Rigid ideology meets more reality

Rigid ideology meets more reality

- in Fitzsimon File

News that prominent conservatives Art Pope and Bob Luddy gave a combined $38,000 to elect four members of the new Gang of Five majority on the Wake County Board of Education is not much of a surprise.  An email to Chair Ron Margiotta this fall from a Republican activist said that Art Pope's plan to get them elected worked very well.

Pope is the major funder of right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups in North Carolina that want to destroy public education with vouchers and privatization. Luddy runs a private school and is a prominent board member of the Locke Foundation. He is an outspoken advocate for vouchers and tax credits for private academies.

But the Gang of Five that Pope and Luddy paid to elect has run into yet another sobering dose of reality in the first phase of its ideological crusade, to resegregate the schools by ending the system's economic diversity policy in student assignment.

This time it's a report from the Wake Education Partnership, a business group that supports the current direction of the public schools, that shows what would happen if every student in Wake County were assigned to the school closest to them, a stated goal of the Gang of Five.

Margiotta told the News & Observer that he couldn't understand why his grandson couldn't go to the closest school. The Partnership's study explains it.

The report finds that as many two dozen school buildings would have 50 percent more students than they can handle. Another two dozen would only be half full.  And the student bodies would look much different in a pure neighborhood system that ignored economic diversity as a consideration.

Fifteen schools would have more than two of every three students eligible for free or reduced lunch, which also means they are almost guaranteed to be overwhelmingly African-American. Twenty-seven schools would have less than ten percent poor kids, which would make their student bodies almost all white.

The plan would also destroy the current magnet system, though that doesn't seem to bother Gang of Fiver John Tedesco, whose rich zone, poor zone assignment scheme would also dismantle the current magnet program and create at least 10 poor and mostly African-American schools.

Tedesco and the other Gang of Fivers used to claim that they had no intention of resegregating the schools as they overturned Wake Schools' national recognized diversity program.  But reality has forced Tedesco to openly admit it would do just that.

Tedesco is running into another problem too. One of the members of the Gang of Five, Debra Goldman, isn't too wild about Tedesco's plan and has said so publicly. Goldman also broke with the members of the new majority on a vote about assignments to year-round schools.  Maybe it's now the Gang of Four and a Half.

It appears the pressure to getting to Tedesco. He responded to an N&O blog post about the Partnership report by calling it hogwash and "fairy tale hysteria" chastising the group's staff for sitting in their office and "waxing philosophical lies."

The folks at the partnership are not waxing about anything, they are merely providing the community with information about what would happen if schools were assigned by proximity, which is what the resolution that Tedesco and his fellow Gang of Fivers voted for at the first board meeting at which they were in the majority.

It is hard to see how that is a lie, an especially odd charge coming from a board member who said he didn't want to resegregate the schools and presents a plan that he admits resegregates many of them. Tedesco must have drawn that plan up in his office, when he was "waxing misleading."  

And it is interesting that Tedesco couldn't find the time in his rant to mention the results of a recent parent survey that found that 94.5 percent of the parents in Wake County are satisfied with their child's school.

The Partnership's report is merely a useful tool for the board the community to use in the debate. It is not the authors' fault that the study exposes the disingenuousness of the Gang of Five's claims that the system needs the stability of what they call neighborhood schools.  

They simply won't work logistically without resegregated schools and more school construction given Wake County's growth. Those are the facts, whether Tedesco wants to admit it or not. 

Pope and Luddy may be able to buy an election but their money can't change reality. The more the plans of their Gang of Five are scrutinized, the more absurd they seem.  Hogwash doesn't begin to describe it.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.