Education

Blog: Wake school board meetings

Posted March 23, 2010

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— The Wake County Board of Education voted a second time Tuesday evening to work toward a community-based system of student assignment. The board has said working out the details of the plan could take up to 15 months.

Attorneys criticize school board

Earlier Tuesday, a group of attorneys sent school board Chair Ron Margiotta a letter criticizing a decision by the school system to require tickets for people wanting to attend today's open meeting. The school system cites security and fire-safety concerns for the change in process.

The attorneys – representing the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the state chapter of the NAACP, the ACLU of North Carolina and other groups – say doing so "unfairly prevents many parents and other members of the public" from attending, which violates the state's open meetings laws.

Dozens of parents arrived five hours early for the meeting to get their tickets. The school system distributed 153 tickets; 80 signed up to comment.

School chair rejects offer to move meeting

Meanwhile, Margiotta declined an offer from WRAL-TV and The News & Observer to move the meeting to the Fletcher Opera Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.

Margiotta described the offer as "generous," school system spokesman Michael Evans says, but the board meeting was already posted and there was no time between meetings to change locations.

“It is unfortunate that more people will not be able to be in person at an open board meeting," Steve Hammel, WRAL-TV's vice president and general manager, said in response.

Meeting updates ...

The following are updates from the school board's Committee of the Whole and public meetings:

10 p.m.: A staff member of WCPSS speaks up. After sharing a story about an accomplished student who has yet to receive official recognition, she says, "I am concerned that with all the controversy we have forgotten who our clients are."

After her comments, the board adjourns.

9:48 p.m.: A self-identified "upper middle-class" high school student speaks out in favor of diversity in student assignment. Without exposure to those who are different, the student says, stereotypes are perpetuated.

He asks the school board for a county-wide referendum on the student assignment policy.

9:20 p.m.: Speaker says it is exciting to be at the start of a potentially big change and exciting to see some much community engagement.

"The idea is to design the process for creating the vision of what we want to have here," he says.

9:15 p.m.: Public comment resumes.

The first speaker asks if schools in downtown Raleigh resulting from a community-based assignment policy would be good enough for relatives of the board members.

"If so, prove it. Enroll them," she says.

9:10 p.m.: The board hears from staff about a guideline which would allow younger students to transfer to the same school as a sibling when they enter kindergarten, first, sixth or ninth grade. Hill moves to pass the policy and hears no opposition. 

9:05 p.m.: The board hears a review of changes to the three-year student assignment plan and votes to approve them.

9 p.m.: Board member Kevin Hill speaks first after the meeting is called back to order. He moves that the board accept a series of personnel changes discussed in closed session during the recess. The motion passes without opposition.

8:40 p.m.: Rev. William Barber, chairman of the state NAACP steps out of the meeting to talk to reporters. He says his group plans a "mass forum" to discuss the students assignment policy and will be scrutinizing every move of the school board as the work on the community-schools model.

Barber says he is especially disappointed that the board voted to move forward with a plan to change student assignment without fiscal analysis of the impact that move would have, and that they voted against amendments intended to assure against the creation of high-poverty or low-income schools.

7:50 p.m.: The board votes on the resolution to change how students are assigned to schools. It passes, with two amendments, by a 5-4 margin. Margiotta, Goldman, Malone, Prickett and Tedesco voted in favor of the resolution. Hill, McLaurin, Morrison and Sutton voted against it.

The board recesses.

7:45 p.m.: Morrison asks if the passage of amendments counts as a change of policy and would require a two-thirds vote. Board attorney Majestic says a change of policy does not require a two-thirds vote.

7:35 p.m.: Board member Carolyn Morrison proposes an amendment to avoid re-segregation of schools. "We are going to do everything in our power to assure and avoid re-segregated schools."

When asked what kind of segregation she hopes to avoid, Morrison says, "All types."

Tedesco says he personally believes "segregation is a sin."

"I personally find segregation in the way it occurred in our past deplorable ... that simply would not occur today, in 2010," he says.

Laws of the state and federal government are sufficient to assure that would not occur, Tedesco says.

Morrison's amendment is voted down, 5-4.

7:30 p.m.: Board member Anne McLaurin proposes an amendment to adhere to the "Leandro" decision of the N.C. Supreme Court, which guarantees that every child in North Carolina has a constitutional right to the "opportunity for a sound basic education."

The board passes this amendment unanimously.

7:20 p.m.: Board member Keith Sutton proposes an amendment to the resolution for community-based school assignments that would include language that the board would not create any "high-poverty schools" or those with 75 percent of the student body receiving free- or reduced-price lunch.

