Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education on Tuesday voted 5-3 in favor of a new school-facilities plan that includes adding both an all-boys and all-girls single-gender leadership academy and converting Hilburn Drive Elementary School in Raleigh to a kindergarten through eighth grade facility.
The total $130.3 million package also includes building a new high school near Apex, and a new elementary school near Wake Forest. The projects will be funded by more than $99 million left over from a 2006 school construction bond, and more than $30 million in savings from projects tied to that bond.
The money will also be used to build freshman academies and modular classrooms at some schools to ease immediate overcrowding and to renovate Cary High School. It will also help fund the design costs of three additional schools.
Superintendent Tony Tata and Chief Facilities and Operations Officer Don Haydon say the changes at Hilburn Drive will create much needed middle school seats and postpone the need to build a new school in that area. Tata says the new innovative schools are a good move for students and taxpayers.
“We create more space in a facility we already have and we use that space more efficiently, “ Tata said. “It is cheaper and a better use of taxpayer money.”
The male and female Wake academies are designed to give students a new magnet option with a focus on student achievement and leadership skills. They would be tied in with JROTC to offer specialized leadership training.
Tata proposes opening the academies in 2012 to students in grades six through 10, which would likely include about 240 students per school.
The early-college middle/high school academies would be similar to single-gender academies in Greensboro. There, the schools are housed on the campuses of Bennett College and North Carolina A&T University. Students in high school can also take college courses.
Tata and his staff say they will meet with five local colleges – Meredith, Peace, St. Augustine, North Carolina State and Shaw – about possible partnerships for the Wake academies.
The boys' school would be set up at the current Longview school site, which is being used for students with behavioral problems. It would also involve shifting students and staff on the Phillips and River Oaks campuses. The girls' school would be set up at the current Pilot Mill site near Peace College once used as a charter school. High school students at both schools could also take courses at one of the partner colleges or universities.
In Greensboro, the per-pupil spending at the single-gender academies nearly doubles the per student spending at traditional Guilford County schools, in part because support staff and administrators serve far fewer students. Tata told the board they do not expect that same spending gap for Wake students because the classes would be larger, and the building would accommodate more students.
Before the final vote on the new schools, board member Dr. Anne McLaurin raised concern about why the board was asked to vote on funding the new leadership academies before ever actually approving the new concept. McLaurin said she wanted to see the board discuss the schools further and vote separately instead of approving both the schools and funding at the same time.
Board member Kevin Hill agreed and made a motion to divide the issues and vote on approving the academies and conversion of Hilburn Drive separately from the overall funding. The board denied that motion with 5-4 vote down party lines.
McLaurin said she supports the academies, but not the process.
“We should be discussing the programming and be very clear about what we are voting on,” McLaurin said. “I think it is an important thing to get more information.”
Tata urged members to keep it all together and board vice-chairman John Tedesco agreed.
“If you say you want to support something, you have to say you want to fund it. You have to put your money where your mouth is,” Tedesco said. “I am excited, we are moving in the right direction.”
In the end McLaurin, Hill and board member Carolyn Morrison voted against the final funding package, but the plan got enough votes to move forward.
Haydon said converting Hilburn Drive to a K-8school will cost about $2.1 million. Changing the Longview campus to a boys' leadership academy will cost about $3.6 million, which includes relocating three other programs to open up the space. Getting the Pilot Mill site ready for the girls' leadership academy would cost about $1.3 million plus a $500,000 per year lease payment.
Student assignment plan
Student assignment task force leader James Overman also updated the school board on the progress of the current proposed choice-model student assignment plan.
One big change since the last meeting: The task force adjusted some feeder patterns under the new plan based on parent feedback.
Many parents, including some with children who would currently feed into Broughton High School, recently raised concerns about changing that under the new plan.
Overman told the board that all feeder patterns were crafted in a way of ensuring proximity, keeping magnet feeder patterns in tact and linking year-round and traditional calendar schools. Because of the recent concerns, they adjusted feeder patterns back to allow students to remain on some of those same historical tracks.
Overman also reminded the board and parents that students will be grandfathered in to schools and will be allowed to stay put and not make any change if they don't want to under the new choice plan.
More than 12,000 kindergartners will have to fully participate in the new choice plan when they enroll next year. Existing students will have the options to make a new choice or stay put. School system staff say the majority of parents with students already in the school system indicate they will likely stay in their current school next year.
Tata says transportation costs will likely go up at first as they continue to provide busing for students who want to stay at their current schools as well as implementing the new assignment plan. Transportation leaders estimate they will need to buy an additional 15 to 25 buses at $87,000 each to make it work at first.
Tata noted that it will take about five years to make a full transition and says Wake County schools will see significant savings overall once most students are attending schools closer to home.
The task force is on track to finish the final details of the plan in time for Tata to present a final plan to the board on Oct. 4.