Resegregating Schools in Wake County and New Hanover County

The school board of Wake County, where the state capital of North Carolina, Raleigh, is located, has been news a lot lately. Even Stephen Colbert used it in his "Word" segment on January 18, mocking the comments of a board member, John Tedesco. He and other Republican board members have taken the steps toward dismantling the bus system that guaranteed no single school would be left high concentrations of students from low-income households.

The fact that many of the board members, including Tedesco, are from the North (Tedesco is from New Jersey) has not been lost on the natives who went through the raw and painful, but successful, desegregation process in the late 60's and 70's. Among some, the resentment is growing. They blame the Northerners who settled in the area, believing that they were coming to white neighborhoods with good schools, only to find that their schools had black students bussed in from poor neighborhoods. Others, including Lynn Parramore, have lamented vocally the possible loss of the positive impact that diversity has had on their lives.

Wake County is by no means a singular phenomenon in North Carolina. A similar move is under way in New Hanover County, some 150 miles to the east on the Atlantic coast. The county was already trending toward "neighborhood schools" as Marian Wright Edelman wrote in April, 2010 along with Wake County. When the 2010 election was over, one Democrat had lost his seat to a Republican newcomer, and the two sitting Republican members had coasted through the election with little campaigning, leaving the school board controlled by six Republicans and one lone Democrat.

Even before the election, the board was split almost neatly along party lines between "neighborhood schools" and "social justice" with Republicans, except for Elizabeth Redenbaugh, advocating "neighborhood schools" and Democrats advocating "social justice." Derrick Hickey, the newest member of the board and an orthopedic surgeon who hails from New York, made the following statement during a campaign debate for school board candidates that captures what is happening in Wake and New Hanover Counties:

If you believe in neighborhood schools and parental choice, vote Republican for school board. If you believe in trying to achieve social justice in the schools, vote Democratic.

To that, Philip Stine, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for the school board, stated, "Wow, it is like he is campaigning for us." Obviously, "social justice" lost at the ballot box.

Fortunately, North Carolina has placed safeguards against resegregation. It is called Disadvantaged Students Supplemental Funding (DSSF). Page 31 of the 189-page state bill 837 of 2010, Section 7.23 titled ''Disadvantaged Students Supplemental Funding," outlines how the state will disburse money for disadvantaged students to school districts:

In determining whether to approve a local school administrative unit's plan for the expenditure of funds allocated to it for disadvantaged student supplemental funding, the State Board of Education shall take into consideration the extent to which the local school administrative unit's policies or expenditures have contributed to or is contributing to increased segregation of schools on the basis of race or socioeconomic status.

New Hanover County board of education, for example, had to sign an affidavit certifying their latest redistricting plans did not contribute to segregation. When Elizabeth Redenbaugh, a moderate Republican who favors school diversity, objected to signing the affidavit, the then chairman of the board, Ed Higgins, publicly stated that, if indeed segregation happened, it was unintentional. If the NC Department of Public Instruction finds schools are moving toward resegregation, New Hanover County will lose almost $750,000, while Wake County stands to lose $3.5 million. These are no small sums.

So, what will happen? Is the "neighborhood schools" plan a done deal in both counties? It remains to be seen.

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