Board member John Tedesco resists categorization of poor students as a group based upon that measure.

Sutton asserts that lower income students deserve special attention. Tedesco disagrees.

The board votes the amendment down, 5-4.

6:20 p.m. – The board now turns its attention to the resolution establishing board directive for community-based assignments.

Sutton makes a motion to amend the resolution by offering a substitute that focuses on stability, proximity and diversity.

Tedesco says it continues "to perpetuate an at-risk model of education."

The board majority votes against the motion.

Other board members want to delay the vote, wondering if the vote would change policy. Goldman, who is the chair of the policy committee, says it doesn't change policy. It's only a directive to study and plan for a community-based assignment model.

The board votes 5-4 against the motion.

Morrison offers a third motion to amend to the resolution saying that prior to adopting to any changes or before moving forward with a new assignment plan, the board will hold a series of stakeholder meetings to discuss student achievement in each proposed assignment zone.

Several board members disagree. Tedesco says that it is already in the resolution to hold stakeholder meetings. He supports adding multiple community hearings and various other forms of communications with public stakeholders.

The board discusses wording to part of the resolution that reads:

"Be it hereby resolved that the Wake County Board of Education commits to establishing Community Assignment Zones. A zone-based assignment model will be developed during the next 9-15 months with input from our community stakeholders (as noted above), WCPSS staff, and other government planning and zoning officials."

After much discussion, the amendment would read as follows:

"Be it hereby resolved that the Wake County Board of Education commits to establishing Community Assignment Zones. A zone-based assignment model will be developed during the next 9-15 months with input from our community stakeholders (as noted above), WCPSS staff, and other government planning and zoning officials. The plan would be presented at public hearings prior to adoption."

The board votes 5-4 in favor of the amendment by Tedesco.

Morrison, Prickett, Tedesco, Malone vote in favor of the amendment. Sutton, Goldman, Hill, McLaurin vote no. Margiotta breaks the tie and votes in favor.

The board votes 5-4 in favor of the amendment by Tedesco.

Morrison, Prickett, Tedesco, Malone vote in favor of the amendment. Sutton, Goldman, Hill, McLaurin vote no. Margiotta breaks the tie and votes in favor.

Hill asks about cost assessment and fiscal obligations incurred … he wants to add an amendment looking at the additional expenses associated with implementing community-based schools.

Amendment is rejected 5-4.

6:15 p.m. – The board unanimously approves a number of other agenda items, including the development of a superintendent search committee to seek a replacement for Superintendent Del Burns, who's resigning at the end of June. Board member Kevin Hill asks that the committee include teachers and principals in the process.

The board voted March 9 to place Burns on administrative leave, and "for the purpose of transparency," Margiotta says, it takes a public vote on the matter.

The final outcome of the vote is 5-4. Dr. Carolyn Morrison, Keith Sutton, Kevin Hill and Dr. Anne McLaurin vote against placing Burns on administrative leave. Deborah Prickett, Chris Malone, Debra Golman and John Tedesco vote in favor. Margiotta breaks the tie, voting in favor.

6:10 p.m. – The board postpones discussion and action on a proposal to increase meal prices for the 2010-11 school year. Child Nutrition Services is asking for an increase that will also help increase healthier food choices. Under the proposal, breakfast would range from $1 to $1.25; lunch would range from $2 to $2.25. Reduced breakfast prices would be 30 cents; lunch prices would be 40 cents.

This will be put on the agenda for the April 6 school board meeting.

5:55 p.m. – Public comment over, the board moves on to items on the agenda. Before the board now, are bell schedule recommendation for the 2010-11 school year. The proposal before the board calls for 71 of the system’s 104 elementary schools to operate from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. – starting and ending 25 minutes later.

The school system runs buses at different times to allow buses to run up to three routes in both the mornings and afternoons. Currently, schools are scheduled to open between 7:25 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.

The move would allow the school system to save about $2.5 million and eliminated the need of 24 more buses and drivers to accommodate up to 2,000 addition bus-riders at four new schools.

Board vice-Chair Debra Goldman is worried about how families will be affected with children on different schedules and how getting out of school at 4 p.m. will affect children participating in after-school activities.

It doesn't seem like a lot on paper, but the impact can be great, she says.

Board member John Tedesco also has concerns about elementary school students starting school later. He says research has shown that they do better learning earlier in the day rather than later. Chris Malone doesn't support the proposal either for some of the same reasons.

