Cary, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education voted 5-4 Tuesday evening to adopt a student assignment proposal for the 2013-14 school year, which affects less than 1 percent of students in North Carolina’s largest school district.
The party-line vote comes after weeks of public hearings to gather input from parents and refine the proposal, which will reassign about 1,500 children.
"I think the public will benefit greatly from this," said board member Susan Evans.
Vice chairwoman Christine Kushner agreed.
"This is going to give families the stability they have been clamoring for," she said.
Both Kushner and Evans have called the 2012-13 "controlled-choice" plan unsustainable, in part due to problems with busing.
Some parents and school board members, however, said the board should have given the current plan more time before initiating another round of reassignments.
"I just do not see the necessity," said board member Deborah Prickett. "I don't hear the community clamoring for more assignment changes."
Prickett added that she doesn't believe the new plan will fix transportation issues.
"I will be monitoring how much busing takes place under the new plan," she said.
Board member Debra Goldman also said she was "diametrically opposed" to the changes. Goldman and Prickett were joined by John Tedesco and Chris Malone in voting against the new assignment plan.
Board Chairman Keith Sutton, Jim Martin and Kevin Hill, along with Evans and Kushner, voted for it.
During three recent public hearings, parents expressed a weariness of the district's frequent reassignments and called for stability.
“There was a promise not to make big changes. That was thrown out," said parent Greg Stelmack.
"What happened to proximity or keeping our students together," parent Susan Uy told the board.
The 2013-14 student assignment plan is the third plan in as many years. It was developed by staff based on assignment maps the district used in the 2011-12 school year, and most of its focus is on filling three new schools in the Rolesville and Wake Forest areas.
The plan offers a base assignment tied to a student’s home address, but families can choose to keep students in their current schools if they are happy there. The plan also offers sibling priority and options for families who want traditional-calendar or year-round schools.
While school leaders say the new plan has less impact on students than past plans, they have pledged to do what they can to ease the transition for affected families.
The plan takes effect Wednesday for all new families enrolling in the Wake County Public School System, along with families already in the system who will change addresses during the remainder of the current school year.
The school system will hold four public information sessions on the new assignment plan from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Salem Elementary School in Apex, Dec. 17 at Wildwood Forest Elementary School in Raleigh, Dec. 18 at East Garner Elementary School in Garner and Dec. 19 at Joyner Elementary School in Raleigh.
During Tuesday's meeting, the board also named Dr. Stephen Gainey as interim superintendent. Gainey has filled the role of acting superintendent since the September ouster of Superintendent Tony Tata.
Acting superintendent is a contract position. The title change to interim superintendent means Gainey will stay on for as long as it takes to find a permanent replacement for Tata.
Earlier Tuesday at a work session, the board discussed the process for filling the seat of Chris Malone, who won election to the General Assembly in November. Tuesday was Malone's last meeting.
"It's been three good, and I think largely productive years, tumultuous years," he said during the board's public meeting. "I decided when I came here that the thing that I would do, and try to do the best, was make sure that I listened, that I was responsive, and I think I did a fairly good job on that."
Malone added that, despite differences, he respected everyone on the board and staff and would miss them.
"I think we've done a lot of good for the county," he said. "It's going to be bittersweet."
Sutton praised Malone's service to the school system.
"You have served your growing community and constituency with persistence," Sutton said. "You have worked to establish policies to contribute to an efficient, effective school system. Most importantly, you have served as an advocate for students."
The board has dealt with deep division and controversy in recent years. During his opening remarks, the newly elected board chairman called on his colleagues to provide "exemplary leadership" and to work to rebuild trust in the community, especially as the board prepares to work with county commissioners on a potential $1 billion bond referendum for new school construction.
"Our Wake County school system has had a tumultuous past two years. In a relatively short span of time, we have gone through a tremendous amount of change," Sutton said. "It is now time to heal. It is time to restore the luster and the spirit of excellence that was once the expectation of anything associated with the Wake County Public School System."