Vote on year-rounds gives Wake leeway

Staff WriterJanuary 20, 2010 

— Wake County school board member Debra Goldman split with her colleagues Tuesday and backed a revised resolution that says it is the goal, but not the guarantee, that mandatory year-round school assignments will be eliminated.

The board approved by 5-3 a resolution saying that every effort will be made to eliminate mandatory year-round schools. Ron Margiotta, as chairman, votes in the event of a tie. He did not vote on the resolution Tuesday.

The original resolution, which was approved Jan. 5, said that there would be no mandatory year-round assignments beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

The modified resolution passed when Goldman broke ranks with the three other new board members who were elected last fall. They had joined Margiotta in forming a new majority on the board. Goldman cited her concerns about having to guarantee in all cases a seat for parents who don't want a year-round assignment.

"When you're dealing with absolutes, there are unintended consequences, and I'm vehemently opposed to mandatory year-round but I'm imagining situations where students can't be seated," Goldman said.

Ending the diversity policy and mandatory year-round schools were among the campaign promises made by four Republican-backed school board members who were elected in the fall.

Despite the change in wording, board members stressed that the resolution said they strongly oppose mandatory assignment of students to year-round schools.

The modified resolution left in the wording that every effort will be made to give families the calendar of their choice. It also eliminates the use of diversity in filling voluntary year-round seats.

Despite the change in the resolution, Superintendent Del Burns said administrators will go ahead with a proposal that had been laid out earlier Tuesday that provides virtually unlimited access into and out of year-round schools this fall, regardless of crowding.

"We have effectively ended mandatory year-round," Goldman said.

Under the administration's plan to carry out the resolution, all calendar requests will be accepted during the Feb. 8-28 application period unless special education requirements cannot be met.

Administrators are recommending reassigning 427 students this fall to free up seats at several schools to handle increased calendar application requests.

Concerns were raised by some board members and members of the public.

"Choice without control will cause chaos for years to come," said Janny Flynt, a parent at Fox Road Elementary School in North Raleigh.

Flynt said the board's resolution will cause many students to leave schools such as Fox Road, leading to empty seats.

But the board received praise from some members of the public for carrying out its campaign promises.

"I want you to continue to fight for the parents of Cary," said Cindy Sinkez, a Cary parent. "I want you to continue to fight for the parents of Wake County. I thank you."

The board had initially approved the resolution, which was added to the agenda at the last minute on Jan. 5. But the board received legal advice that it should vote again because the resolution changes policy, which normally requires two votes.

Other business

In other board business on Tuesday:

The board tweaked the process it will use to help decide whether schools will be converted to a different calendar this fall. Parents of Wake's 140,000 students have until Monday to complete an online survey about which calendar they prefer.

The board agreed to survey staff at schools. The board also told administrators they don't have to report on which schools they'll recommend for conversion until March 2.

Superintendent Del Burns warned the board that waiting past March to make a decision would make it hard on schools preparing for the coming school year.

The school board agreed on the criteria that staff should use for making recommendations, including the effect on school capacity and the school's instructional program, parental choice and staff interest.

The board passed by a 7-1 vote a resolution hiring Thomas Farr, an employment lawyer with longstanding ties to the state Republican party.

The concerns of several board members were eased Tuesday when they agreed to cap Farr's fees at $250 an hour to review the system's legal contracts and arrangements and act as an interim special legal counsel.

The board also agreed to add a $25,000 cap on Farr's interim special legal counsel work on top of a $50,000 cap for the audit review.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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