Southwest Wake News

Wake County school officials must scale back student assignment plan to one year

Wake County school leaders had hoped to release a multiyear student assignment plan this year, offering a sense of stability to parents.

But officials said Thursday that they must scale their plan back because they haven’t yet bought enough sites for the new schools to be built from the bond issue that county voters approved last year.

Instead of presenting a plan now that could have lasted through the 2017-18 school year, administrators said they will limit the plan to the 2015-16 school year.

“You’re really only set for that first year for assignment purposes,” Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, told school board members.

Though the new plan will only cover one year, school officials emphasized that they’re considering it to be part of a multi-year planning process.

“We’re talking about a one-year assignment plan, not one-year assignments,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said.

In October, voters approved a $810 million school construction bond issue that will provide most of the money for building 16 new schools. Six of those schools are scheduled to open in 2017, but Desormeaux said officials don’t have sites for three of the six. Even assignments for schools set to open in 2016 could be dependent on where the new schools in 2017 are located.

Switching the assignment plan to just one year caused angst for some board members. The last multiyear assignment plan, covering three years, was adopted in 2009.

“I’ve been telling a lot of my constituents for a long time that we’ve been working on an overhaul of all our schools’ base attendance areas, and that’s going to be forthcoming,” board member Susan Evans said. “It’s not sitting well with me to just say that we’re going to take another year.”

But other board members said they understood the need for a one-year plan.

Board member Bill Fletcher said families shouldn’t think that having only a one-year plan indicates lack of stability.

“I’m in support of what staff is asking of us because I have a great deal of confidence that they can accomplish that without creating a see-saw situation,” he said.

Uncertainty about stability

Board members still need to rank in what order the priorities of stability, student achievement, operational efficiency and proximity should be used in the plan. Some board members said that families want stability more than proximity.

The call for stability comes after decades of parents complaining about the uncertainty of their children being shifted to different schools each year.

“If we were known for trying to maximize parental stability instead of what we’ve been known for historically, all of a sudden that would have a big appeal in our community,” school board member Jim Martin said.

The administration’s assignment staff is working on a plan for the 2015-16 school year that would fill three new schools as well as address what administrators say are some long-running concerns raised by parents.

For instance, administrators said they want to eliminate what they called the “most egregious” examples of students not being assigned to a school that’s within walking distance.

Another goal is to reduce the number of cases where neighborhoods are assigned to elementary schools and middle schools that are on different calendars.

Administrators will present a draft plan over the summer. A final plan is expected to be adopted in the fall.

Board members and administrators repeatedly said Thursday that they want the public’s input throughout the development process.