CARY — The fight over where to send students to school in Wake County has been intense, but the turnout was light Wednesday evening when parents were given a chance to provide feedback on a draft plan.
Fewer than 50 people turned out at Middle Creek High School for the first of six meetings being held across the county over the next two weeks to give the public an update on the plan being developed for the 2012-13 school year.
The meetings were announced by school officials on Monday.
"Hopefully more people will come in the next few weeks," said Beth Humes, a Raleigh parent who attended Wednesday.
Student assignment in the state's largest school district has dominated much of the discussion over the past two years.
The school board majority that took office in 2009 voted last year to eliminate the diversity policy that assigned students based on socioeconomic data to balance income levels at individual schools.
The change led to protests, arrests at school board meetings, a federal civil rights investigation and an inquiry that could threaten the accreditation of Wake's high schools.
The draft plan developed by Superintendent Tony Tata's student assignment task force would fundamentally change the way students are assigned.
School choices ranked
Under the new plan, families would rank where they want their children to attend from a list of several schools near their homes. Families also would be able to apply to magnet schools and high-performing schools.
During a July online test of the plan that drew more than 21,000 participants, parents placed a high priority on picking schools close to where they live and keeping their children on the same school calendar.
Tata will ask the school board to vote on the final plan by October.
On Wednesday, few of the written questions from the audience concerned how the new plan might affect diversity. Instead, parents focused on issues such as stability and keeping siblings together.
Susan Pullium, a member of the student assignment task force, said that stability would be greater because the new plan wouldn't constantly require moving students to ease crowding or to fill new schools, as had been the case in the past. Instead, she said, the school system would only fill schools to capacity and would fill new schools with volunteers.
"The goal of this plan is to stop reassignment," Pullium said.
The plan would allow all families to apply to a high-performing school, as defined by factors such as test scores and the qualifications of the teachers. In the case of families who live in Southeast Raleigh, their high-performing choices would be closer to the suburbs to free up seats at magnet schools.
One parent asked whether children could be bumped out by students who live farther away. Brad McMillen, a member of the task force, said that no student enrolled this year will be asked to give up a seat in 2012.
For children who will be kindergartners next year, he pointed out that priority will be given to families applying to attend their closest schools.
Another parent asked about the cost of the new plan. Pullium said they're still waiting for the transportation department to run the numbers to determine the cost.
"We're hoping transportation won't blow up the plan," Pullium said.
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