Big shift awaits some year-round schools in Wake

staff writersApril 6, 2011 

  • Superintendent Tony Tata has received favorable reaction to his plan to protect the classroom, to operate efficiently and to make each school an attractive destination for parents and students.

    But some Wake school board members and speakers found plenty to be concerned about as Tata's budget underwent scrutiny Tuesday.

    The down economy and state budget problems have placed severe constraints on the schools budget.

    "I'm impressed with the excellent work that the superintendent has done on the budget," Raleigh resident Fred Johnson said during a public comment period Tuesday.

    But as more details became available, another picture of Wake schools in 2011-12 emerged - a system where 185 buses in need of replacement haul children to schools that might not be cleaned as often as in the past, where after school tutoring is reduced and assistant principals will likely lose pay.

    "We are making some reductions that are very unpleasant," school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said, while also praising Tata's design.

    The school board voted to slash the pay for assistant principals in anticipation of deep state budget cuts.

    All assistant principals will be cut to 10-month jobs with any additional money from the state being provided if available. Most assistant principals have 11- or 12-month positions. Tata recommended cutting their pay rather than laying them off.

    "There are schools that need help. They need funding. They need resources," said Montserrat Alvarez, a member of the young activist group N.C. Heat.

    Seth Byron Keel, 16, also a member of the group, was ejected from the meeting after police learned that he was among protesters banned from the building after being charged with trespassing last year.

    Staff writers Thomas Goldsmith and T. Keung Hui

— Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata is looking at major schedule changes that could affect thousands of families at year-round schools - shifts that are in line with a new long-term student assignment plan that's under development.

Most of Wake's year-round schools divide their students into four groups, called tracks, which have their own schedules.

Tata proposed Tuesday that principals at some year-round schools with too many empty seats be allowed to operate only one track, with all students on the same schedule, for the 2011-12 year.

"We're listening to what the community wants and trying to do what's best for them," Tata said.

School board members agreed Tuesday to wait until May to vote on the issue after some board members complained about lack of advance notice to vote on the issue.

The discussion came during a work session before a contentious school board meeting during which a teenage protester was ejected from the building and members agreed to replace three principals of low-achieving elementary schools.

Tata said he'll spend the next month talking with year-round principals to determine which schools to recommend giving flexibility to make the change.

On Tuesday, Tata presented a list of 14 schools that are below 100 percent of their single-track capacity: Alston Ridge, Ballentine, Banks Road, East Garner, Harris Creek, Highcroft, Lake Myra, Rand Road, River Bend, Timber Drive, Wakefield and West Lake elementary schools; and East Cary and Holly Grove middle schools.

A number of Wake's multitrack year-round schools aren't filled.

Tata said his student-assignment task force would have more flexibility in deciding what to recommend for those under-enrolled year-round schools if they kept their current schedule or moved to a single track.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta said he expects most schools which make the change will adopt Track 4, which starts Aug. 1.

"It will offer something for those who like year-round and those who want something close to the traditional calendar," Margiotta said.

In a related issue about how to make schools more attractive for the new student assignment plan, the board approved Tata's request to set aside $896,000 to provide additional teachers to five schools dealing with declining student enrollment.

The money will allow Tata to provide more teachers than normal to Aversboro, Baileywick, Hilburn, Jeffreys Grove and Root elementary schools.

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

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