RALEIGH — In a painstaking series of individual votes Tuesday night, the Wake County school board approved a plan to send about 3,500 students to different schools this fall - a small step toward neighborhood schools.
Democratic board members balked at approving the moves as a whole, so the board voted on each of the 50 items. The end result is that more students, particularly from Southeast Raleigh, will go to schools that are closer to where they live, cutting some bus rides by 10 miles or more.
The moves approved Tuesday follow the new student assignment policy - changed last year by the GOP board majority - that stresses sending students to schools closer to where they live, rather than busing to maintain socioeconomic diversity.
"We have begun the process of fulfilling our promises to our community to return proximity and stability to the student assignment process in Wake County," said Republican school board Chairman Ron Margiotta, who broke 20 ties along party lines. .
School administrators are working on a systemwide plan for the 2012-13 school year that would send many of the thousands of Southeast Raleigh students to schools closer to their homes. Currently, those students are bused to North Raleigh, western Wake and Garner to diversify schools there and to free up seats at the magnet schools that are mostly in and near Southeast Raleigh.
Administrators had recommended not altering most of the Southeast Raleigh assignments for 2011-12, until the systemwide plan is adopted. Even then, more than 1,200 Southeast Raleigh children would be moved to fill Walnut Creek Elementary School and be sent to closer middle and high schools next year.
The four Democratic board members agreed, arguing that the board should hold off on most other moves until administrators develop the comprehensive plan for the 2012-13 school year. At the request of Democratic board member Anne McLaurin, school staff members presented information showing that the reassignments would sharply change the percentages of low-income students at some schools and could reduce the number of seats for suburban children in magnet schools.
"I'm trying to limit what we're doing to Walnut Creek, for the most part," Democratic board member Kevin Hill said.
GOP school board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman backed the Democrats in a motion to vote on the items separately, and the Democrats voted against many measures not involved with filling Walnut Creek Elementary School, which will open on a traditional calendar.
Still, the board approved 47 of the 50 items, dropping only 220 of the 3,739 students proposed for reassignment.
The votes that did not pass mean 164 fewer students will be reassigned to Carnage, a magnet middle school in Southeast Raleigh, and 56 pupils from Lacy Elementary School will not move to Conn.
Goldman also was the swing vote killing the addition of a magnet program to York Elementary School in northwest Raleigh.
The votes on the plan came after a chorus of speakers urged the school board to scale back the moves. Supporters of the old diversity policy have made up most of the speakers at board meetings over the past 14 months.
"You are on a path that will cost our community more and educate our children less," said former school board member Beverley Clark.
Several speakers complained that the plan would take away seats for magnet students. "This is killing the magnet schools with a thousand small cuts by creating high-poverty schools," said Vickie Adamson, a magnet parent from North Raleigh.
In addition to the reassignments approved Tuesday, 196 students could be moved this fall. A public hearing will be held for those families on Feb. 15 before the next vote. They were added to the plan last week or the board changed where the students were originally supposed to be moved this fall.
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