Wake County Schools

Blog: Wake board gets a picture of what a student costs

While cautioning against relying heavily on averages, administrators gave the Board of Education figures showing what various services cost for each of the 140,000 students.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education met Tuesday for an extended work session -- 2 1/2 times its previous talking meetings -- to take up a range of business that used to be handled by board committees.

The board abolished its standing committees, such as policy and finance, earlier this year at the same time it switched to one voting meeting a month. Chairman Ron Margiotta suggested the changes, saying that committees were not weeding out any issues and that everything came to the full board anyway.

The new plan, subject to change, calls for two work sessions a month and one voting meeting in the board's official chambers.

5:15 p.m. -- The meeting adjourned.
5:05 p.m. -- The Wake school system spent an average of $8,763 to educate one of the 140,000 students in the district in 2009-10, the school board was told, but actual spending varies greatly according to other programs, the staff said. The cost for basic instruction is $3,570 per student, staff reported.

Other costs that make up that average but do not affect everyone, include $303 per student for academically gifted students, $585 for each student in a magnet program, $794 for a student who rides a district bus, $4,183 for each student in an alternative school and $8,957 for a student receiving special education.

Wake residents who go to charter schools in or out of the county account for $2,519 apiece of Wake's money, though that money is sent directly from the state to the charter school, the staff said.

"I see a lot of inequity across the board," member Deborah Prickett said.

The staff cautioned against weighing averages too heavily in forming an idea of how money is spent, but Prickett said it was good to have the numbers anyway.

4:40 p.m. -- State funding for textbooks has fallen from 100 percent to what the district expects to be zero for 2011-12, staff members told the board.

Wake had expected the funding to disappear this year, but got $200,000, or $1.69 per student, the board heard. The funding had fallen by 40 percent from 2008-09 to 2009-10.

The district shifts books from school to school as enrollments shift, but some items such as math workbooks have to be bought fresh yearly, financial director David Neter and his staff said.

But then, member Debra Goldman slapped a stack of empty workbooks on the meeting table and said they were from one family. The books were sent home at the end of the year, she said, and she asked if there was some way not to buy books that were unused.

Another administrator told her that a new math curriculum was being introduced last year, and resources were delayed six months. The books Goldman brought were from a previous year's curriculum or had come so late in the school year that teachers did not use them, he said.

4:30 p.m. -- Wake has established a baseline of good Internet access in all schools, but advanced technology varies, the school board heard.

The information came as part of a presentation on the updating of a required technology plan that financial chief David Neter said is required by the state every three years. The district's current plan goes through the 2012-13 school year.

The state sets goals that district's must shoot for in their plans.

Neter said that the Wake Schools network has a better-than-99 percent up-time, and officials are moving toward having every school get a gigabit access line.

Board members got to use "clickers" that students use to respond to questions on a screen that then shows the tallied results. It was part of a presentation demonstrating how technology is used in teaching today.

Member Keith Sutton asked about equity across schools in technology. Neter said that basic Internet access and availability of computers is "I'd say, reasonably equity." There are differences between schools for more advanced technologies, such as electronic white boards, he said.

Sometimes that is because new schools are designed with newer technology, Neter said. Sometimes, he added, PTAs raise money for schools to buy equipment.

Sutton also wanted to know if technology helps student achievement, and Interim Superintendent Donna Hargens told him that studies show it does, though Wake has not looked at student achievement and what technology is available in each school.

"I think the board is going to have to look at our policy on cell phones, because they aren't just phones," member Kevin Hill observed. Smart phones today have more computing power than a media-center computer had in days gone by, he said.

3:50 p.m. -- Staff told the board about efforts to update the policy on accelerated learning, which has not been updated for several years, Darryl Fisher said. Board members had no questions for him, and they are expected to get a new policy to vote on at their Oct. 5 meeting.
3:10 p.m. -- Facilities chief Don Haydon laid out enrollment projections that show the school system being short of elementary, middle and high school seats in the next few years and will need thousands more in the next decade.

