CARY — Facing a projected $2 million price tag, the Wake County school board balked Tuesday at guaranteeing bus transportation for 470 students to the schools they’ve been assigned to attend this fall.
Under Wake’s new student assignment plan, every elementary school is assigned to feed into a specific middle school and high school. Students were allowed to “grandfather” into a middle school or high school fed by the elementary school they attended this year, even if the school wasn’t on the list they were asked to choose from for next year.
School officials say those 470 students were bused last year under the old assignment policy to promote diversity, to attend a magnet school, or to get into a year-round school or out of one, and have opted to grandfather into a middle school or high school more distant than the choices they were given under the new policy.
Board members opted, however, not to guarantee bus service for those students, which school staff estimated would require an additional 30 buses and cost $2 million.
They voted 6-3 to direct staff to contact the parents of these students to offer them a spot at a school closer to where they live or, when possible, modify an existing bus route to transport them to the school they selected.
“It would be irresponsible to mandate ... if it does cost $2 million, when we don’t know where that (money) is coming from,” said school board member John Tedesco.
Administrators estimated that 80 percent of those students are from low-performing areas, which also tend to be low income.
Initially, more than 1,300 students faced assignment to a school without bus service. The number has dropped as those families were encouraged to participate in the school choice selection process.
School board member Jim Martin said providing bus service, even if it requires an extra bus, is the cost of doing business under the new plan.
School board member Susan Evans said they should guarantee the bus service given that families didn’t realize that feeders would now be mandated.
“Families are looking to us to give them some certainty in these crazy times they’re in with this transition to this new plan,” Evans said. “We’ve got a lot of people caught in the middle.”
Martin, Evans and Christine Kushner voted against the policy that does not guarantee bus service.