Deborah Prickett says she would like to see high schools open at a later time … and thinks staff needs to look more at teens' schedules – saying that many need more time in the mornings.

The board unanimously votes against the proposed schedule. School staff will take another look and come back with different recommendations, if there are any.

5 p.m. – Protests outside

The board has gone beyond its hour for public comment. Inside the school board meeting, those in attendance have remained relatively calm.

Outside the school board building, however, a crowd of about 40 students are protesting, chanting and decrying the board's pending vote on community-based schools.

"Desegregation has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho," they shout.

At least one person, believed to be a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been arrested. More police officers have arrived at the scene.

The controversial resolution sets in motion planning to move away from the school system's policy of busing students to help ensure each school is socioeconomically diverse. Board members want to implement a community-based assignment plan, in which students go to schools closer to their homes.

Opponents believe the model will segregate poor students and keep them from receiving the same quality of education as more economically advantaged students.

School board members have insisted that they have no plans to segregate students and that student achievement is their top priority. The resolution is a directive to move forward with plans to study and implement the community assignment model. That will take up to 15 months.

4 p.m. – Public comment

Margiotta calls for a quick break before the public comment period for items on the agenda. About 80 people are signed up to speak, and this portion of the meeting has been extended from 30 minutes to an hour. Anyone left to speak after that will have a chance later tonight after the board has finished meeting on the agenda items.

This portion of the meeting has been heated in previous weeks, and today's meeting is likely no exception with the pending vote to approve a resolution concerning a community-based student assignment model.

Before they begin, school board attorney Ann Majestic reminds speakers about civility and respect and asks participants to adhere to public comment guidelines which she outlines.

Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP is among those signed up to speak. On the community-based school idea:

"It's morally wrong. It's legally wrong. We believe it's economically wrong because you're already 20 mill in deficit. This plan makes no fiscal or economic sense," Barber says. "Let it be known, your press to go backward will only serve to intensify our moral and political and legal fight to go forward. We will never go back."

Bill Randall, whose comments at the March 2 school board meeting, were met with negative reaction from the crowd, is also among those signed up.

"Economic diversity, racial diversity, imposes an unfair burden on the citizens in this county," says Randall, a black Republican congressional candidate. "If you really want to get to the problems (in the schools, you have to look at cause and effect. ... The No. 1 problem for issues is the absence of a father in the home."

 

3:43 p.m. – Public comment on the proposed budget

Several supporters of Project Enlightenment spoke out, asking that the budget for the program not to be cut. The program is an early-childhood education program that helps ready children for kindergarten.

3:40 p.m. – Margiotta addresses the ticket controversy

He says it's partly based on a recommendation from the fire marshal and partly because of complaints from the last meeting in which people got up to leave to go use the bathroom and returned to have their seats occupied by someone else.

He stresses that even those who do not have a ticket but have signed up to speak will still be able to speak.

"We're trying to accommodate people the best way we know how," he said? "Is it the best way? I'm not sure."

3:15 p.m. – Call to order

Margiotta calls the public meeting to order. Absent from the meeting is Del Burns, who was placed on administrative leave earlier this month. The school system's chief academic officer, Donna Hargens, has temporarily taken over the superintendent's post. She is present for the meeting.

The board still has business regarding Burns, though. It's expected to conduct a public vote today on its recent decision to place him on administrative leave until his resignation in June. The board is also expected to develop an ad hoc committee to search for a new superintendent.

3 p.m. – The board recesses its Committee of the Whole meeting. Margiotta plans to extend the public comment session from 30 minutes to an hour, if necessary.

About 153 people have tickets to be inside the meeting room. Another 50 will be able to watch the meeting from outside via a video feed the school system is providing. A rope barrier has been placed between the audience and the school board.

Extra security is also on-hand for today's meeting as well, as the school board is poised to vote on a controversial resolution concerning the school district's longstanding diversity policy. School system spokesman Michael Evans says four off-duty law enforcement officers are at today's meeting, as well as security officers usually on hand.

WRAL's Adam Owens shot these photos:

 

Because of time constraints, the board was unable to discuss several items during its Committee of the Whole meeting, including recommendations to change bell schedules for the upcoming school year.

1:28 p.m. – Current student assignment plan

The board is now discussing its current assignment plan, which includes recommendations from the Student Assignment Committee to re-assign students from several areas for the 2010-11 school year. Last week, the committee considered more than two dozen change requests. Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman said then that the decisions are the first small moves toward a community-based assignment policy. (See a list of some of the recommended changes.)

