Education

Wake County to approve fewer late school transfer requests

Wake County parents who file school transfer requests in May face much less chance this year of being approved – even if the schools they want their children to attend have room for them.

With a district of more than 155,000 students, thousands of families file transfer requests each May after they get their official notice of school assignment for the fall. In May and June 2014, student-assignment staffers approved 5,960 of the 8,402 student transfer requests.

School administrators say approving too many spring transfer requests strains the ability of schools – who get funds based on the number of students they have – to plan for the upcoming school year. An initial 1,800 students will find out Monday that they’re being taken off waiting lists and placed at the school they’d requested for this fall.

But administrators plan to be stingier than in recent years in approving additional spring transfer requests.

“We would like to try to honor as many requests as we can,” said Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment. “But we want them done and in earlier. We want our principals to know who’s coming and to be ready for them.”

School board members say they need to have more discussion about the administration’s proposal. But former school board members who helped usher in changes that led to the approval of more transfers say it would be a mistake to get tougher on requests.

“It certainly isn’t being responsive to parents,” said Ron Margiotta, who served on the school board from 2003 to 2011. “It’s just going to chase more parents out of the school system.”

How to weigh the needs of schools against those of individual families is an example of the challenges faced by North Carolina’s largest school district.

Balance, stability sought

Transfer requests rejected by staff can be appealed to the school board. Last year, the board approved 156 of the 275 appeals.

But Superintendent Jim Merrill told the Wake County Board of Commissioners last month that the school board will be asked to reexamine the practice it had inherited of approving spring transfer requests when room exists at a school.

“When it comes to student assignment and where students are enrolling, we are starting to shift – telling our board we cannot just leave the door open for folks to leave schools just because there may be seats somewhere else,” Merrill said. “We need to be concerned about the balance and the stability at the schools.”

To try to provide stability, Evans said, Wake made an effort to encourage families to apply for school changes after receiving initial assignments in January, rather than waiting for the official placement in May. She said there will be a lot of happy families on Monday, as her office will serve notice that 1,800 students have received their first-choice school after having been placed on a waiting list after their initial application.

“One of our goals is that the student movement happen during the January, February and March application process,” she said. “If you want to change schools, we will certainly look at them and handle as many as we can. But after that we want to stop. Schools need to plan.”

Evans said perhaps 100 to 200 students who are still on the waiting list after Monday may be placed into a school in June.

When it comes to reviewing transfer requests filed in May, Evans said those applications will be approved for hardship reasons, such as the case of newly arrived families who missed the early transfer period. But she said the system will likely approve fewer requests than last spring.

‘Data-driven decision’

School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said the board will need to have a discussion on the transfers soon, now that the issue is on the superintendent’s radar.

“It needs to be a data-driven decision,” she said. “We need to look at our strategic plan, look at the various trends that we see.”

School board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said it’s tough to balance school and family interests when hearing transfer appeals. Benton, a former principal, noted that the loss of a single student could cost a school a teaching position that affects other students.

But former school board members Margiotta and John Tedesco say the board should err on the side of accommodating the families. Tedesco, who was on the board from 2009 to 2013, said the proposal to cut back on spring transfer approvals is the latest example of a cultural shift in Wake, from being centered on families to the needs of the administration.

“At the end of the day, for the system to be successful, the system needs to be flexible for families,” Tedesco said. “If we care more about the needs of the system than the families, then the system is going to have a problem.”

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui

Finding out waiting list results

Wake County school officials say 1,800 students will be removed from waiting lists Monday and placed into the schools they applied to attend this fall. Go to bit.ly/1FqR3DY on Monday to find out the results.

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