Wake County schools have busy agenda Tuesday

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 1, 2013 

A new Wake County school board will deal with a familiar, enduring issue on Tuesday – student assignment.

At a meeting in which four school board members will be sworn in, one of the panel’s first decisions will concern on the student assignment plan for the 2014-15 school year. But assignment is just one of many issues on an agenda that includes dealing with police officers who want to question students, a plan for serving academically gifted students and an offer to buy the district’s former headquarters in Raleigh.

“We will have a busy agenda,” school board Chairman Keith Sutton said.

Sutton said he hopes to continue as chair for another year. The board will select a chair and vice chair Tuesday after the swearing-in ceremony.

Newcomers Zora Felton and Monika Johnson-Hostler, along with returning board members Tom Benton and Bill Fletcher, were elected in October. The board will consist of seven registered Democrats, an unaffiliated member who used to be a Democrat and a registered Republican who has often sided with the Demcratic members.

Johnson-Hostler will join Sutton in becoming the second African-American member of the nine-person board. The board hasn’t had two African-American members since Cliffornia “Cliff” Wimberley and the late Vernon Malone served in 1977.

In the past 36 years, the Wake has shifted from having a largely white student enrollment to where minority students now make up the majority of the population.

“I’m hopeful that the community can see they’re truly being represented,” Johnson-Hostler said.

The new board members won’t get a honeymoon before voting on the recommendation from school assignment staff that no students be moved for the 2014-15 school year. Administrators say they want to hold off on reassigning students while they work on a plan to fill 14 new schools scheduled to open in the 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.

The new multi-year plan will include a review of all existing schools to see if they’re in line with the goals of the boards’ assignment policy. That guideline calls for balancing student achievement, proximity, stability and operational efficiency. The proposed time line has draft versions being presented to the public in the spring with the board making the final decision in October.

Wake last had a multi-year plan for the 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. The county system then switched to a choice-based plan before returning to a model that assigns students based on their address.

“A multi-year plan gives some stability to parents,” Sutton said.

Diversifying, serving gifted ranks

Another matter that could affect thousands of Wake County students is the adoption of the plan for serving students who are identified as academically or intellectually gifted.

The board is revising the district’s plan following the release in July of an independent audit that identified poorly organized programs and outdated policies for gifted students.

Eighteen percent of Wake’s 153,000 students are identified as gifted. But some groups are underrepresented. One of the goals of the new plan is to increase the number of academically gifted African American, Hispanic and low-income students who are served.

The plan also stresses teaching gifted students in their regular classes, as opposed to pulling them out for instruction. Teachers for academically and intellectually students would co-teach with regular classroom teachers.

School board member Jim Martin said the plan identifies the important need to get more under-represented groups served. But he said it’s lacking overall in details on how gifted students will be served.

“I don’t think the plan is well thought-out,” he said.

A policy for police probes

Also on the agenda is final adoption of a policy that lays out rules for how principals are to respond when police officers come on campus to question, search and/or arrest students.

Among the requirements in the new policy is that principals be present if a parent isn’t there when police officers question students on campus. Students as young as 14 can be questioned by police without their parents present.

The policy is meant for officers who are not assigned to schools who want to come on campus to talk with students about non-school related incidents.

Critics, such as Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, say the new policy could interfere with the ability of officers to do their jobs. But supporters say it will protect the rights of students while not hampering officers.

“We have no intent to impede the work of law-enforcement agencies in an emergency situation,” board member Tom Benton said when the policy was initially approved in October. “It will be used infrequently and it serves more as a guideline for principals when law-enforcement agencies have deemed a necessity to come and question a student on campus.”

Dealing with its old home

One of the last items on the agenda is a vote on a $6.8 million offer for the district’s former headquarters on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh.

The school board has been trying to get rid of the property since it agreed in 2010 to sell three administrative office buildings with the proceeds going to help pay for part of its new leased office space in Cary.

Wake had hoped to get $7.9 million from the sale of the 98,000-square-foot headquarters building on Wake Forest Road near the 440 Beltline. Wake had asked for as much as $9.8 million.

The building was reappraised this year at $6.8 million.

The board voted in July to defer action on a $5.1 million offer for the building after finding out that other suitors were interested in the property. The new offer is from Local Government Federal Credit Union.

It’s costing Wake $85,000 a year to pay for maintenance and utilities for the former headquarters building.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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