Saturday, June 25, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            It isn’t even Christmas yet, but political gamesmanship for the fall 2011 Wake School Board races may have already begun, and school children in Southeast Raleigh, at risk of attending high poverty schools at early as next year, political pawns in the process.
            That’s the general interpretation after three of the five conservative school board members, still steaming after Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman decided in October to no longer rubber stamp their anti-student diversity agenda, had their community representatives Tuesday introduce surprise recommendations to reassign over 6,000 Southeast Raleigh students back to their neighborhoods as part of proposed changes to the 2011 student assignment plan.
            This latest development comes amid news that the US Education Dept. will probe the racial bias complaint against the Wake School Board by the NCNAACP, that a team from the AdvancEd school accreditation team will be in Raleigh mid-January to go over the school system’s records, and that for the first time in history, there are more children of color in Wake County Public Schools than there are whites.
            The shock recommendations were made at the Board’s Student Assignment Committee meeting Tuesday, chaired by District 2 board member, John Tedesco.
            Without warning (though it’s clear Tedesco knew about it in advance), community members representing conservatives Board Chairman Ron Margiotta, Chris Malone and Deborah Prickett, offered long list of student reassignments for 2011 that essential took black and Latino Southeast Raleigh students out of schools in North Raleigh, Garner and Cary, and sent them back to neighborhood schools in Southeast Raleigh.
            They’re reasoning? Proximity is a priority, and board policy demands that all children attend schools close to where they live.
            Committee member Anne Sherron, however, says it’s clear what the real purpose is.
            “I hear it as, “We don’t want those kids [in our neighborhoods]” she says.
            If implemented, the moves would immediately create a large number of high poverty schools in predominately black Southeast Raleigh for next year, something the NCNAACP and other advocates of student diversity have fought the Wake School Board over.
            Changes to the third year of the 2009 through 2011 student assignment plan put in place by the previous Wake School Board, were originally expected to be light because a new school, Walnut Creek Elementary in Southeast Raleigh, is scheduled to open next fall.
            A long-term student assignment plan which is supposed to offer stability and proximity with busing for student diversity, is supposed to be developed by the full board for beyond 2011. Board member and former principal Kevin Hill, a Democrat, has proposed a more deliberative process to carefully develop a cost-effective student assignment plan, to the apparent dismay of his Republican board colleagues who’ve accused him of just trying to stall progress before the 2011 elections.
            According to Anne Sherron, the community member representing Democratic board member Carolyn Morrison, no one else offered reassignment lists Tuesday because no one else was told to do so. In fact, Tuesday’s meeting was not confirmed until virtually the day before.
            There’s no question, sources say, the move was political.
 Ever since Goldman, a Republican, joined forces with progressive school board members Keith Sutton and Kevin Hill to trash the neighborhood school zone plan Tedesco was selling, her conservative colleagues, who’ve enjoyed a 5-4 majority for almost a year, have virtually called her a traitor in public.
            Board Chairman Margiotta said because of Goldman’s defection, he and the other board Republicans would work harder to have the four Democrats on the board defeated in 2011, so they can push their agenda unabated.
            By not waiting for a long-term plan to be considered, and instead, recommending over 6,000 student reassignments for next year - reassignments that may get shot down by Debra Goldman and the school board’s four Democrats when the lists come before the full board, the board Republicans are able to target Goldman herself as a potent campaign issue with which they can use to stir up support for GOP candidates in the fall.
            And if the reassignments are implemented and high poverty schools are created as a result, Republican board member Chris Malone says blame Debra Goldman and the board Democrats. All the board Republicans are trying he do, he adds, is follow the anti-diversity policy now in place since the neighborhood school zones they favored were killed.
            Critics not only see the move as political, but also “bullying.”
            “Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength, and that’s just what continues to happen in Wake County’s student assignment,” said Yevonne Brannon, Chair, Great Schools in Wake Coalition. “Low-income children, those whose families have little sway or influence over this Board, are losing out, and in this case, being reassigned without any parent input.”
            “The Board majority continues to operate under a mantra of ‘divide, demonize, and demoralize,” Brannon continued. “The three-year assignment plan was implemented to provide greater stability in assignment and allow the Board of Education to focus on improving student achievement. Instead, they are politicizing student assignment at the expense of the children they were elected to serve. We need a Board that will unite our citizens, focus on student needs and parental input—and not simply bully the community with misbegotten ideas that serve a political agenda.”

