'Green plan' familiar

Staff WriterMay 31, 2011 

— Wake County's "green plan" for student assignments is finding support from those who think every address in Wake County should come with a definite school assignment.

An early survey shows that most parents see the green plan as too much like the approach of the 2000s, when growth required frequent reassignment of base schools and long rides for some students who were bused for diversity.

But school officials say the green plan would:

Attempt to reduce how often students are shifted to different schools to a maximum of once per elementary school, middle school and high school. If reassignment for growth occurs, expanded "grandfathering" rules would allow students to stay with transportation at their existing school.

Do a better job of keeping students together through their K-12 years.

Reduce how often traditional-calendar elementary schools feed into year-round middle schools and vice versa, addressing complaints that having siblings on different schedules makes it hard on families.

"The green course of action seeks to make improvements to the current Wake County schools assignment plan," said Tamani Anderson Powell, a member of the student assignment task force.

Several factors that supporters of the school board's Republican majority found unworkable, however, survive in the green plan, including the use of busing to balance school populations. Under the green plan, the desired balance would be based on students' achievement levels.

The plan uses average student achievement data to send students in areas with historically low student performance to schools where achievement is typically high. The goal would be to keep schools within 10 percent of the current countywide academic average of 78 percent passing on state exams.

Green gains support

Democratic school board member Keith Sutton said the green plan makes more sense to families used to the way students have long been assigned in Wake. Not only is it more familiar to parents, but it would also make it easier than the blue plan for schools to plan for predictable numbers of students each year.

"You have some reasonable sense of where your children will go to school," Sutton said.

"In my eyes, the green plan has more parental involvement in determining what the school will be than the choice plan," said Yevonne Brannon, a former county commissioner and leader of the grassroots group the Great Schools in Wake Coalition.

She doesn't believe the school administration's projection that 85 percent to 90 percent of families will get their top two school choices under the blue plan. That number could be reached only by counting the thousands of students who will get to remain at their school through "grandfathering," she said.

Parents' choices made under the blue plan would be weighed behind what she called the "Oz curtain," summoning up images of the initially mysterious huckster in the classic film "The Wizard of Oz." And newcomers will have a far smaller chance of getting their top choices under the blue plan, Brannon said.

Growth still an issue

Others are not convinced.

"The green plan is more of a node-based assignment plan, and it looks like it may not accommodate the growth we'll be seeing in the future," said Deborah Prickett, a member of the Republican majority.

Nodes are small geographic areas which have long been the basis for school assignment in Wake.

"Also, with just the very quick view I was able to give it, based on the chart they provided, it looked like transportation costs would be lower with the blue plan versus the green plan and in this economy that could be a benefit," Prickett said.

School officials have said it won't be possible to compare costs until parents' wishes are known and one plan is chosen.

Last fall, a plan under development by board member John Tedesco was scratched partly because it didn't include a base assignment for each address. Republican member Debra Goldman, who has not commented on the new plans, sided with Democrats to kill a plan with many similarities with the blue plan.

The argument against base assignments has been that they handcuff the system when an area outgrows its nearby schools.

"I do think that the problem we've had for a long time is growth and to manage stability in the face of growth I think can sometimes be challenging," Tedesco said.

Brannon, of Great Schools in Wake, said the group is still reviewing both plans but worries about the lack of details, including the missing middle school and high school information.

"If you're going to start with two plans we need the entire plan with all the data," Brannon said.

Tata has said sample assignments for the higher levels will be available before the comment period ends June 12.

Staff writer Jay Price contributed to this story.

tommy.goldsmith@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929

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