Wake sets vote on school busing

Board majority seeks shift to assigning students to schools in their communities.

Staff WriterFebruary 27, 2010 

  • Resolution Establishing Board Directive for Community Based School Assignments

    Whereas, the Wake County Board of Education holds a strong commitment to the highest educational results for ALL children in an effort to allow them to reach their full potential and better our community.

    Whereas, ALL children regardless of race, creed, economic status, or nationality are capable of high academic achievement when provided instruction of rigor and relevance. The utilization of objective, data-driven decisions better supports these efforts than subjective classification and profiling of students.

    Whereas, ALL children, families, schools, teachers, and neighborhoods are stakeholders that benefit from a strong sense of community and a high quality education, and proximity to a child’s school affects opportunities for engagement of all stakeholders.

    Whereas, stability and continuity play a critical role in the positive development and support of our children, families, and communities. Within a framework of stability providing logical feeder patterns with limited disruptions in child placement, families should be provided with reasonable application options for their assignments, taking into account capacity and utilization of local facilities.

    Whereas, extensive growth over the past two decades has resulted in our existing node-based assignment modeling to require numerous adjustments that have compounded over the years, resulting in challenges to meet demand and efficiency. Further, with the current three year assignment plan set to expire in 2012, a new plan will need to be implemented.

    Whereas, the Wake County School Board supports community based school assignments. The alignment of these assignments with the existing zone based management tools of the Wake County Public School System, such as but not limited to Transportation Services, Facilities Maintenance and Management, and Staff Leadership, would produce more efficient and cost effective operations.

    Be it hereby resolved:

    The Wake County Board of Education commits to establishing Community Assignment Zones. A zone based assignment model will be developed during the next 9 – 15 months with input from our community stakeholders (as noted above), WCPSS staff, and other government planning and zoning officials.

    The final approved model by the Board of Education must include:

    A multi-year transition plan that limits impact on student reassignment and ensures program equity within each zone.

    A plan that will be respectful of our history as a community and an institution, while being innovative and mindful of future growth.

    A plan that ensures a commitment to a high quality education for ALL children.

    A plan that creates consistent and logical feeder patterns with a defined plan for “optional choice” assignment opportunities. These opportunities will highlight strong support for high quality year-round and magnet schools as viable options for families, while planning for both a vocational and alternative school.

    A plan that is effective and efficient in the utilization of our facilities and transportation fleet.

    A plan that establishes better alignment of internal management systems and functions.

    A strategy that supports and promotes high functioning and engaged communities.

    A plan to support families and keep siblings from being separated by tracks or schools without parental consent.

    In the interim, the Wake County Public Schools will remain engaged in the Board approved three year assignment plan. When considered appropriate, approved adjustments to the existing plan will occur in accordance with past practices on an individual basis, including node adjustments, calendar conversions, and school designations. Decisions regarding these adjustments should take into account the future planning directive underway.

    Be it further resolved that effective immediately: Board level committees, WCPSS departments, and other administrative committees with relevant responsibilities, assignments or authority are directed to prepare constructive suggestions to support the development of the above noted transition, and be mindful in their approach to decision making that could impact these future directives.

    Prior to June 30, 2010, the Growth and Planning Department and the Instructional Services Division (including a separate plan for the Research and Evaluation Department shall establish and present a transition plan to the Board of Education that will utilize non-discriminatory, objective, data-driven criteria, tools, and practices over existing subjective methods. All plans should include short term (within 12 months) and long term (up to 3 years) action items with clearly defined benchmarks.

    Any applicants to an existing “optional choice” assignment shall not be discriminated against based upon economic status in the selection process.

  • The Wake County school board also is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a motion to approve the Civitas Institute, a conservative group funded by local businessman Art Pope, as a designated provider of annual training for school board members.

    Board members can now get training from the UNC School of Government and the N.C. School Boards Association. School board Chairman Ron Margiotta said he added the item to the agenda because some board members want to take advantage of the training that Civitas plans to start offering.

    Francis DeLuca, executive director of the Civitas Institute, said the group is offering the service because it feels it can do a neutral job of providing the training compared to other groups. State law requires school board members to get 12 hours of training a year.

    "We're not trying this to be conservative, but we're not going to indoctrinate the board members like other groups," DeLuca said.

    The school system wouldn't pay Civitas to offer the training. But individual board members would be responsible for paying the $50 training fee to the group.

    Staff writer T. Keung Hui

  • A busy day Tuesday

    10 a.m.: The school board holds special closed meeting on whether to keep Superintendent Del Burns on through his June 30 resignation date.

    Noon: Board holds work session. Will discuss the year-round schools that staff will recommend converting to a traditional calendar next year.

    3 p.m.: Regular meeting, starting with presentation of proposed operating budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

    4 p.m. Public-comment section. Then, board will tackle long agenda that includes the community-based school assignment resolution.

    The meetings will all be at the Central Administration Office Building, 3600 Wake Forest Road, 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.

Moving quickly

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."

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

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