Midtown Raleigh News

Wake assignment plan draws mixed reviews

North Raleigh mom Teri Wade would rather send her son to private school than have him drive 10 miles to Rolesville High.

The Wake County school board’s proposed assignment plans aims to fill the new suburban school by dipping south to Wade’s Cardinal Grove neighborhood, which is off Louisburg Road inside the Interstate 540 loop. Schools officials say shifting Cardinal Grove and its neighbors from nearby Millbrook High will add diversity at Rolesville.

“Once again, an oddly shaped attendance map has been drawn that reaches over I-540 and pulls several Raleigh neighborhoods out into the county,” Wade said. “I believe that the farther the school gets from home, the less involved the parents are likely to be. ... The commute would not only be farther, but new drivers would be navigating a busy north-south corridor for much of that commute.”

Wade said that if the reassignment plan passes, she’ll try to keep her kids in magnet schools. Failing that, they might be headed to a private school.

Wade’s children are among just 1,479 students – most in northern Wake – facing reassignment for the 2013-14 school year. That number, about 1 percent of the system’s population, is the smallest figure in recent history for the state’s largest school district.

The plan aims to fill brand-new Rolesville High and two schools that opened this year under the choice plan, Rolesville Middle and Richland Creek Elementary in Wake Forest. The proposal allows most families to revert to their 2011 assignments, an idea that has drawn praise from most school board members and many families who would stay put next year.

“The goal was to minimize reassignment, and this plan does that,” board member Jim Martin said Tuesday.

School board Chairman Kevin Hill said that even though a small number of children would be moved, the board will do its due diligence in reviewing the plan. A series of three public hearings starts Nov. 28. Hill also noted that data show that the choice plan is costing $1.1 million more to run buses an extra 13,200 miles a day.

The new plan would restore the practice of assigning every address to a specific school. Students could keep their bus service if they turn down a reassignment to a current school, but they would lose transportation if they turned down an assignment to one of the new schools.

Stability concerns

Kari Kristoffersen has three kids at North Forest Pines Elementary. It’s a year-round school, and she had planned to send her oldest to year-round Heritage Middle next year under the choice plan. She said she’s happy the new assignment plan allows her to keep the choice feeder pattern. Otherwise, her family would be assigned to traditional calendar Wakefield Middle.

“We love the year-round (calendar) and we want to stay on it, because it helps us take vacations,” Kristoffersen said.

She’s worried, however, about what changes the school board might make to assignments next year. “I feel like more important than diversity is stability,” she said. “They can’t keep changing your base school every year. It seems like every new year is a new assignment plan.”

That’s also a concern for board member Debra Goldman, who argued Tuesday that Wake should have stuck with the choice plan used this year. “Fifteen-hundred doesn’t sound like much out of 150,000, but if you’re one of the 1,500, it’s critical to you,” she said.

With other board members directing staff to develop a more comprehensive plan for 2014-2015, Goldman raised the specter of mass reassignments coming down the road.

“What happens after one year?” she said. “The community has been up and down like a yo-yo.”

Enrollment caps

The 2013-14 plan calls for a much greater use of “capping,” a practice designed to keep new students from attending severely overcrowded schools.

“If you cap a school, all existing students can stay,” Evans said. “If you propose reassignment, somebody has to change schools.”

Under the staff plan, 12 schools would be recommended for full caps as early as Dec. 12, meaning if they reach a certain number of students, then new people who move in after that point would not be allowed to attend this school year.

Laura Bromhal, a real-estate agent who has numerous listings inside the Beltline, said that won’t sit well with homebuyers attracted to popular schools in those neighborhoods. Schools such as Lacy, she said, are “a huge selling point for anybody who’s got children, probably their No. 1 priority. Nobody likes uncertainty, especially regarding our children.”

At Raleigh’s Brooks, Conn, Lacy, Underwood and Wiley elementaries – as well as at Heritage Middle in Wake Forest – new parents would be given a choice of several nearby overflow schools. Students could switch back when spaces open up. “That’s even worse,” Bromhal said. “Once they get settled, they need to stay. ... They just need to increase the size of the school so that they can hold more.”

Other provisions

Other components in the plan include:

• Delaying until 2014 the opening of a fourth new school, Abbotts Creek Elementary in North Raleigh. Laura Evans, senior director of growth and planning, the office in charge of student assignment, recommended the delay because the area near the school isn’t overcrowded. Also, she said parents had been upset about being reassigned to a modular school site because it’s unclear when the school’s permanent campus on Durant Road would open.

• Creating a period, Jan. 7-14, when students who aren’t attending schools assigned for their addresses could request seats there for the next school year if there’s space.

• Creating a transfer period, Feb. 18 to March 1, when families can request to attend any school where there’s space. Transportation isn’t guaranteed.

In addition to hearings, the school board will hold two work sessions before a final vote scheduled Dec. 11. School board members say they don’t expect many changes.

“There’s a lot of consensus that the plan is moving in the right direction,” Hill said.