Wake superintendent defends proposed changes in school schedules

Staff writerFebruary 10, 2012 

— Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata defended today a plan to change the schedules at most of the district’s schools this fall while also saying school leaders may reconsider where they relocate Panther Creek High School’s freshmen.

On Tuesday, school staff unveiled a plan to change school schedules for the 2012-13 school year to try to save $10 million. Also that day, the school board approved leasing a office building to house freshmen from Panther Creek High in Cary.

Tata, speaking today at a press conference at Wake’s main school bus maintenance facility, touted the cost savings and improved efficiency in bus service that would come from changing when schools start and end their day.

“It’s $10 million in cost avoidance that we can plow back into teachers and students,” Tata said.

School officials say that the bell schedule changes, which will give drivers more time to pick up and drop off students, will help maintain state funding. The state calculates transportation funding based on an efficiency formula that looks at factors such as the number of buses on the road and the average number of riders.

Without the new schedules, Wake school officials say the district’s transportation efficiency rating would drop to the point that it would see a $4 million cut in state funding.

“If our efficiency drops, we have to pick up the tab out of local dollars, which we don’t want to do,” Tata said. “We want to save our dollars and use local dollars for local needs.”

School officials say that not only will the schedule changes eliminate the need to buy more buses but it will also let the district reduce the current fleet. They say this would save $6 million.

But the schedule changes mean most schools will see their times shift by five to 10 minutes a day. Times would shift by at least 11 minutes at 42 schools. For 18 schools, the schedules would shift by at least 50 minutes.

The changes are likely to produce a parental backlash at some schools. Tata said they’ve received 1,100 comments since an online survey opened at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The survey runs until 10 p.m. Thursday. Comments will be forwarded to school board members before they discuss the proposal on Feb. 21.

Under board policy, the bell schedules for the upcoming school year must be adopted by April 1.

“We think it’s a win-win from a school system perspective as far as the best use of taxpayer funding,” Tata said. “There’s an impact on individual families so that’s why we want to hear from families.”

To help parents deal with the potential changes, Tata said staff is talking with schools and groups like the YMCA that provide before- and after-school care. He said they’re also looking at what educational opportunities that can be provided at schools before- and after-school.

Tata also talked today about decisions made by the board on Tuesday to help relieve overcrowding at two high schools.

The school board agreed to pay $1.75 million to buy the vacant Garner Towne Square 10 movie theater on Timber Drive. The building will be converted to house freshmen from nearby Garner High starting in the 2013-14 school year.

The board also agreed to pay $12.38 per square foot to lease a 77,574-square-foot office building at 3700 Pleasant Church Grove Road in Morrisville. It will be converted to operate as an off-campus ninth-grade center for Panther Creek High starting this August.

The board chose the office building for Panther Creek over another option that would have meant placing modular classroom units on the site of a future middle school next to Alston Ridge Elementary. That option would mean that the ninth-grade center wouldn’t be ready until the 2013-14 school year.

Both deals would also need to be approved by county commissioners.

Some parents have complained that the office building is too far rom Panther Creek to provide convenient access for freshmen to travel to the main campus to take classes that wouldn’t be available at the ninth-grade center.

“I don’t know how they would make it work,” said Cindy Sinkez, a parent of a student who expects to be a freshman at Panther Creek High this fall.

Based on the parental feedback, Tata said that he will talk with school board chairman Kevin Hill about whether the board should take another look at using the office building.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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