By Cash Michaels
            [Editor’s note - this is Part One of a two-part special look at what the Republicans on the Wake School Board were trying to accomplish in their efforts to reassign over 6,000 Southeast Raleigh students back to their neighborhoods. Read Part two Dec. 23rd, and listen to a special report on the story on Make It Happen, this afternoon at 4 p.m. on Power 750 WAUG and www.Power]

            They failed, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try again.
Or that federal authorities won’t watching.
            A concerted Republican effort on the Wake County School Board to force the reassignment of over 6,000 black and Latino students back to high poverty neighborhood schools in Southeast Raleigh from North Raleigh, Garner and Western Wake by next fall, has been aborted for now. 
            By a 5-3 vote during Tuesday’s contentious school board work session, the board’s four Democrats - led by Southeast Raleigh member Keith Sutton, and joined by Republican School Board Vice Chair Debra Goldman - rejected Chairman Ron Margiotta’s request to allow the Nov. 30th Republican reassignment recommendations to be considered for the 2011-2012 school year.
            Margiotta, who represents the District 8 Cary-Apex area in Western Wake County where many of those recommendations focused, said the suggested moves were necessary to not only to begin fulfilling the board’s community-based neighborhood schools mandate, but also to alleviate overcrowding at some schools.
            The chairman’s opponents, however, weren’t buying it.
            In blunt terms, Sutton and company smelled a rat when the none of the board’s Democrats, or Ms. Goldman (who has now voted three times against her GOP colleagues since October when she dramatically broke with them), or any of their five citizen appointees to the Student Assignment Committee (SAC) where the GOP recommendations first came from, were ever notified to prepare or present their own reassignment recommendations specifically for Dec. 7th board consideration, as their Republican counterparts had been.
John Tedesco, one of Chairman Margiotta’s closest Republican allies on the board, chairs the SAC, and was tasked with shepherding those GOP recommendations through.
            And it didn’t help, as Ms. Goldman pointedly noted, that the parents of those SE Raleigh students had not been given an opportunity to say whether they wanted their children reassigned to SE Raleigh inner city schools, as her fellow Republicans on the board were trying so hard to pull off.
            "My concern is that some of these ... appear to be requests to move students out of areas," Goldman remarked during last week’s Dec. 7 work session when the GOP recommendations were first introduced.
She added that the requests were “…not that 'we want you to move our kids. We want you to move their kids."
            Proponents for the GOP reassignment requests gave a tepid defense of their actions, but in the end, convinced none of those who voted in the majority to reject their goal.
            Officially, the next time the issue is expected to be raised and debated is when planning for a new, long-term student assignment map for 2012 - 2015 begins in earnest next year.
            Unofficially, when the school board returns for its next work session in late January, Chairman Margiotta might try again.
            But while most of the media and public have focused on the politics and outcome of the GOP attempt to literally flush thousands of SE Raleigh students out of upper-middle-class schools across the county in the name of  “proximity,” little has been said about the true motives, and mechanics of the scheme.
            Motives to a scheme that if proven, may have crossed the line in the eyes of the Civil Rights Division of the US Dept. of Education, which is actively investigating a racial bias complaint by the NC NAACP.
            After careful research and numerous interviews, in addition to an extensive review of official documents and past media reports, The Carolinian has posited a picture of what the Wake School Board Republicans, sans Debra Goldman, are up to.
            Establishing magnet school programming in upper-middle class community-based schools across the county. That can’t be done as long as socioeconomic student diversity, while no longer the policy, remains in practice in Wake County, as it is now in the final year of the three-year student assignment plan put in place by the previous Democrat-led Wake School Board.
            The popularity of magnet schools - established years ago to attract middle and upper-middle-class white students to special schools in the inner city so that black and Hispanic children from the low-income areas of SE Raleigh could be bused to integrate schools in the suburbs with good teaching staffs - has been the unique, one-of-a-kind curriculums they offer.

            But, as Margiotta told the News and Observer after a May 2009 Wake School Board meeting when he was in the Republican minority then, he wanted the current magnet school setup shutdown.
“It’s hard to justify the expense of these [magnet] programs,” he told the paper. “With some of the money we spend, give the programs to other schools.”
            The New Jersey native, according to the N&O report, “…envisions dividing up various magnet offerings around the county with different programs at each school.”
            “Less would be offered than now to save money,” the newspaper continued. “Once the economy gets better, Margiotta said Wake could expand what’s offered.”