The board will consider these recommendations at their 3 p.m. meeting:

  • Allowing students in node 368.2 (the county is divided into 1320 nodes) to remain at Reedy Creek Elementary School instead of being reassigned to Alston Ridge Elementary School.
  • Allowing students in node 707.0 who are currently assigned to Knightdale High School to be reassigned to Heritage High School because of distance.
  • Allowing Brier Creek/Panther Creek spot nodes currently slated to be reassigned to Broughton High in 2010 to remain at Panther Creek High.
  • Allowing Brier Creek spot nodes currently assigned to East Cary Middle and Daniels Middle to be assigned to Mills Park Middle, which opens in the fall.
  • Allowing families living in node 539.0 in the Walden Creek Subdivision to remain assigned to Turner Creek Elementary rather than be reassigned to Salem Elementary.
  • Allowing families living in nodes 416.0 and 632.0 want to stay at Holly Ridge Middle instead of being moved to Apex Middle – families want to remain at Holly Ridge.

1:25 p.m. – Changing the Policy Committee from ad hoc to standing

At its meeting March 10, the Policy Committee moved to consolidate its emerging power, voting to ask the full board to change it from an ad hoc to a standing committee because of developing issues that might come up.

1:20 p.m. – School policy changes

The board convenes for the Committee of the Whole meeting. It begins by looking at a number of policy changes covering student behavior.

Earlier this month, at an ad hoc policy committee meeting, members approved a number of changes. Some were technical changes to renumber the policies while others clarified existing language. The changes have to be made in time to make the printing of the district's handbook for the school year that begins July 1.

The board is expected to approved the changes in its public meeting.

Stay tuned for updates from the board's meetings. Below is WRAL.com's original story posted in advance of today's meetings.

==

Tuesday’s looking like a busy day for Wake County school board members who will undertake an ambitious meeting agenda that lists a number of items up for approval, including a controversial resolution on a new student assignment plan, changing the bell schedules for many elementary schools and a public vote on placing the district’s superintendent on administrative leave.

Earlier this month, the school board voted 5-4 in favor of a resolution to begin plans to move away from the school system's policy of busing students to help ensure each school is socioeconomically diverse. Board members want to implement a community-based assignment plan, in which students go to schools closer to their homes.

The final vote on the measure, coming off the heels of a candlelight vigil Monday night in which hundreds gathered in protest, has been met with criticism from opponents who believe will segregate poor students and keep them from receiving the same quality of education as more economically advantaged students.

The school system plans to have extra security in place for the vote, chief communications officer Michael Evans said.

"We are planning on four (instead of two) off-duty law enforcement officers in addition to the contingent of security officers," Evans wrote in an e-mail to WRAL News.

The plan in place now buses students across the school district to help achieve socio-economic diversity, where no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

School board members have insisted that they have no plans to segregate students and that student achievement is their top priority. The resolution is a directive to move forward with plans to study and implement the community assignment model. That will take up to 15 months.

The board will also consider pushing the bell schedule back for 71 of the system’s 104 elementary schools so the schools operate from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. The move would allow the school system to save about $2.5 million and eliminated the need of 24 more buses and drivers to accommodate up to 2,000 addition bus-riders at four new schools.

Another controversial issue on the board agenda is a public vote on a March 9 closed-meeting decision to place outgoing Superintendent Del Burns on administrative leave until his resignation in June.

The legality of that vote was questioned over the past couple of weeks with some local attorneys arguing it violated open-meeting laws.

Burns came under fire late last month for comments he made regarding the school system’s direction under the school board’s new majority. In several interviews, he expressed concerns about segregation if the board ends the system’s current assignment policy. He also accused board members of “partisan political gamesmanship,” saying political ideology seems to be driving some of the decisions the board has made or is considering.

The board is also expected to develop an ad hoc committee charged with the responsibility for developing a timeline and recommendation for Burns’ replacement. Some board members have indicated that they would like to conduct a nationwide search for a candidate who shares the same vision as the new school board majority while others believe they should also look locally.

Donna Hargens, Wake schools’ chief academic officer, has temporarily taken over the position.

Also scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday is a work session on the 2010-11 school system’s $1.2 billion operating budget, which faces a shortfall of about $20 million. That means potential cuts to the school system’s central services budget and more than 80 layoffs and the elimination of 23.5 vacant positions.

