In this week’s Indy (“Yellow light for Wake schools Blue plan”), I tried to lay out the key issues I see ahead for Wake Schools Superintendent Tony Tata’s Blue plan. They are: (1) Will enough seats be reserved in the so-called Achievement schools for kids coming from high-poverty, low-achievement neighborhoods? (2) Will the school system intervene on behalf of the kids living in such neighborhoods whose parents aren’t usefully involved in their school lives, and thus don’t know how to make the best of this plan for “parental choice”?

Tata has so far guesstimated that “about 20 percent” of seats in the A-schools should be reserved for kids coming from to them as a result of the Achievement-related goal in the Blue plan. I’d question whether that’s actually enough.

Yesterday, on WPTF-680, School Board Chair Ron Margiotta made it clear he isn’t all that interested in the Blue plan’s Achievement goal. To the contrary, he said, Blue’s other goals of Proximity, Stability and Choice “have always been our goals,” Margiotta said.

Margiotta’s interview with Bill LuMaye is worth a 9-minute listen. (h/t to the N&O’s Keung Hui for posting it first.) Margiotta comes right out and says the Blue plan must be changed (“tweaked”) to make it “as close to a neighborhood schools plan as possible.”

In the interview, Margiotta differed with Tata over how many seats to reserve in the designated high-achievement schools for kids coming for reasons of low-achievement.

Margiotta also questioned a basic tenet of Tata’s Blue plan to move kids from areas of concentrated low-achievement — most of which are closely packed into Southeast Raleigh — to a variety of Achievement schools, some of which are in Cary and western Wake County.

Tata and his staff have made it crystal-clear: You can’t just offer such students a “choice” of a few nearby “A-schools” and pretend that they’re being offered a meaningful set of options. The reason: We’re talking about at least 11,000 students coming from magnet-school base areas — which means they won’t all fit in a handful of close-by A schools.

Ergo, offering thousands of students the chance to “choose” from the same hundreds of seats would amount to a “false choice” for most of them.

False choice or not, Margiotta said busing kids longer distances to a variety of A schools would amount to “going back to the old ways,” a notion he flatly rejected. And “reserving a high percentage of seats” for incoming kids won’t do either, Margiotta said, because it would mean “denying these seats to people who live in the immediate neighborhood.”

Margiotta said the Blue plan must be changed and the school board majority will change it. “We’ll get there,” he said, but it may not be until October — that is, until after the next round of school board elections. Before then, it’s doubtful Margiotta will want to be seen as undermining Tata, the superintendent his side brought to town.

But do listen to what he says: Crippling Tata’s Blue plan is exactly what Margiotta intends to do.

Thus far, Margiotta’s allies have been far more circumspect about Tata’s plan, though — as I said in the Indy — John Tedesco did question Tata at one point about travel distances; and Debra Goldman did ask whether there could be some sort of carve-out by which Cary kids could be assured of attending Cary schools (unless they opt to go somewhere else).

Protecting municipal boundaries, Goldman called it.

It put me in mind of nothing so much as Syracuse University expert Gerald Grant’s book, “Hope and despair in the American city: Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh.” Most American cities are divided from their suburbs by hard boundaries that prevent school integration. Hence, the urban schools are awful — as in Syracuse, NY. There are no bad schools in Raleigh because there are no hard municipal boundaries splitting the Wake County school system.

Not yet, anyway.

And not under Tata’s Blue plan.


Tata’s Blue plan tries to find a middle ground between the “neighborhood schools” side of which Margiotta is the ringleader and the pro-diversity side which kept the Wake school system healthy for 30 years prior to the ’09 elections.

Margiotta yesterday rejected the idea of finding a middle ground.

That middle ground requires that the Margiotta goals, which would give you pure neighborhood schools, be balanced with an “X” factor that prevents the schools in low-income neighborhoods from becoming second-class schools in a “rich kids, poor kids” system.

For 30 years, the “X” factor was a combination of magnet schools in the low-income neighborhoods AND the relocation of about half the kids from those neighborhoods to other schools in more prosperous parts of Raleigh and suburban Wake County. (The latter, of course, was needed to make room in the magnet schools for kids coming to them — by choice — from outside the base neighborhoods.)

At first, these relocations were done on the basis of race — in order to correct for a long history of racially segregated schools under Jim Crow.

Later, they were done based on socioeconomic data, i.e., the level of poverty in a given neighborhood.

But after the ’09 elections, Margiotta’s majority-bloc of 5 Republicans abolished the socioeconomics factor.

So now, in an effort to follow the Republicans’ lead while not creating high-poverty schools, Tata has proposed to make low student achievement the new “X” factor.

Margiotta’s take yesterday, though, was that the “X” factor is okay only if it’s given little weight in a plan that emphasizes Proximity and Stability.

In other words, she said, weight the factors so they produce “as close to a neighborhood-schools plan as possible.”