            But in order for that to work, there would have to be a substantial first step, and getting as many SE Raleigh children out of upper-middle class, predominately white neighborhood schools, as soon as possible, under the auspices of neighborhood schools, was it.
            When Margiotta was joined by four other conservative Republicans on the board in December 2009 - one of whom, John Tedesco, would later tell a Raleigh Tea Party group that the board’s GOP majority was dedicated to “…dismantle the social engineering policies of the past disguised as diversity” - the chairman now had the majority he needed to make it so. But it couldn’t be too obvious what Margiotta’s intent for magnet schools was. The program had a strong, loyal following among the very upper middle-class whites he was playing to, except that some of those parents didn’t mind sending their children to Southeast Raleigh to attend.
            So instead, Margiotta and his ruling majority continued what worked so well for the Republicans during the 2009 school board races - exploiting the Wake school system’s falling academic achievement scores among black students (brought on primarily because the system was struggling with tremendous growth and dwindling resources, not a failure of its diversity policy as the Republicans maintained); falsely label Wake’s past efforts with black students as an unmitigated failure; and then trying mightily to cultivate hostility within SE Raleigh against both the diversity program, and magnet schools in particular.
            Things were headed in the right direction. Tedesco, Margiotta’s most trusted lieutenant, was heading up student reassignment planning, ensuring that whatever final plan the board adopted, made community-based schools a hard-in-stone fact. Media outlets like WPTF Radio, and conservative groups like the John Locke Foundation were loudly singing the board majority’s praises an d damning its critics.
            Because, before Oct. 5, 2010, Margiotta had a clear 5-4 majority on the Wake School Board, his only challenge was to build the political momentum for the neighborhood schools he so coveted - complete with neighborhood school magnet programs his based so revered. The protests and challenges of the North Carolina NAACP and others put an unwanted spotlight of the scheme, but as long as the votes remained 5-4 Republican favor, unless a judge issued an injunction against the board’s actions, nothing could really stop the Margiotta plan.
            As long, that is, as that 5-4 GOP majority held.
            On Oct. 5, that changed, as Vice Chair Debra Goldman, fed up with the disrespect and political single-mindedness of her Republican colleagues, broke ranks, demanded more input in Tedesco’s student assignment planning, and then joined the Democratic board minority for the first of three thunderous votes that, thus far, has all but sunk Chairman Margiotta’s master plan.
            At first Margiotta admitted publicly that as long as Goldman voted with the Democrats, the change he felt “the public” had demanded had to wait until the 2011 board elections when all of the Democratic board seats are up.
            But in reality, the 2011 student assignment process, which was simply a matter of reassigning students to fill the new Walnut Creek Elementary School opening in 2011, provided an instant opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, and, perhaps, win the political public relations war.
            Propose a multitude of reassignment changes from parents and citizens, justifying it with board policy 6200 mandating community-based neighborhood schools right now for 2011. The scheme would not only generate public support, Margiotta imagined, but put Goldman in a spot if she voted against it.
            Quietly, sources told The Carolinian, the scheme was hatched to develop the recommendations, and then force the issue prior to the Dec. 7 work session when the system staff would begin focusing in earnest on tweaking the 2011 plan.
            It is how Margiotta and his board followers went about executing their plan, that may ultimately be of interest to federal investigators with the US Education Dept.’s Office of Civil Rights.
By Cash Michaels

            The agenda for the Nov. 30th Student Assignment Committee (SAC) meeting, chaired by Wake School Board member John Tedesco, was simple.
            The committee would review and approve the minutes from the prior meeting.
            The three board members, and nine citizen representatives appointed by all nine school board members, would get a staff overview and update on where they were per the third year of the multi-year assignment plan they were supposed to fine tune.
            And the last agenda item listed, “An opportunity to share concerns related to school assignment issues in the 2011-12 school year.
            As it happened, all but one of the Republican board members and citizen representatives knew exactly what that last agenda listing meant, and they were ready.

            However, none of the Democratic Wake School Board members, their citizen reps, nor the citizen rep for Board Vice Chair Debra Goldman - a Republican who over a month earlier decided to split from the GOP board majority due to its attempts to operate in secret - had a clue what that last line meant, nor would they get the opportunity prior to the 11:30 Nov. 30th meeting to find out.
            The SAC chairman, Tedesco, planned it that way.
