The new members of the Wake County school board were sworn in last night. Immediately changes began to take place. And yet for all the change that was occurring, sadly, it all remained very much the same.
Before a packed, mostly hostile audience, the new group made ad hoc additions of major items to the agenda. That drew heated public comment from those opposed to the newcomers’ actions, a shocked reaction from members who now make up the board minority and a walkout by a group representing Wake teachers.
I feel like I’ve been punched in the mouth,” said Keith Sutton, a member representing East Raleigh.
This time, instead of the families supporting neighborhood schools feeling left out, it’s the families supporting the diversity policy that are feeling left out. Nothing, really, has changed; only that the other team has the ball and is driving.
One of the complaints against the old board was the fact that they often wouldn’t reach out to the public on policy issues:
The board quickly took up the district’s diversity policy, which uses busing to ensure balanced populations at each school. Once based on race, those calculations have relied on the poverty of students’ families since 2000.
However, no copies of the proposal on changing the diversity policy were given to members of the public before they were voted on. Instead, an overhead projector showed a copy with the phrase “creating and maintaining a diverse student body” with a line through it. The move to change the policy was sent to committee.
Apparently the information was not only withheld from the public, but from some of the board members as well:
“I like to study the things that I am going to vote on, but this is an unusual evening,” said member Anne McLaurin, a member of the board’s new minority. “I find this an interesting proposal, but I don’t feel prepared to vote on it without further information.”
Said ousted chair Kevin Hill about the last-minute resolutions: “To me this is a process that is very new to the school board, where essentially half the members are not privy to information prior to the meeting.”
And the battle between board and public is still very much of a “We vs. They” kind of thing; complete with threats:
“Please be quiet or we’re going to ask you to leave,” Margiotta told the audience. “Don’t make an arena out of us.”
When Margiotta’s remarks drew laughs, he threatened to ask security to make the crowd leave.
Look, there are a LOT of things that a school board can impact and I really am hopeful that this new board can make improvements. Obviously, when it comes to strategies I am in favor of anything that encourages strong fiscal restraint. I support any attempt to weaken organized teacher unions or representation organizations. I like merit based pay for teachers. But to be honest, the overwhelming issue that faces this board has been the combination of the Diversity Policy and the Year Round schooling; both of which I am in favor of.
Clearly something new occurred at last night’s meeting. But just as clearly, nothing changed.