CARY — Wake County school board members agreed Thursday to scrap a plan drafted by school staff that could have resulted in large numbers of students being moved to different schools next year.
The staff proposal would have again tied addresses to specific schools for the 2013-14 school year, but also changed many longstanding school attendance lines. The board agreed that it made more sense to go back to the 2011-12 school attendance zones with only limited changes for next year.
The agreement crossed party lines, in contrast to the recent acrimony between Democratic and Republican school board members over last week’s firing of Superintendent Tony Tata.
“I would much rather take what were the base assignments last year and make the few tweaks for the 2013-14 year for the extraordinary cases,” Democratic board member Susan Evans said.
Evans added that using last year’s attendance lines would let the district “buy more time” to take a comprehensive view of student assignment for the 2014-15 year.
Republican board member Chris Malone joked that “if we get along any better, (the media will) have to write a story about it.
“People are telling me they need a rest,” Malone said. “This county could use a rest right now.”
Laura Evans, senior director of growth and planning, said they’ll need to make some adjustments to the 2011-12 maps because they need to draw up attendance lines for two new schools opening next year and two schools that opened this year under the choice plan.
Last year’s board – in which the Republicans held the majority – initiated a choice-based plan for this school year in which families were given a list of schools and allowed to choose which their children would attend.
The new Democratic board majority that took office after last fall’s election complained that the choice plan promoted instability and didn’t do enough to protect certain schools from having too many low-performing students.
That Democratic majority cited complaints about implementation of the choice plan and the way the new staff plan was developed as reasons for firing Tata.
They ordered school staff in June draw another plan – the third in three years – for the 2013-14 school year that would balance enrollments by student achievement and assign students to schools within a reasonable distance from where they live.
School assignment staff, noting the short time frame for completing a plan, said they began by assigning neighborhoods to their closest elementary schools, then making adjustments for capacity and to balance enrollments by student test scores. They left largely in place the middle school and high school assignments that were part of the choice plan.
But parents began complaining when they looked up their children’s assignments under the proposal and found them different from their current schools.
The student assignment staff had promised that the newest plan would let students stay at their current schools even if their neighborhoods were reassigned. But the board complained that this grandfathering option didn’t help in cases where neighborhoods would lose the schools they’d been assigned for many years.
“The more I look at the maps that were released, the level of reassignment is very troubling to me,” Democratic board member Jim Martin said. “It’s very troubling to all the constituents I’ve talked to.”
Republican board member Debra Goldman said they don’t have to go about “recreating the wheel.”
“I don’t know we’re going to find the perfect plan for every person in Wake County, but our job is to do the best job we can,” Goldman said. “If we have 90 percent of people who are happy where they are, why don’t we start there? Why are we starting over?
Temporary Superintendent Stephen Gainey backed the decision to drop the draft maps, saying it will give the staff more time “to do this right.” Gainey said that, at the Oct. 16 meeting, he’ll propose a list of public hearing dates to gather input on any changes.