Wake delays placing students under new assignment plan

Families on round one waiting lists now won’t be assigned until April 9, instead of this week

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.com khui@newsobserver.comMarch 28, 2012 

— Wake County schools’ new choice-based assignment system continued to face pointed complaints Tuesday – from accusations that officials misrepresented some schools’ capacity numbers to a new two-week delay for some students to learn their assignment for next year.

However, Wake officials said about 14,000, or 74 percent, of first-round applicants got their first choice under the new system. Superintendent Tony Tata said that people who are unhappy represent a minority of parents in the 147,000-student system but that each complaint is important and will be addressed.

Some Wake parents who applied to specific schools in the first round, believing system figures that showed at least a few seats were available, said Tuesday that they were shocked to learn that some of the schools already had as many as 50 more students assigned than seats, leaving no vacancies.

“We’ve been more transparent than any assignment plan that we’ve had from Wake County,” Tata, a chief architect of the plan, said during a break in Tuesday’s school board meeting.

In opening remarks, board member Susan Evans offered up a list of complaints she is hearing from constituents – from limited choices for newcomers to families who were given their third or fourth choices of schools.

“I want the public to know I am listening to them and understand their concern in these areas,” Evans said, adding that it might be necessary to reassess the choice plan and return to a system based on families’ addresses.

Most of the nearly 30 speakers during a public-comment period raised complaints about the new plan, including Raleigh resident Lee Hogewood and others who dressed in black to denote their families’ “unassigned” status.

“Nobody publicized this possibility,” said Hogewood, whose son hasn’t yet been assigned to a middle school for sixth grade. “These unassigned students are being treated like collateral damage. They deserve better.”

School officials said the notification on first-round choices was pushed back because the number of students on waiting lists for placement in regular schools won’t be final until April 9. The lists are being shuffled to reflect new information on choices, including the effect of 233 students placed at magnet schools on Friday, opening up slots at regular schools.

The school system shut down the selection process over the weekend to process the new information. Because of the shutdown, the end of round two of the selection process has been extended past the April 9 closing date to 10 p.m. on April 12. The notification of the results of round two has also been pushed back to April 26.

Transparency on capacity

The capacity issue arose out of online data available to parents during the first round of the new choice system. The Wake website said that several schools had “five or fewer” or “three or fewer” slots available.

“What we did was provide transparency, because less than five, we didn’t know how many would be choosing out of the school and how many would be choosing into the school,” Tata said.

Updated information now lists negative seats at some schools, showing how few spots are open. Board member Chris Malone and Tata characterized the overpopulation of some elementary schools as a remnant of the former assignment system, which kept sending students to overcapacity neighborhood schools.

Some parents say they would have made different choices for their children had they known the true availability. “Without capacity, there is no choice for us in the choice program,” said Carpenter Elementary parent Maria Reier.

Other information wasn’t made plain, Reier said. For example, all siblings in a family had to make exactly the same choices to take advantage of sibling priority.

“Not only is this a poor plan, but the way it has been executed has made it unacceptable for Wake County,” she said.

Five Points parent Maria Bleier said her family lives three blocks from Underwood Elementary. They were told it was their first choice option and chose it. Instead, they were put into the unassigned status given to more than 200 students.

Amy Lee, a member of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, criticized Tata for what his representation of the new plan before it went into effect.

“Liar, liar pants on fire,” Lee said. “Mr. Tata, are your pants on fire? From the public’s perspective, your pants are a raging inferno.”

Deadline pushed back

Magnet school applicants learned Friday on Wake’s website whether they had been accepted. But school officials say they won’t be able to keep their goal of a Monday posting to show which students from the round one wait lists would take the slots emptied by magnet-school students.

School officials said the reason for the delay is that parents have until April 9 to turn down their place on wait lists for the first round.

Under Wake’s assignment plan, families pick from a list of schools, based on their address, where they’d like to attend. It replaces a system where students were assigned to a specific school based on their address.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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