expensive it will be if the new student assignment plan doesn't provide for balanced schools. Evans never specifically defined what she meant be balanced, such as whether it would be socioeconomic balance or academic balance.
“It’s extremely important that we find ways to balance our populations because we don’t have enough resources,” Evans said. “If we have to throw more resources into these schools, I’ve got a message for my suburban parents, they’re going to have to throw in resources from suburban schools.”
Evans acknowledged that the old assignment plan didn't do enough to provide both stability and balanced schools. But she said they could accomplish both in the new plan.
Evans argued they didn't need to rush into adopting a new assignment plan. She cited as her reason how the test drive showed 94 percent of families would choose to stay at their current schools,
“We have time to review this,” Evans said. “We don’t need to rush into it.”
In contrast, Margiotta cited the parental interest in Walnut Creek, shown by how they may need to add modular units, as a sign that families want proximity.
Margiotta said balanced schools means ensuring all students receive a challenging curriculum. He said he didn't consider it to be an assignment issue.
“For too long in this county, we’ve been assigning students for reasons that had nothing to do with community involvement or with student achievement,” Margiotta said.
Evans sought throughout the evening to differentiate herself from Margiotta.
For instance, Evans said she was disappointed that the board majority didn't back school board member Anne McLaurin's motion this spring to ask commissioners for a funding increase that would have kept per-pupil spending flat. She argued that she would be a champion for school funding.
Margiotta said he agreed that Wake is underfunded. But he said that if not for the school board's now good relationship with commissioners they would have received the same kind of cut in funding as the other parts of the county budget.
On the issue of the leadership academies, Margiotta said he had "great expectations" for them. He said they'd complement the magnet school program.
Evans said she didn't know if the singles-sex schools were a good idea. But she said she felt that the board had "rushed" adoption of them without enough review.
Evans also took Margiotta to task over the board's fight with AdvancED over accreditation.
"I have been very concerned that our school board compromised our accreditation," Evans said.
But Margiotta said they never reached the point of losing accreditation. Wake's high schools are on accreditation warned status, but Margiotta said he doesn't anticipate having any problems keeping accreditation.
Evans also criticized Margiotta and the majority for the way that the four minority members have been treated. She accused them of "ramrodding" things through on 5-4 votes without engaging in a dialogue with the minority.
Margiotta countered that the so-called dysfunctional board had accomplished a lot in the past two years.
One thing I forgot to add is that Evans also criticized the decision to relocate Central Office to "a fancy new facility" in Cary "that's not needed." She argued Wake will have a hard time in this economy selling the Wake Forest Road site.
Evans said the district should have stayed in Raleigh. She said the money that went toward relocation should have been "used to help students."