Facing projections of a record 153,000 students for the 2012-2013 school year, Wake County school board members agreed Tuesday to wait for a year to set aside specific seats for students from low-income areas who have not indicated what school they want to attend.
Previously, the board had asked staff to assign such students to the systems better performing and usually more popular schools to promote a diverse student population.
However, staff said Tuesday the crush of new students meant that there was no practical way to allocate specific seats for students who havent enrolled yet.
Setting aside seats for those who havent chosen would mean turning away some students who have made a selection, said administrator Brad McMillen.
We would have to say, There are seats available, but not for you, McMillen said.
The decision not to set aside seats got backing from both Republicans and Democrats. The decision came as the latest chapter in a three-year struggle over student assignment, during which a previous emphasis on diversity was discarded.
The choice-based plan in effect this year was generally opposed by Democrats who were concerned about high concentrations of low-performing students in downtown schools. The board and administration have begun work on a plan that would again tie addresses in Wake County to specific schools and to address balance among schools based on academic achievement.
Democratic member Keith Sutton, whose district includes Southeast Raleigh, expressed concern that needs of low-performing schools and students could be passed over without a specific remedy. Schools superintendent Tony Tata said the system has already set up means to work with schools that appear to be facing real academic trouble as the school year progresses.
There is still a concern that everybody has of managing the concentration of high-need students, Sutton said.
We need to be proactive, so that we are not sitting here at the end of the year saying, Oh, what happened?
The process can include monitoring schools performance and providing more help to schools by targeting federal dollars, Tata said.
Republican members John Tedesco and Debra Goldman backed the delay, noting that schools staff are already offering high-performing schools as choices to families who are still in the process of registering.
In addition, Tedesco said, the board is already committed to making changes to the new choice-based plan, changes that could take care of the potential concentrations of low-performing students.
Seeing that we have already approved that next year we are going to be making some changes, I would be inclined to take the staffs recommendations, Tedesco said. They are seeing it from the ground up.
Democratic member Susan Evans said she is worried about some of the signs emerging from the choice plan. In one example, more than 20 schools have had increases of more than 10 percentage points in the ranks of white kindergartners.
While I am not happy with some of the trends that have evolved with the choice process I do believe that trying to do this at this point is probably too little, too late, Evans said.
The item on set-asides was on the agenda for Tuesdays 5:30 p.m. full board meeting, but was pulled from the lineup based on the boards agreement at the work session discussion.