CARY — The new Democratic majority on the Wake County school board pushed today for changes today in the new student assignment plan as Republican board members and Superintendent Tony Tata warned about the disruptions that could come from the revisions.
No formal decisions were made today but Democratic members asked staff to study changes such as making student achievement a higher priority than proximity when parents rank which schools they want to attend.
Several Democratic members also proposed delaying implementation for a year of changes that would result in some families getting different middle school and high school assignments than they now receive.
Democrats also said they want to look at setting aside a fixed percentage of seats at high-performing schools for applicants from low-performing areas.
"We have a responsibility as a board of nine to make sure this plan is the best for our community," said new Democrat board member Christine Kushner.
But Republican school board member Chris Malone pointed to how late it is in the assignment process. Under Wakes new choice-based plan, families will begin making their school selections for the 2012-13 school year on Jan. 17. Republicans suggested waiting until the 2013-14 school year to implement changes.
We need to make as minimal a change as possible, Malone said. We have to trust staff and let them do their job.
But new Democratic school board member Jim Martin said they were only in this position now because the board had jumped adoption of the new plan in October. The board voted then after Tata argued they couldnt afford to delay adoption any later
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.
Last fall's election brought in a Democratic 5-4 majority, none of whose members had voted for the plan.
During todays work session, Democratic members pushed for consideration changes that would increase the diversity components of the plan.
One change staff will review is the impact of raising the priority that student achievement would have when families rank their choices. Kushner said student achievement wasnt ranked high enough in the selection priorities.
But Republican board member John Tedesco said that raising the priority on student achievement could result in students being displaced from their neighborhood schools.
Martin said that "neighborhoods don't have ownership of schools."
One change that had strong backing from Democrats today was to delay implementation of the use of feeder patterns" which tell elementary school students where they would have attendance priority for middle school and high school. The feeder patterns are supposed to provide stability by telling students where theyd attend school throughout their K-12 career.
But some parents have complained that they dont like how the feeder patterns will change where their children would have gone to middle school and high school.
Lets be realistic, said new Democratic board member Susan Evans. We cant tell any family entering kindergarten today that 13 years from now nothing will change.
Tata disagreed, saying that delaying the use of feeder patterns would change the plan.
The discussion was tense at times today with Republicans accusing Democrats of overstepping their responsibilities by telling administrators how to do their jobs. Republican board members also complained that they were not notified ahead of time about a meeting between the new Democratic board members and education consultant Michael Alves, who is helping advise Wake on the implementation of the new plan.