RALEIGH — The new Wake County school board majority plans to put its official stamp Tuesday on sweeping changes that will drop the school district's socioeconomic diversity policy and embrace neighborhood schools.
The majority is expected to pass a resolution that calls for children to be assigned to schools within their own communities. Wake, the state's largest school system, would be divided into separate community zones, each with year-round and magnet school options.
The resolution calls for the new system to be phased in over three years, with the board working out details for the zones over the next nine to 15 months.
Board members say most of the changes likely won't go into effect until the 2012-13 school year.
"People are going to know the schools in their community," said Debra Goldman, a member of the new board majority who co-wrote the resolution, on Friday. "I'll know I can be more invested in the schools because they'll still be my schools a few years from now."
But board member Kevin Hill, a member of the minority faction, said things are moving too quickly. He and other supporters of the diversity policy have warned that eliminating it could lead to economic re-segregation of the schools.
Hill said he thought the board was going to have a work session about the direction of student assignment before any changes were voted on.
"I find it perplexing that it will be voted on before we've had a chance to discuss it," he said.
Also on Tuesday, members of the new board majority say they plan to vote on which year-round schools they'll convert to a traditional calendar for the 2010-11 school year. Staff members will make their recommendations on calendar conversions earlier in the day at a work session.
It's all part of a long day of meetings that will begin at 10 a.m. with a closed-door discussion on whether to remove Schools Superintendent Del Burns before his announced June 30 resignation date. After announcing his resignation last week, Burns criticized the new board and its proposed changes, particularly the plan to end busing for socioeconomic diversity throughout the district.
Tuesday also will include the staff's presentation of a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It's likely to call for cuts and layoffs of as many as 100 school employees.
But the two items expected to draw much of the public's comments are the votes on the calendar conversions and community-based school assignments. Both were key parts of the campaign platforms of the four new board members who were elected last fall.
The four new Republican-backed members, who defeated Democratic-backed opponents, joined veteran board member Ron Margiotta in forming a new ruling coalition on the nine-member school board.
Margiotta and other members of the majority said they want to vote on the school assignment resolution to send a clear message to the community that they're carrying out what they promised to do. The resolution is supposed to guide all other school system actions.
"We're only doing what the community has asked us to do," said Margiotta, who has lobbied for community schools since he was elected in 2003. "There was never any doubt this was going to happen."
Goldman's role in drafting the resolution makes it clear that she backs the majority's efforts to eliminate the current diversity policy in favor of neighborhood schools.
Her commitment to making changes had been questioned after a Wednesday meeting in which she sought more study of the policy before acting. Since then, she hammered out the new resolution with fellow new board member John Tedesco.
The resolution's zone concept has been pushed by Tedesco, chairman of the newly formed student assignment committee. Despite the changes that would emerge, Tedesco said he still expects 75 percent to 90 percent of the county's schools to keep their current calendars and magnet programs.
Limiting the impact
Magnet school parents and students have been among the most vocal critics of the new board. They fear that the new assignment system will cause many magnet schools to lose their programs.
"I think we can do it in a way that will limit the impact on schools," said Tedesco.
But he said there will definitely be some magnet changes in the next few years, from some schools losing their programs to others getting new ones. The resolution also calls for the immediate elimination of the use of socioeconomic diversity in filling new seats in magnet schools.
Margiotta said the majority is waiting to hear from board attorney Ann Majestic whether the resolution will require one or two votes to be approved.
On the year-round issue, Margiotta said he and other members of the majority want to finalize Tuesday which year-round schools will convert to the traditional calendar by fall. He said it is getting so late in the planning process that the board must act quickly.
"We're trying to give choice to parents," Margiotta said of the conversions. "That's what the public has been telling us. They want the school system to listen to the public."
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