            A review of correspondence between Tedesco and Don Haydon, WCPSS Chief Facilities and Operations Officer, shows not only did Board Chairman Ron Margiotta’s closest lieutenant insist that the Nov. 30th meeting agenda be changed from what Haydon suggested in order to facilitate presentation of the Republican lists of node reassignment recommendations - lists that would make headlines because they involved moving over 6,000 black and Hispanic students from upper-middle class schools in North Raleigh, Garner, Cary and Apex - but then Tedesco withheld the agenda until the morning of the Nov. 30th SAC meeting so that none of the “opposition” would have time enough to question, or worse yet, challenge what wasn’t clearly spelled out.
            It was 1 p.m. on Nov. 24th - the day before Thanksgiving and six days before the Nov. 30th SAC meeting that had been already posted, that Haydon emailed the SAC chairman for the purposes of finalizing the agenda to get it out.
            “Based on the agenda you discussed with Ms Cobb…,” Haydon writes, staff is ready to move forward. He lists the agenda items to include finalization of any changes to the third year of the existing three-year student assignment plan; and a review of current assignments in relation to the 2011 opening of Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh, in addition to student assignment adjustments that the Growth and Planning staff were preparing in other schools.
            “Please confirm that the agenda as I have described it is what you had in mind. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving,” Haydon closes.
            While Haydon waits for an answer, some members of the SAC don’t even know if there is going to be a meeting, or when. The News & Observer is indicating that Tedesco, in comments to them, was still mulling whether to have one or not.           
            Meanwhile SAC Citizen Rep. Anne Sherron writes Tedesco on Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Day, asking him to clarify what she has seen in the N&O regarding a meeting.
            She also has picked up on something disturbing.
            “I have learned the list of schools potentially affected by the current reassignment proposal to be presented to the board [work session] on December 7, has grown significantly and without precedence,” Sherron, appointed by Carolyn Morrison, writes Tedesco. “I can assume easily from hearing parents' comments at the CA meetings held last week that the poor could be disproportionately represented in these recommendations. With no formal in-house analysis, comparison, or study in place, weighing the educational effects either proximity or busing ED children has, (which I think was part of the basis of the evaluation Barbara asked for), frequency of movement, program effects (be it magnet, Title 1, SES, etc.), whether calendar has an impact on performance, etc., this board could be undermining the education of our most vulnerable under the guise of helping, the same way you have condemned past boards' actions.”
            Sherron continues, “To learn on the blogs there may not be a meeting makes me grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of communication, direction, and goals this committee has with its' members.”
            Even Board member Morrison emails Tedesco and Chris Malone on Nov. 28, asking if there’s to be a SAC meeting, and she’s the vice chair.
            Tedesco responds to Morrison and Sherron at 12:01 p.m. on Nov. 29, before he finally responds to Haydon’s inquiry.
            In his response to Morrison and Sherron, Tedesco displays some anger.
            “Contrary to what rumor the media speculates on blogs, we had a scheduled meeting and it was not cancelled. That is all there is to that - there is no conspiracy or failed communication as Anne's email suggests. The agenda is going out a bit late (likely this afternoon) due to the holiday schedule,” he wrote.
            Lamenting the Oct. 5th vote when fellow Republican Debra Goldman joined the Democratic board members to scrap the 16-community zone neighborhood school plan that he had been working on, Tedesco then goes into a rant in writing:
            In the end, Mrs. Goldman, Dr. Morrison, and their other 3 friends said no no no - it's fine the way we have been doing it all these years. It's fine when we do not consider all the inequities that led to the Audit defining our schools as unfair. Debra cited herself in a speech that night before they voted to end our efforts to overhaul assignment, that most of all of our existing model is fine and forget all this new revamping as we can leave it all alone and just fix a few tweaks moving nodes (continuing - what Tim Simmons calls our "shell game").
            She and the Dem 4 want to simply leave it alone. And she thinks just moving all the nodes closer to home will address all her needs. They also feel that the SAC should not be discussing these tougher issues but the whole board instead. This was made clear to me in our last discussion about the consensus plan of Kevin's. I was told clearly that was not the role of the SAC - so we wont be discussing these matters anymore.  
            So now they get what they asked for - no need for the SAC to look at those issues. SAC will look at some of the 3 year recommendations based solely on the new policy with the old tools (or essentially all that matters is node proximity). The SAC too will make some thoughtful recommendations to the staff matrix as the community meetings have and Board members have. ALL of that will go to the BOARD for review and vote and that will be it. Just like Mrs. Goldman and the DEM 4 want. In the end, they will get what they wanted to move all the nodes closer to home solely on proximity and to close out the community discussions for their own stalled discussions of consensus.  At that time, if the board reaches consensus and wishes the SAC to look at some other issues than shifting nodes then we can revisit this.    
