Wheeler: Wake schools should reassess assignment plan

Assess risks. Shore up weaknesses. Weigh consequences. Tally costs. Aren't those the things military folks do before heading into a horrendously complicated battle?

We seem to have skipped a few of those steps on our way to implementing the nearly incomprehensible Wake County schools assignment plan. It's especially perplexing given that Superintendent Tony Tata is a former general.

To parents becoming frightfully aware of some of those emerging weaknesses, costs and consequences, Tata has said to "wait until the choice process plays out" before sounding the alarm bells.

Anyone paying attention can see that "clang, clang, clang" should already be echoing throughout the land.

Clang. Magnet applications were down this year. School officials seemed surprised. Let me help: Under the old system, if you tried out a magnet and didn't like it, you could return to your base school. If you got into a magnet elementary but didn't like your magnet middle choices, your base awaited.

Now if you try out a magnet and don't like it, there ain't no base to return to. No house in Wake County is assigned to a particular school; parents rank school choices from a list the system provides.

Leave a magnet under the new plan, and you'll likely get a seat at whatever school has room, no matter how far it is from your house. The magnet system is now in jeopardy.

Clang. The new "feeder patterns" lock children into K-12 paths. Locked in is "choice"?

Unhappy parents can participate in the choice period every year, but it appears that many schools will be overfilled by children guaranteed seats by the feeder pattern. That will leave no room for siblings of current students, some parents fear, or new Wake County residents.

Ah, yes, those poor new residents. Clang, clang, clang. And the poor homeowners with no schoolchildren who don't get the picture yet.

Anyone who moves to Wake County in May, say, after the choice period ends, will have to choose among potentially far-flung or poor-performing schools with empty seats. And homeowners who spent big money to be near Lacy-Daniels-Broughton or Green Hope High can't use those schools as selling points any longer.

Clang. Elementary schools such as Partnership and charter middle schools such as Exploris will have difficulty attracting students. Partnership has a feeder pattern that will lock in parents who previously could decide to return to a base middle school. And Exploris students apparently are last in line for high school choices because they technically exited the Wake school system.

In January, some parents removed eighth-graders from Exploris and enrolled them in their base middle schools. At that time, the students were still grandfathered in to the base high schools they were assigned under the previous plan.

March 16 is the day parents who have ranked choices will find out where their children have been assigned. The casualty count and collateral damage could be considerable.

At this point, it's nearly impossible to remember what the new assignment plan was supposed to fix, but no one can possibly hope it fails.

Is it too late to sound retreat?

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