Other topics on the board’s agenda include:

  • A review of the current three-year student assignment plan – last week, the Student Assignment Committee reviewed nearly two dozen requests and approved nearly 10 of them to change the plan, which ends with the 2011-12 school year. School board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman said last week that the decisions are the first small moves toward a community-based assignment policy.
  • An update on the status of applications for magnet and calendar schools for the 2010-11 school year.
  • A proposed increase in meal prices for the 2010-11 school year – to keep a balanced budget, the school system’s Child Nutrition Services is asking for an increase that will also help increase healthier food choices. Under the proposal, breakfast would range from $1 to $1.25; lunch would range from $2 to $2.25. Reduced breakfast prices would be 30 cents; lunch prices would be 40 cents.
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  • snkangel Mar 25, 2010

    After reading the minutes from the Wake County School Board Meeting I am furious to see Tedesco's name mentioned so many times. It seems to me that Tedesco is running Wake County Schools. How can Wake County residents give this single man with no children in our school system or any where else come and make huge changes that will effect students? Someone who is not familiar with the way Wake County operates and what teachers and students need. Try having a family first and then run for school board!!!!

    When do teachers get a say? They are the ones working with your children making sure all their needs are met, they get to and from school safely. Instead of making all these changes that will effect teacher and student lives including the time they start and end school and which school they will attend focus on what really matters...STUDENTS EDUCATION. Wake County School board is getting ready to make history but its not going to be the history you are looking for.

  • Remy Mar 24, 2010

    "This majority of board members are going to do whatever they want"

    now you're getting it! t4r

    You keep saying you want to hear from teachers. Now you have, and you respond with some smart comment. You lost your credibility a loooong time ago my friend. Maybe you should go back to weather forcasting. Not.

  • cmnc Mar 24, 2010

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
    school board members for following through on what we elected you to do.
    Much fun to watch the liberal elites melt down in hysteria. Did you see that unitarian minister's wife? YIKES she was ticked off: "NOTE TAKING MUST CEASE AND DESIST"
    they were probably passing notes about you honey

  • time4real Mar 24, 2010

    "This majority of board members are going to do whatever they want"

    now you're getting it!

  • rescuefan Mar 24, 2010

    "rescuefan.how old is your son, that he is a decision MAKER. A child of2 can have an OPINION, but can not be a decision maker, per se! Yes whether to go in his clothing, good decision making. Decide what the family is doing for vacation, NO-NO. Drive his tricycle in the street NO-NO. Decide whether or not to do homework NO-NO As a child grows, they make decisions = to age. Most decisions should be left to the parent, guardians, adult authority
    Eduardo1"

    Ummm, I didn't realize that there were 2 year olds protesting yesterday. Silly me, I thought almost all of the teenagers who were protesting were high school aged, not 2 years old.

    Really, I am amazed at some of the posters here who think that a teenager should only have the same thoughts and opinions as their parents. How will they ever grow up to be independent?

  • bbj Mar 23, 2010

    This majority of board members are going to do whatever they want to reguardless of what anyone wants or thinks. Just vote for whatever rediculous changes you are going to put in place so I can move on with what is best for my students. This is why so many teachers are leaving Wake County recently. Although I love my school, and feel like I work with the best of the best in Wake County, makes me wish I would've never come down here.

  • atozca Mar 23, 2010

    "At least one person, believed to be a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been arrested. More police officers have arrived at the scene."

    LOL, why is it that when liberals protest, the police are always called and someone is usually arrested? A student at Chapel Hill does not need to be so intolerant to the will of the PARENTS. Only the activist make this about race so that they can continue to be activist! Being an activist is a good living and creates jobs for many educated liberals! It is ridiculous that we have to fight our brothers for the right to our freedom of choice.

  • MizzZeta Mar 23, 2010

    "...teen pregnancy statistically didn't exist."

    LOL...that must be because no one was tracking it!

  • mcoupe Mar 23, 2010

    So poor kids cant learn together but they can learn better sitting next to a kid that is not poor? Thats CRAZY ! Come On People ! Get the parents involved just because a kid is poor doesnt mean the kid is stupid , its thier parents that are .

  • MizzZeta Mar 23, 2010

    Significant, indeed, Awake in Wake. It's the only system of its type (large, urban, diverse population) in NC that's avoided these services. The current assignment plan is a model that has been replicated successfully in districts around the country. I'm not against neighborhood schools, but they inevitably lead to inequitable distribution of funding and services. Parents choose the neighborhood they can afford, which isn't always the best neighborhood and that fact shouldn't affect a student's opportunity to learn.

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