Wake hoping to reach deal to lease Governor Morehead School site

Staff writerDecember 9, 2011 

— Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata said he’s hoping to soon reach a deal with state education leaders that would allow them to keep the Governor Morehead School for the Blind open while also providing space for a new Wake school.

Under a deal being negotiated with the state Department of Public Instruction, Wake would lease the land housing the Morehead School in Raleigh and use vacant parts of the campus. The lease deal would allow state education leaders to help come up with the money to keep the Morehead School open on the site.

“It would be fantastic to save that program and use that land,” Tata said at a press conference today. “It makes too much sense not to do it.”

Legislators want to close one of the three state residential schools for deaf and blind students to save $5.5 million a year. Legislators asked the state Department of Public Instruction to recommend which school to close.

After intense lobbying from parents and legislators, State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson announced last month a plan that would keep the three schools largely unchanged.

The Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh would become a satellite of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson, with its administration consolidated there. The Raleigh school would keep its students and its name..

The plan for the schools will include a recommendation to lease vacant space on the campuses to charter schools, regional schools, or school districts in order to raise money. Tata said the school system has been talking with Atkinson and DPI for the last two, three months on a lease deal for the Morehead School site.

“We’re very interested in that land and those buildings,” Tata said. “It seems to be a win-win in every sense.”

Tata said the Morehead School, which site on about 60 acres west of downtown Raleigh, near N.C. State University, is a prime location. He said Wake would have multiple uses for the vacant buildings on site because they have a shortage of seats for students in that area of the county.

Tata also pointed to how saving the Morehead School would help Wake’s pre-kindergarten program for visually impaired students. He said some of those Wake students go on to attend the Morehead School.

Tata said he’s waiting to hear more from DPI about the lease arrangement before presenting the deal to the school board for approval.

Also today, Tata discussed several other topics, including:

* Tata said the magnet school application process that opened Monday is running smoothly.

Tata said 3,541 applications have come in so far, which is slightly less than the 3,672 that came in as of the same time last year. Tata touted the new feature that lets applicants know how many seats are available at the individual schools.

Some parents have complained about seeing magnet schools listing only a handful of available seats. Tata said that’s the same number open to non-magnet students as in past years but now parents can see the information for themselves.

Tata said parents shouldn’t feel discouraged from applying because those who don’t get their top choice will be put on a wait list for when more seats open up. He said that they had assumed that all the rising sixth-graders and rising ninth-graders in magnet schools are planning to stay in the program but which won’t happen. The application period runs to Dec. 19.

* Tata also said he’s optimistic that Wake’s high schools will retain their accreditation from AdvancED following a number of changes made by school leaders to address the organization’s concerns.

AdvancED had put Wake’s high schools on “accreditation warned” status in March, giving Wake a year to address problems relating to how the school board was governing the school system.

During a visit Nov. 29-30 to monitor Wake’s compliance, Tata said the response from AdvancED was now very positive. A report is expected in the next 30 days.

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