Wake Ed

May 15, 2014

Wake County school board uncertain about how far to extend “stay where you start”

Some Wake County school board members think “stay where you start” should apply to all grade levels and some say it should only be for a few grades when families are reassigned..

The Wake County school board is grappling with how far it should provide “stay where you start” for students who are reassigned in the future.

Some students, such as those grandfathered in under the choice plan, are being guaranteed stay where you start at their current school. They’ll also keep their bus service.

But the board is unsure whether to provide “stay where you start” to all students or just some who’d be reassigned in future years. About the only sure thing is that those students who will be able to stay will have to provide their own transportation.

“Stay where you start” has been the buzzword in Wake in recent years after years of parents complaining about the uncertainty of their children being moved to different schools.

It’s part of the revised student assignment policy adopted by the school board last May.

“Students will have the opportunity to stay at the same school with their siblings through the exit grade without experiencing involuntary changes in school assignment,” according to the policy. “However, when reassignments are necessary for the opening of a new school this may not be guaranteed.”

The policy also says that “factors for consideration” include “providing an opportunity for students to remain at the school which they are attending.”

During the May 1 student assignment seminar, board members couldn’t come to an agreement on how far to extend stay where you start. Click here for the handout from the seminar.

Board members did agree to continue grandfathering, with transportation, the students who picked schools under the choice plan in the 2012-13 school year that are not their base schools or calendar-option schools. The board opted to grandfather those students when the choice plan was discontinued in the middle of that school year.

“We knew when we did that that we would have to weather this bubble for quite a few years before we can digest the mouse we swallowed as a boa constrictor,” board member Jim Martin said.

Laura Evans, senior director of student assignment, said 10,036 students are still covered by that grandfathering provision while they’re at their choice school.

Where there was disagreement was over whether to provide stay where you start to all students who are reassigned or to treat kids differently depending on whether they’re being moved to a newly opening school or another existing school.

For instance, some board members said that stay where you start should be provided to all grade levels reassigned to an existing school but only for some grades reassigned to a new school.

"The idea of the all grades versus partial grades is if you're being reassigned existing school to existing school, you don't get quite the perk of existing school to new school,” Martin said. “The thought was if the new school is out there, then we'd restrict the grandfathering options. But if it's old school to old school, just rearrangement, then we'd probably be more lenient in what grades could grandfather."

But some board members had a more restrictive interpretation.

"If we're moving kids from existing school to existing school, we've got an overcrowded situation here, we've got an under enrolled situation here,” said board member Bill Fletcher. “To postpone the impact of that tough choice for as much as six years doesn't make any sense.

If it's a new school. it's even more straightforward. I really think that providing the transfer back, or grandfathering, or whatever terminology you want to use, the upper grade or the upper two grades is sufficient."

School board member Susan Evans said she agreed with Fletcher.

Laura Evans gave board members her opinion that they should be consistent and handle it the same way if a student is reassigned to an existing school or a new school. She said the past practice of providing grandfathering without transportation to rising fourth-, fifth- and eighth-graders has worked well.

With no resolution to the issue, the board agreed to come back to the issue later. They could bring it back up at Tuesday’s work session.

But one thing that board members agreed is that grandfathering without transportation would remain the norm. The kids grandfathered by the choice plan would be the exception.

"On future grandfathering, our thinking is that in general that's without transportation,” Susan Evans said. “It was a special circumstance from this choice plan back to base and what we did for those families for which promises had been made."

School board chairwoman Christine Kushner said they need to keep in mind that not providing transportation to grandfathered students puts some families at a disadvantage. She said that not providing bus service will “remove that choice from a lot of families that do require transportation.”

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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