A last-minute effort Tuesday to change the Wake County student assignment plan that divided the new and old school board members fell short.
The school board didn’t pass an amendment to the assignment plan to allow families in the Cary Park community to stay at the popular but crowded Mills Park Elementary School. Old and new members went on to unanimously adopt the 2017-18 student assignment plan, which is largely focused on filling three new schools: River Bend Middle and Rogers Lane Elementary in Raleigh and Hortons Creek Elementary in Cary.
“It’s never an easy decision to make when we’re making assignment choices,” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, who was unanimously elected Tuesday the new chairwoman of the school board.
For nearly three months, families from the Blackstone at Amberly community and the northern part of Cary Park have urged school leaders not to move them from Mills Park to Hortons Creek. The focus stayed on that area Tuesday night with the attention turning to the 43 Cary Park children affected.
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Last week, the school board had given its tentative approval to the new assignment plan, but the plan brought more discussion because three of the eight board members sworn into office Tuesday were new. New board member Lindsay Mahaffey proposed allowing the Cary Park students stay at Mills Park.
Mahaffey was joined by new board member Roxie Cash, who was sworn in 17 years after she had left the board. Cash, a former board chairwoman, said it was disappointing that the new board members hadn’t been involved in the assignment process before Tuesday.
“It’s not the numbers,” Cash said. “It’s the neighborhood being broken up.”
Wake annually moves thousands of students to fill new schools and to reduce crowding at existing schools. School officials, in a news release late Tuesday night, estimated not more than 2,369 current students would be affected by the changes outlined in the plan.
School administrators want to reduce the level of crowding at Mills Park, which is one of Wake’s biggest elementary schools at 1,050 students. But parents of some of the 228 students who could be moved say the school can handle its current enrollment.
“One of the most difficult things the board is asked to do is to say we have to right-size the school and this is the right way to do it,” said school board member Bill Fletcher.
Christine Kushner, who was elected vice chairwoman over Keith Sutton on Tuesday, also cited how some Cary Park students will be able to grandfather at Mills Park if they provide their own transportation.
Cash, Mahaffey, Sutton and Donald Agee voted for the amendment allowing the Cary Park students to stay. Fletcher, Kushner, Johnson-Hostler and Jim Martin voted no.
It would have taken five votes for the amendment to pass. The board is down a member due to the death of Zora Felton.
The board agreed to a plan that will allow some current fourth-grade students at Mills Park and Alston Ridge elementary schools to avoid having to go to four different schools in four years. If those students accept reassignment to Hortons Creek in 2017, they’ll be allowed to “grandfather” at Mills Park Middle School and not go to a new middle school opening near Alston Ridge Elementary in 2019.
While it’s received less parental attention, the new assignment plan has several other components including:
▪ Rogers Lane Elementary will get students from Barwell, Hodge and Walnut Creek elementary schools;
▪ River Bend Elementary will become a traditional-calendar school to match River Bend Middle’s calendar;
▪ River Bend Middle will get students from Durant, East Millbrook, East Wake, Rolesville and Wendell middle schools;
▪ Students will move from Wendell Middle to East Wake Middle and vice versa;
▪ Students will move from Knightdale Elementary to Hodge Road Elementary.
School board delays bonuses for employees
The Wake County school board delayed a vote Tuesday on a plan to award a one-time $500 bonus to employees who are making less than $15 an hour.
Board members said they want changes to the plan, which includes $2.5 million in state and local money, such as excluding employees who’ve worked in Wake for less than a year. Staff will bring a revised plan Dec. 20.
Around half of Wake’s support staff, or 4,300 employees, are potentially eligible for the bonus. The group includes employees such as teacher assistants, school cafeteria workers, bus drivers, mechanics, custodians and clerical staff.