Politics & Government

Busing opponents may gain in N.C. school board election

In the most significant Wake County school board contest since the 1970s, opponents of the board and administration say Tuesday's voting offers a huge opportunity to tip over the sitting panel and its longstanding policies.

Four seats are at stake with only one incumbent running. And most districts in play are in the outer areas of the county, where critics of busing for diversity and other policies that have drawn parental ire have had more success.

Supporters of the current board argue that discarding an approach that serves Wake County's students well would be disastrous. They say the diversity policy has led to national recognition and has boosted economic growth.

Those who want a makeover for the nine-member board say that factors that make this election promising include:

_ The outspoken dissatisfaction of some parents with current policies and practices.

_ The backing of local Republicans.

_ A synergy with the national anti-tax, anti-big-government movement.

_ The work of several well-organized, well-funded community groups and PACs.

"The opportunity is huge, and I think we have a good chance of winning this thing," said Allison Backhouse, an Apex parent and a leader of the Wake Schools Community Alliance, a group critical of student assignment policies. "As we formed WSCA, we all had the light bulb switch on. If you want to change the policy, you have to change the policymakers."

The policies critics want to end include promoting diversity by balancing percentages of low-income students at schools. They oppose assigning students to year-round schools without parental consent. They're backing candidates who say they'll promote neighborhood schools.

Opposition candidates would need to win all four seats to change the system's direction.

None of the candidates is doing any polling, nor are local polling firms.

Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, whose members include 5,000 school employees, thinks critics are overstating their community support.

"The people moved here because of the quality of the school system," Lanane said. "Why would they want to tinker with that? Not with neighborhood schools, whatever that means."

Lanane's group, along with several others, including the Wake County Democratic Party, has backed candidates who have pledged to maintain the diversity policy.

Wake County originally bused children to keep schools racially balanced, starting in the 1970s. In 2000, the schools began using family income as the basis for diversity.

Some parents have always been against their children being bused to create more diverse schools, but opposition ramped up in the last few years as the county grew rapidly and more students were assigned to year-round schools.

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