Wake school board approves 2013-14 assignment plan

Controlled-choice plan to reach end

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2012 

  • Malone’s seat to come open The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to begin seeking applications to fill a vacancy that will open when Chris Malone resigns Dec. 31 to take his seat in the state House. Applicants must live in school board district 1, which covers Wake Forest, Rolesville, Wendell, Zebulon and part of Knightdale. The person chosen by the school board would finish out Malone’s term, which runs through November 2013. Applicants should submit a letter of interest of no more than five pages outlining their backgrounds and listing three strategies for advancing the school board’s strategic plan. Applicants also should submit a résumé and three letters of recommendation. All documents submitted are considered public records. The deadline to submit is Jan. 4. Materials may be sent online to district1vacancy@wcpss.net or mailed to c/o District 1 Board of Education Vacancy, Wake County Board of Education, Crossroads I, 5625 Dillard Drive, Cary, NC 27518.

— Wake County’s choice-based student assignment plan effectively died Tuesday with the school board’s 5-4 vote to adopt an approach that again ties each address to a specific school.

The new assignment plan officially goes into effect for the 2013-14 school year, but some elements start immediately. Starting Wednesday, new students who move into Wake will be assigned to the school tied to their address and won’t be given a list of schools to choose from. Also Wednesday, seven crowded elementary schools will stop taking new students for the rest of the school year with six more schools potentially joining that group.

The choice plan, adopted in October 2011 under the tenure of the former Republican board majority, had only been in use since year-round schools started in July. It originally was to have remained in effect for three years, but the new Democratic majority said it was causing too many problems. They gave as an example higher transportation costs associated with buses’ running an additional 13,200 miles a day this school year.

“Regardless of what people think of countywide choice, we can’t afford it,” said Democratic board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner. “We don’t have the seats.”

The assignment plan was approved along party lines with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no.

The vote is the latest development in a three-year period of shifting board leadership and approaches to assignment. Last fall, Democrats won control of the board from a Republican majority elected only two years earlier on a platform of community schools and more parent choice.

Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously named Stephen Gainey the interim superintendent until a permanent schools chief is hired. Gainey, the assistant superintendent for human resources, has been filling in since Tony Tata, chosen by the former GOP majority, was fired as superintendent by the Democratic majority on Sept. 25.

Democratic school board chairman Keith Sutton said he’ll appoint a superintendent search committee within the next seven to 10 days with the goal of making a hire by July 1. Gainey, who has not said whether he’ll apply for the permanent job, will be paid an additional $5,750 a month in salary and travel expenses.

The choice plan was one of the initiatives that Tata had strongly advocated. Republican board members argued that the choice plan wasn’t given enough time, saying costs would have gone down over time as more families picked a school closer to where they live.

“I am diametrically opposed to this whole process,” said Republican board member Debra Goldman, “the way we’re hurrying this, how we’ve stopped the choice plan before a full year.”

Even though the choice plan is officially dead, its aftermath will be felt for several years.

The school board will allow students to stay at the schools they received under the choice plan, even if different from the schools to which their addresses are assigned.

In addition, Wake will attempt to honor for the 2013-14 school year the requests of families of rising sixth- and ninth-graders who want to go to the middle school or high school to which they would have been assigned under the choice plan.

Citing the lack of time, the board directed staff to develop for the 2013-14 school year a plan that uses base attendance lines from the 2011-12 school year, the last one before the choice plan was implemented.

The plan adopted Tuesday officially reassigns fewer than 1,500 students, mostly to fill three new schools in northeastern Wake.

The plan also sets enrollment caps at 13 schools. If they hit a certain enrollment level new students who move into their assignment area will be sent to other schools for the rest of the school year. Seven schools have already hit the target figure: Brooks, Conn, Davis Drive, Hunter, Lacy, Mills Park and Wiley elementary schools.

The board will decide in the spring whether to keep the caps for the 2013-14 school year.

After losing Tuesday on the vote on the plan, all the Republican board members except Deborah Prickett voted to give the two-thirds approval needed to waive policy to immediately impose the enrollment caps.

Democratic board members touted the new assignment plan’s elements of choice, including a period in which families can request a transfer to a school that has space. They also touted the way it incorporates changes parents had asked for in past years, such as allowing all students to stay at their current school if their address is reassigned. It also set up transfer rules that would guarantee that students entering kindergarten, sixth-grade and ninth-grade could go to the same schools as their older siblings.

“What we’re offering families is a wonderful compromise that is the best chance for stability for families in a long time,” said Democratic board member Susan Evans.

Now the school system will work to develop a more comprehensive plan for the 2014-15 school year. Board members said they’d look at the concerns that parents had raised with the 2011-12 attendance lines to see what changes should be made in the future.

But some board members complained that dropping the choice plan means they’re subjecting parents in 2014-15 to their fourth assignment plan in four years.

“I’m not hearing people clamoring for reassignment,” Prickett said. “People were happy with the choice plan.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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