CARY — Wake County school administrators pitched the merits of the new choice-based student assignment plan Friday to real estate agents who wonder how the changes will affect their ability to sell homes.
School administrators touted the way the new plan will allow agents to assure families they will no longer have to worry about student reassignment. But school officials say the price for this stability is losing the guarantee that a family will go to a specific school based on their address, posing concerns for real estate agents.
"This is a hard reset and mental adjustment to make," said Susan Pullium, a member of Wake's student assignment task force, to 225 members of the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors. "There's no longer base assignments."
The new choice plan slated to go into effect next school year does away with automatic assignments to a specific school based on students' addresses. Instead of base assignments, families will pick from at least five elementary school choices - typically their closest ones - and two middle school and two high school choices.
School officials say their goal is to give as many applicants as possible their top choice.
The first round of the application process begins Jan. 17. A second round starts March 19 for new arrivals, those who forgot to apply and those who aren't happy with their first assignment.
After April 9, walk-in registration will be taken, with new families likely attending schools that have remaining space.
Real estate agents are an important part of spreading the word about Wake's outreach efforts because the new plan allows current students to stay at the schools they already attend.
This means most families who participate in the choice process next year will be new to the school system.
To help real estate agents and parents, Wake will make it possible to enter a school's name online and see which addresses include that school as an option. "If there's any group that needs to understand and market this, it's this group," Wake Superintendent Tony Tata said..
Tata told the crowd that, based on how choice plans have been introduced in other districts, the new assignment plan should improve home values.
The new plan would end the former practice in which thousands of students were reassigned annually to fill new schools, ease crowding at existing schools and promote diversity. Under the new plan, once a student is assigned to a specific elementary school, the child would be guaranteed a specific middle school and high school.
"You know where you will be for the next 12-13 years," Pullium said. "They're now ready to get into the school culture. They don't have to worry they're going to be reassigned."
The response from the crowd varied.
Bill Fletcher, a former Wake school board member and a real estate agent in Cary, said it will be difficult to answer when buyers ask which school their children will attend.
"It will be interesting to hear how parents will respond to getting their third choice," Fletcher said.
Kris Kiegiel, a real estate agent from Cary, said she's "on the fence" about the plan because families could be shut out of their desired schools if they are already full. To avoid reassignment, the new plan calls for not admitting more students than a school can hold.
"The real question is: Will parents be able to get their closest school?" Kiegiel said.
Judy Edwards, a real estate agent from Cary, said she also has concerns about not having base assignments. But, overall, she likes the new plan over the old one that promoted socioeconomic diversity as one of its principles.
"Neighborhood schools are what we should be promoting," Edwards said.