By Cash Michaels
In a week already filled with falsehoods and national mockery, the Republican-led Wake County Public School Board is facing more adversity than it ever dreamed of in its effort to re-establish community-based neighborhood schools.
Schools that many fear will also reinstitute racial segregation, a second-class education for children of color, and ultimately dysfunctional, under-resourced inner city and county high poverty schools.
Amid two federal civil rights investigations, a third probe that could result in the loss of high school accreditation, daunting capacity challenges with student assignment planning and the projected loss of well over $100 million in funding for the next school year, the Wake School Board is now contending with not one, but four major blows to its national credibility.
The first is the nasty fight between the board’s conservatives, led by Chairman Ron Margiotta, and AdvancEd, the national school accreditation agency that, based on a racial bias complaint by the NCNAACP and others, has mounted a probe of Wake County Public Schools, a probe that Margiotta has tried mightily to stall or derail.
Even though stonewalling could resort in the deaccreditation of at least 24 Wake County high schools, Chairman Margiotta has refused cooperation with AdvanEd’s investigators, accusing them of being “a weapon” of the NAACP. The chairman has threatened to dump the board’s membership with AdvancEd, and simply join another accreditation group.
Education experts, however, counter that other agencies across then nation may not want to deal with Wake County Schools after witnessing the board leadership’s uncooperative behavior thus far.
The board is soon expected to take a final vote on whether to cooperate with AdvancEd, or leaving it, thus rendering the diplomas of future Wake high school graduates worthless because of the deaccreditation [ at presstime, board Vice Chair Debra Goldman issued a statement that she will vote to allow AdvanEd to conduct its investigation, saying that while she has problems with it, not doing so would hurt the school system and its students. A vote could come as early as next week].
The second blow to hurt Wake Public Schools national image was a devastating feature article in the Washington Post last week titled, “Republican school board in NC backed by tea party abolishes integration policy,” which not only accurately illustrated the efforts of the board’s conservative majority, backed by upper-middle-class parents upset with the system’s busing policy, to completely bury the school system’s once successful student socioeconomic diversity policy, but also how that majority has clear and evident right-wing ties.
“In their quest to end the diversity policy, the frustrated parents have found some influential partners, among them retail magnate and Republican operative Art Pope,” The Post reported, referring to the conservative former state House member.
“Following his guidance, the GOP fielded the victorious bloc of school board candidates who railed against "forced busing," The Post continued. “The nation's largest tea party organizers, Americans for Prosperity - on whose national board Pope sits - cast the old school board members as arrogant "leftists." Two libertarian think tanks, which Pope funds almost exclusively, have deployed experts on TV and radio.”
John Tedesco, one of the Wake School Board’s outspoken Republican members, blasted the WP’s assertion that he and his fellow board conservatives have Tea Party support as “absolutely not true” during an appearance Monday on the Fox Business Channel’s “The Willis Report.”
But last April 15 during a NC Tea Party rally at the state Capital, not only was Tedesco introduced to speak with rousing applause by Laura Long of Triangle Conservatives Unite with the words, “[Tedesco] saw the largest school system bureaucracy in the state hurting our children and families…let’s give him our support,” but when he took to the podium, there was no doubt that support was exactly what he wanted.
“The reason why [the Republican majority on the Wake School Board] said no [to “social engineering”] is because there is an army of people like you out here today who said, “Enough,” Tedesco said, later telling the Tea party crowd, “Our values need to be instilled in public education today in America….,” and “I thank all of you for standing behind us.”
Whatever else Tedesco had a problem with in the Washington Post article, the District 2 Garner board representative apparently had no problem signaling a “so what” attitude when asked what if the board’s eventual neighborhood school planning resulted in a significant number of high poverty schools.
“Tedesco… said he and his colleagues are only seeking a simpler system in which children attend the schools closest to them,” The WP reported. “If the result is a handful of high-poverty schools, he said, perhaps that will better serve the most challenged students. "If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful," he said. "Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it."
That latter remark is Tedesco’s standard allegation that previous Wake school boards “scattered” economically disadvantaged students around the county through busing in an effort to hide their failing. He asserts that by limiting those students to high poverty neighborhoods, they can collectively be targeted for remedial assistance.
What Tedesco conveniently leaves out are the extraordinary costs of the high degree of resources that high poverty schools traditionally need because of their special populations, and where those dollars will be coming from given the gloomy funding picture the board is already staring down the barrel at.
Critics allege that once neighborhood schools are established, the situation becomes even more intensely political, with taxpayers in upper-middle class neighborhoods not willing to pay more to maintain the high poverty inner city schools, as has happened for years throughout the nation.
Blow number three to Wake Public Schools national image came in reaction to that very fact, as reported by The Washington Post. US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in the WP’s “Letters to the Editor” section after seeing the story, said that “America's strength has always been a function of its diversity, so it is troubling to see North Carolina's Wake County School Board taking steps to reverse a long-standing policy to promote racial diversity in its schools.”
Adding that,” The board's [dismantling socioeconomic diversity] action has led to [an NCNAACP] complaint that has prompted an investigation by our Office for Civil Rights…,” Sec. Duncan concluded his public rebuke of the Wake School Board with, “In an increasingly diverse society like ours, racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background. School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward.”
Apparently advised that badmouthing the US Education Secretary while two federal investigations into your school system are underway, Margiotta and Tedesco both limited their reactions to “disappointment” that Duncan made his remarks based solely on the WP report.
That same faux “disappointment” was expressed Monday by Tedesco after both Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and NC Gov. Beverly Perdue blasted the Wake School Board for being, as Meeker said, “way off track” for ending student diversity, during remarks at the Triangle Martin Luther King Interfaith Breakfast at the Sheraton RTP.
But on the next night, after the school board received a humbling staff report on the probability of a budget shortfall next school year of over $100 million, the national humiliation struck again, this time at the hands of Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert.
In a five-minute skit titled, “Dis-integration” Colbert, a comedian who portrays a dumb conservative newsman, chided the Wake School Board for dismantling the student diversity that made the school system one of the top in the nation over the past decade.
Colbert also went after Tedesco.
“Luckily, Tedesco is part of a group of Tea Party backed Republican school board members who recently voted for Wake County schools to go back to the old system of separate neighborhood schools to better teach the kids the 3 Rs,” Colbert said.
As the comedian spoke, the words, “Readin,’ 'Riting,' and Resegregatin’” flashed on the screen.
Sources tell The Carolinian that the damage has definitely been done. In the business community, a key leader there called all that’s happened “very disappointing.” The county, despite its long, successful history of diversity, has now been consistently painted as a bastion of racial resegregation over the past two weeks. That’s not good for business growth, especially in a tough economy.
The WP story also noted incoming Wake Supt. Anthony Tata, paying particular attention to his links to Tea Party figures like Sarah Palin, and the former US Army General’s stated opposition to Pres. Obama.
Tata, who officially takes over on Jan. 31, has called for a two-day retreat in February with the board. He has stated that neighborhood schools in Washington, D.C. work.
Tata is currently the chief operating officer of D.C. Public Schools. He has only worked in education for only 19 months.