Elementary school seats will run out by the 2014-15 school year and will be short about 19,700 seats by 2019-20, Haydon said.

Middle schools will begin to be short by 2014, he said, and will need about 8,000 more seats by 2019-20. By 2019-20, high schools will be short about 11,800 seats, Haydon told the board.

The projections are based on information compiled by researchers at North Carolina State University, Haydon said. The projections include schools that will be opening over the next several years, he said.

Part of the board's challenge is that different parts of the county have different growth projections. Eastern Wake is expected to grow more while western Wake's growth slows, the staff has told the board before.

Possible responses, he said, include more schools, more temporary classrooms, additions to schools and year-round schools.

"We have nine years to build 34 new schools to be even more crowded than we are now?" including using larger schools and year-round schools, member John Tedesco asked with surprise in his voice.

"What I wanted to do today is plant the seed of information with the board," Haydon said. "We need to start the discussion" of what to do, including the fact that where the district has land for schools now sometimes does not align with where growth is projected.

The district has been expecting to ask voters for a capital-spending bond issue sometime in the future.

The Facilities staff, Haydon said, is collecting information on what schools need renovations, and is considering the community-based assignment model being developed, what calendars school will use, what educational programs will be offered and what physical needs all those factors create.

The whole process will take about two years, Haydon said.

The district will have built 15 new schools and done 15 renovations with money from a bond approved in 2006, Haydon said.

One option for funding new schools, Haydon said, is a public-private partnership. In that, a private party builds the school and leases it to the district. That, Haydon said, lets the school system spread the costs of a school out over the length of the lease. It does not require voter approval. No such project has been tried in North Carolina, he added.

The staff looked at the idea a few years ago, Haydon said, trying to find out if there would be interest in the public sector and selecting an elementary school, known as E-25, as a test case. The school board wanted to know if such a plan would be cheaper and faster than the district's building its own schools, he said.

The site for the school had some problems, Haydon said, and decided not to go ahead with the school after beginning talks with a private developer.

2:40 p.m. -- Don Haydon, the school system's operations director, asked the board for feedback on a draft plan, issued in June and available on the school system's web site, for implementing the change to a community-based and diversity-blind student-assignment plan. What ensued was a strident session among the board members.

Member John Tedesco said he hoped the Student Assignment Committee he chairs can have public meetings on a proposed plan done by next spring so some of the plan can start to be phased in for fall 2011.

Members talked about how soon in 2011 they need to have decisions made to affect the 2011-12 calendar. That might, some said, require moving public comment up to this coming November and December. Tedesco said he hoped the committee could come up with some answers at a meeting next Tuesday.

Haydon cautioned that fall 2010 also will require staff work on facilities this fall on matters that do not depend on the public comment, including facilities.

"We might not be implementing a full three-year assignment plan" this fall, Chairman Ron Margiotta said, but might be able to begin changing assignments. Tedesco said he told the committee, which has three board members and nine community members -- one from each member's district -- that they will begin meeting twice a month now to try to accomplish goals on the assignment plan.

At the same time, the Raleigh-Wake County Chamber of Commerce has hired a nationally known consultant on "controlled choice" assignment plans, Michael Alves of Boston, to work on the goal. The chamber, the Raleigh City Council, the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the state Legislature have all expressed concern about the decision to stop trying to have socioeconomic balance in the county schools.

Board member Deborah Prickett said she wanted guidance on what members should be telling parents at meetings in their district about the transition to community-based assignment. Member Anne McLaurin said she is holding meetings to explain to parents how the new assignments apparently will be based on a map that uses high school attendance zones as a start.

Members Debra Goldman and Carolyn Morrison clashed on whether a school principal or Morrison had asked for a public meeting she held at Reedy Creek Elementary School. Morrison said the principal had requested the meeting, but Goldman said Morrison had.

"I'm having a little trouble here because a board member is supposed" to represent a district, McLaurin said. She has scheduled a meeting this week to discuss the reassignment tentative maps.