            Seventeen minutes later, Tedesco finally responds to Haydon about the agenda he wants.
            “…I would like 45 minutes on there for SAC members to make recommendations to get added to the list that will go to the full board. Thank you,” writes Tedesco.
            The time on his email is 12:17 p.m. on Nov. 29.
            A caught off-guard Haydon, who had indicated that he would be out of the office on Nov. 29, emails Tedesco back at 3:44 p.m.
            “Mr. Tedesco, I am concerned about the timing of  “SAC members to make recommendations to get added to the list that will go to the full board,” Haydon replies. “Ms Evans [Linda Evans - head of WCPSS Growth and Planning Dept.] asked for all suggested changes to be identified by Thanksgiving, so that staff could evaluate them fully and include them in the staff recommendation on 7 December. There simply won’t be time for new ideas presented tomorrow to be included by the 7th, because staff is working on the 10+ pages of suggestions that were made during the community work sessions.”
            An irritated Haydon continued, “Insomuch as I saw most of the [SAC] Citizen Advisors at the meetings, I hope there are no new changes that were not presented at the work sessions.”
            Tedesco does not respond to Haydon’s email that afternoon, the day before the SAC meeting.
            Instead, Chairman Margiotta’s closest ally on the board responds the morning of the Nov. 30th SAC meeting.
            The meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.
            The agenda still hasn’t been printed. Nothing was given to the secretary the night before.
            Yet Tedesco chooses to respond to Don Haydon’s concerns at 10:07 a.m., less than 90 minutes before the SAC meeting starts.
            “Don…While I certainly appreciate your concerns, I respectfully disagree,” Tedesco writes. After justifying the apparently heretofore unknown SAC list recommendations, Tedesco then puts Haydon in his place by invoking the chairman.
            “While I know (sic) something’s have been a bit up in the air with some recent vote changes in the last 60 days, Mr. Margiotta is still our Chair,” Tedesco writes. “Under his authority we created this Board level committee and he appointed me as Chair of that effort. As part of that effort committees make recommendations to the full board for review. I am confident from recent conversations with Mr. Margiotta, that he is expecting the SAC to make recommendations on nodes to be added to the list for the board to consider.”
            After stating why the change from socioeconomic diversity policy to community-based neighborhood schools policy should be adhered to without delay, Tedesco ends his missive to Haydon by saying, “I have the utmost confidence in our team and am sure they can get some extra node recommendations added to the list over a full week (before the Dec. 7 board work session).
            Tedesco copied his rebuke of Haydon to, among others, Chairman Margiotta.
            When SAC members arrived for their 11:30 a.m.meeting, only then did any of them see the agenda, which was now in the meeting binders under “Nov. 30th.” When a SAC member asked Tedesco,” Did we ever get [our agendas], which is standard, he replied, “I think they went out yesterday. I apologize for them going out late.”
            In fact, he knew they hadn’t gone out at all.
            Over an hour later is when Tedesco asked for any node change recommendations from the committee. As Committee Vice Chair Carolyn Morrison, her Citizen Rep Anne Sherron, District 4 Board member Keith Sutton and others of the “opposition” watched, David Williams, Tracy Noble and Anne Rouleau - citizen reps representing Republican board members John Tedesco, Deborah Prickett and Ron Margiotta - and Republican Board member Chris Malone, all offered long lists of reassignment changes, primarily affecting black students from Southeast Raleigh.

            As a tape of the Nov. 30th SAC shows, they all justified the lists per the need for proximity as mandated by the new policy 6200.
            Answering a later request for comment, all of the Democratic board members and their citizen reps concurred that they had not been notified to compile and submit lists of suggested node reassignments for the Nov. 30th meeting.
            Indeed, as Tedesco’s email to Don Haydon just the day before the Nov. 30th meeting clearly showed, staff not only had not been informed of it, but was not expecting it from anyone.
            At both the Dec. 7th and Dec. 14th board work sessions, Goldman joined the Democrats in voting not to consider the GOP reassignment lists.
            Margiotta says they’re being unfair to those “parents who deserve to be heard.”
            Keith Sutton joins Goldman in asking what about those parents of the thousands of Southeast Raleigh children that the board Republicans sought to ship out of countywide schools.
            Where was their voice, Sutton asks, when Democratic board members were denied their opportunity to submit and review node reassignment requests as well?


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