Next Tuesday's Wake County School Board election promises to be a watershed event for race and poverty. I have followed the issue closely and today's Op Ed article in the Raleigh News&Observer by David Zonderman, "On school vote hangs our future", expresses what's at stake as capably as any observer.
Few recent school board elections have carried such historical and educational weight. Voters should remember the modern civil rights movement's struggles and realize that the fight for educational access and equity did not end with Brown v. Board of Education. That campaign for quality education continues today. In an increasingly diverse nation and an ever more complex world, all children need and deserve the best education possible in classrooms that reflect the rich and variegated human mosaic of America.
The election has drawn national attention. Much attention has focused on the intended and unintended consequences for racial diversity. Many of the grievances of opponents of the diversity policy can be attributed to school board policies that have tried to cope with explosive growth using limited resources. Reassignment, year-round schools and busing have been among the irritant but necessary tools to address this growth which continues in Wake even as Charlotte-Mecklenburg school enrollment declines. A fraction of busing is directed at achieving economic diversity which has the effect of also achieving racial diversity while limiting the negative effects of pockets of poverty.
Last week UniteHere, a national hospitality, food service, laundry, airport and textile union weighed in, [Union blasts SEANC leaders] announcing two endorsements and questioning the involvement of SEANC/SEIU officials in promoting anti-diversity candidates. Since then another action alert has gone out from Carolina UniteHere quoting extensively from a previous post here on BlueNC.
Why are two top SEIU officials in North Carolina backing anti-diversity candidates in the heated Wake County school board elections, including a busing opponent and a “neighborhood schools” advocate who is running against a pro-diversity SEIU member?
In what one liberal blogger has called “a politically tone deaf move,” two top leaders of SEIU’s large state employee affiliate in North Carolina have inserted themselves into the Wake school board contest, publicly backing candidates who want to dismantle Wake County’s celebrated school diversity program.
Dana Cope, Executive Director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) and Ardis Watkins, SEANC’s legislative director, formed the “Children’s PAC” earlier this year after their efforts to stop the county schools’ reassignment plan were unsuccessful.
Cope and Watkins live in an affluent West Raleigh neighborhood that is located in one of three nodes scheduled to be reassigned from Lacy Elementary to Stough Elementary.
The two SEIU officials recently dissolved their PAC and allied themselves with another anti-reassignment group, the Wake Schools Community Alliance (WSCA), which has endorsed four candidates for the Wake school board.
In District 1, for example, the group is backing former Wake Forest Town Commissioner Chris Malone, who also enjoys the support of the Wake County Republican Party. Malone is a strident opponent of busing and the district’s longstanding practice of reassigning small groups of students periodically to achieve diversity goals. The pro-diversity candidate, Rita Rakestraw, is a child development specialist who is endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Triangle Area Labor Federation, and Unite Here.
In District 7, Cope and Ardis and the WCSA are backing Deborah Pickett, a first-time candidate who opposes Wake County’s reassignment policy and believes that low-income students will do better in “neighborhood schools.” Her opponent, Karen Simon, is a staunch defender of Wake’s diversity goals and policies. She has the support of the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Triangle Area Labor Federation and Unite Here. And get this – she is a state employee and a member of SEANC.
So Cope and Watkins now find themselves publicly backing an anti-diversity candidate who is running against one of their own members. How did this come to pass?
In a scathing post on the liberal political blog BlueNC, writer and state employee Greg Flynn accused Cope and Watkins of “trafficking in the goodwill of the SEANC” for “what amounts to a point of personal privilege.” Flynn also said:
“Some State legislators say privately that they take a dim view of Cope’s actions in this matter and that they reflect poorly on SEANC and SEIU. They note that the end game of many WSCA supporters will negatively impact SEANC/SEIU members in Wake County, especially low and moderate-wage workers, who don’t have the 5-year contract that Cope enjoys.”
For members of North Carolina’s pro-education, labor and civil rights communities, now is the time to make your voices heard. We urge you to speak out now so Cope and Watkins and their friends in the WSCA don’t roll back 40 years of progress in Wake County.
Paid for by UNITE HERE TIP Campaign Committee. Not authorized by any candidate.
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To be sure there may be more going on in internecine union affairs than meets the eye here, but there is no denying that Tuesday's Wake School Board election will be instructive regarding the state of racial issues during a supposedly post-racial presidency.