Margiotta said that members who want to have meetings in schools are supposed to go through the administration to arrange for them, and there may be expenses. It's a process "we must all follow," Margiotta told McLaurin and Morrison. Expenses might have to be approved by the full board, he said.

Tedesco warned that many parts of the new assignment plan are still uncertain and asked, "What makes sense moving forward" for public meetings. He wanted to avoid having board members send "mixed messages" to the public.

Goldman and Morrison clashed over the meeting Morrison held, with Morrison saying that the Reedy Creek school is in her district and Goldman saying that her children had gone to Reedy Creek and her neighborhood was well-informed about what happened there.

McLaurin and Tedesco had a frank discussion about whether the high-school-based map was how the assignment plan would move forward. "The lines are fluid," Tedesco said, but McLaurin said it seemed that the high-school map would be the basis for an attendance model.

Margiotta, Tedesco and member Chris Malone insisted that the process is well away from creating a model.

"They chose one piece of 27 parts of a model," Tedesco said of the Student Assignment Committee's work so far and its initial selection of a high-school-based assignment map. The final process will be similar to how the board works out a budget, he told McLaurin.

Goldman said that the three members on the Student Assignment Committee were moving ahead without bringing in the other six board members for input. If the process does not involve the entire board along the way, she warned, the committee might devise a plan that will not get board approval later.

"We spent a lot of time on it. It was certainly a different kind of animal," Haydon told the board, but may be worth considering in the coming years.

2 p.m. -- The board turned to its own meeting schedule. Terri Cobb, a senior administrator, showed the board a proposed schedule that reflects the board's order for one voting meeting a month. The staff has been able, she said, to accommodate the need for the board to hold closed sessions during those meetings, times when it deals with legal matters and employee matters.

The next meeting will be Oct. 5 and will begin at 5:30, with public comment slated for 6 p.m. Before, the board began at 3 p.m. and heard public comments at 4 p.m.

1:50 p.m. -- Dawn Dawson, the staff coordinator for traditional calendars, briefed the board on the proposed 2011-12 calendar for schools that begin in August and end in June. As before, classes cannot begin before Aug. 25 or go past June 10, which is state law for all school systems.

Board member Debra Goldman told Dawson that dates laid out by a calendar committee did not properly reflect that Jewish holy days begin at sundown. The dates for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the calendar reflected a start the next day. She asked Dawson's group to look at several possible changes.

The proposed calendar calls for weather makeup days, if any are needed, to be on Sept. 30, Nov. 23, Dec. 22, 2011, and Feb. 20 and 21, April 2-4 and June 8, 2012.

The committee came up with 91 school days in the first semester and 89 in the second for the required 180 days. Dawson said.

Goldman asked that an early release day slated for Oct. 21 be pushed up to Oct. 7, 2011, because Yom Kippur because the holy observance begins at sundown that day.

There also was discussion about closing schools on Election Day in 2011 to eliminate conflicts between traffic at schools used as polling places and students on the campuses.

Another issue that arose was whether the 140,000-student system should try to close on Easter Monday, which will be April 9, 2012. Dawson said the committee wrestled with that. Good Friday falls during the spring break, and state government closes on Good Friday, not on Easter Monday, she said.

The board asked Dawson to return at another meeting with the possibility for changes.

James Overton, who heads the committee that makes calendars for year-round schools, encountered fewer issues. He said there always is a choice between being off the day before Thanksgiving or Memorial Day, and previous board's have felt differently. The 2011-12 calendar committee chose Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, he said.

1:20 p.m. -- Today, we did have more items submitted than we can deal with," Margiotta said. He said all items that board members raised will be put on future agendas. Topics that did not make the list Tuesday include dress policies, fiscal implications of changes in the suspension policy, updates on the work of ad hoc committees, including assignment and superintendent selection.

The board may schedule another work session before it's October voting meeting, which is scheduled for the first Tuesday in October.




Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

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