Reassignment gets Wake board's OK

More year-round schools could avoid repeat in '07

Staff WriterMarch 22, 2006 

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CORRECTION

A front-page story Wednesday incorrectly identified one of the changes to the Wake County student reassignment plan. The school board dropped the reassignment of 70 students from Oak Grove Elementary School to Adams Elementary School.

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With a few final tweaks Tuesday, the Wake County school board put to bed the largest reassignment of students in the district's history.

The board approved the movement of 9,307 students to different schools this fall. The plan affects every high school and most elementary schools.

"It's been a very long and often painful process," said Patti Head, chairwoman of the school board. "We understand this is dealing with the children of Wake County."

As difficult as it was for many parents, students, board members and administrators, there apparently is a way to largely eliminate another reassignment in 2007:

"If you convert all elementary schools and middle schools to year-round, you'd have very little reassignment," said Chuck Dulaney, Wake's assistant superintendent for growth and planning.

Year-round schools can handle more students than traditional schools by keeping the buildings in constant use.

While year-round schools are unpopular with many parents, the idea of mass conversion in 2007 is moving closer to reality. A spending plan that would convert every elementary and middle school got the most support in a recent public poll by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. That option would result in the smallest bond issue that has been proposed to be put before voters in November, possibly $1.3 billion.

More expensive options that would convert fewer schools and build more new schools got less support in the poll.

The school board could decide on the amount of a bond issue in May. It would go to the county commissioners for their approval before being put on the ballot.

School officials have already recommended converting 11 to 14 schools to the year-round calendar for 2007 to keep up with growth.

If every elementary and middle school is converted -- more than 90 -- the extent of student reassignment would depend on whether they are converted at once or gradually. A phase-in could lead to a lot of students being moved but would give the district more time to resolve potential problems.

"There's always something to be said for going slow," Dulaney said, adding that the district needs to know by this summer how many schools the board wants to convert to year-round for 2007.

For now, though, the district is dealing with the aftermath of this year's reassignment season.

Wake annually reassigns thousands of students to fill new schools, ease crowding at existing schools and promote diversity. School leaders say this year's plan was so large because of the need to fill seven new schools and to keep up with growth -- 6,436 more students this year and 7,000 more expected this fall.

The previous largest plan moved 7,738 students in 2004.

Making changes

This year's plan has been marked by more willingness than usual by board members and administrators to make changes.

"There should be no doubt in the mind of the public that the board listens," said Ramey Beavers, senior director for growth management.

The first draft in December called for moving 11,495 students.

In January, the board reversed a decision to end the practice of allowing rising 10th-graders to stay where they were if reassigned to an existing high school.

When the revised plan was presented in February, administrators had reduced the total number to 10,258 students.

Two weeks ago, the board cut the plan to 9,404 students.

On Tuesday, the board made these changes:

* Dropped a plan to move 39 Middle Creek High students to Garner High from nodes 470.2 and 470.3.

* Restored the reassignment of 12 Garner High students to Middle Creek High from node 613.

* Dropped the movement of 70 Oak Grove Elementary students to Adams Elementary.

Considering the siblings who could be split up, administrators are researching how many families could be divided. They'll bring the information to the board to help them decide how to deal with transfer requests.

The final reassignment vote was 7-1, with Ron Margiotta as the lone dissenter. He had asked for more time to look for ways to reduce the number of Apex High students in the plan.

But board member Beverley Clark said students being reassigned will go to good schools.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Clark said. "All of our schools are beautiful and do have wonderful learning environments to offer our children."

Wake Schools Reassignment

Staff writer T. Keung Hui can be reacted at 829-4534 or khui@newsobserver.com.

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