Wake school board wants to work with commissioners on school construction

khui@newsobserver.comJanuary 21, 2014 

  • Reducing student suspensions

    The Wake County school board gave initial approval Tuesday to policy changes that are expected to reduce how often students are suspended from school for “less serious,” nonviolent offenses.

    Barring aggravating circumstances, students wouldn’t be suspended from school for Level I offenses unless they commit three such offenses during the same semester. Principals would be encouraged to use alternatives such as in-school suspension to keep these students in school and learning.

    Examples of Level I offenses include noncompliance, disrespect, skipping class, inappropriate language, violating the dress code and having a cellphone visible in class.

    The board needs to have one more vote on the Code of Student Conduct before the changes go into effect for the 2014-15 school year.

— Wake County school board members voted Tuesday to work with county commissioners on school construction rather than just hand over authority for building, maintaining and renovating schools to them.

In November, Republican commissioners approved and proposed an inter-local agreement spelling out circumstances under which the school board might ask commissioners to take responsibility for school construction.

On Tuesday night, the school board approved a revised form of the agreement that gives them the option of turning over individual projects to the commissioners, but also lays out how both boards can work together on acquiring sites and designing schools.

“What we are working to do is to have enhanced collaboration and cooperation with the county commissioners,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said after the vote.

Board members said they forwarded a copy of the revised agreement to the commissioners on Tuesday, but county board Chairman Phil Matthews said he couldn’t comment until he has had a chance to review the changes.

With the school system in the early stages of a $983 million construction program, the pact could pave the way for changes in how schools are built and maintained. Both boards are expected to discuss the agreement at a joint meeting in February.

The Republican-led commissioners have been feuding with the school board since Democrats won a majority on that panel back from Republicans in 2011. The two boards temporarily put aside their differences to persuade voters to approve an $810 million school construction bond issue in October. But after the bond issue passed, the debate resumed.

One dispute is over who should control school construction.

Last year, commissioners unsuccessfully lobbied the General Assembly for a state law that would shift authority for school construction from the school board to the county commissioners.

Earlier this month, the commissioners had cited the school board’s lack of a response to the proposed agreement as one of the reasons they had refused to allocate $3 million needed to design four new schools. In the aftermath of that vote, the leaders of both boards held a private meeting Friday.

School board members reviewed the changes to the agreement behind closed doors Tuesday before unanimously voting in public to approve the document with their revisions.

“This is a good-faith attempt to work with them,” Kushner said. “It outlines a good-faith system of checks and balances.”

Changes made by the school board include laying out a detailed process for the county and schools staffs to work together on finding sites and developing school designs. The new wording also calls for both boards to meet together annually to discuss property acquisition, school building design and construction.

“This is an effort to expand that spirit of collaboration with county staff,” school board member Bill Fletcher said. “To go another mile to make sure the county commission is fully informed as to the processes we use and the clarity and specificity with which we go about that responsibility of building schools for our students.”

Also on Tuesday, the board heard feedback from meetings school administrators have held with principals and teachers about how they can help teachers do their jobs better. One of the “strong themes,” Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said, was to review options to restore having a consistent, districtwide, professional-learning team meeting time for teachers each week.

This could result in something similar to what was done in the 2009-10 school year when school was dismissed an hour early every Wednesday so that teachers could meet for planning and professional development. Critics called it “Wacky Wednesdays” because it resulted in parents having to pay additional child care costs.

Kushner advised her colleagues to be cautious about considering whether to restore that controversial program.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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