Wake County parents wondering where their children will go to school this fall should get some clarity today after school board members review the new student assignment plan.
No formal votes will be taken, but school board members say they expect by the end of today's meeting to give staff direction on what to do for student assignment for the 2012-13 school year. With the board back under Democratic control, the question now seems to be not whether but how much change will be made to the plan that was adopted in October under Republican leadership.
"There are two things that are clear," said Democratic board Vice Chairman Keith Sutton on Monday. "We can't stop the plan. Nor will the plan move full-steam ahead as is."
Sutton said areas that could be changed include the selection priorities for filling schools and doing more to keep schools from having too many low-performing students. He said they'll also want to look at some of the "feeder patterns," which tell elementary school students where they would have attendance priority for middle school and high school.
Changes could affect both the choices that families get and their chances of getting into the schools they want to attend.
With families set to begin making their choices Jan. 17, Republican school board member Chris Malone said the board should see how the plan works this fall and wait until the 2013-14 school year to implement changes.
"I would be very circumspect about makingchanges," Malone said. "That would be the prudent thing to do."
The new assignment plan will be a major change in how students are assigned to schools in the state's largest school district.
Families would no longer be assigned to a specific base school using their address. Instead, families will now have to choose from multiple choices with their elementary school options typically being their closest schools.
The plan carries out the policy change adopted in 2010 by Republicans that eliminated the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignments in favor of making proximity a higher priority.
Democrats have complained that the plan doesn't set aside seats at high-performing schools for applicants from low-performing areas. Republicans have charged that implementing seat asides would lead to a quota system.
Last fall's election brought in a Democratic 5-4 majority, none of whose members had voted for the plan. Sutton said they need to build "sufficient consensus" among the board members for the new plan.
"There may be difficult conversations," Sutton said. "But we've got to get all the conversations on the table."
Malone pointed to the work put in by Superintendent Tony Tata and his staff last year to develop the plan. He said that the Democrats would have to restart the whole process if they wanted to make changes for this fall, considering how much they had accused Republicans of acting without proper review.
"We need to show some faith in the staff that they got it done right," Malone said.
A coalition of groups, from those who support the old socioeconomic diversity policy to those who dislike the feeder patterns, have been lobbying the board to delay implementation.
If implementation is delayed, Wake would still have to come up with a plan for this fall for filling a new middle school in Rolesville, a new elementary school in Wake Forest and another one in North Raleigh.
But Sutton said he expects some version of the plan to move forward for this fall.
"There are some in the community who believe we should move the plan as is full-steam ahead," Sutton said. "There are some who believe we should stop or delay the plan. We need to find something in the middle."