Blog: Wake school board Jan. 5, 2010 meeting

Posted January 5, 2010 8:19 a.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2010 12:36 p.m. EST

The following are updates from the Jan. 5, 2010, Wake County Board of Education open meeting, which is open to the public and includes public comment:

7:26 p.m. – Public comment resumes. Board is criticized.

"You should be ashamed of yourself. This is not the way to conduct a public meeting," one commenter says on the board's decision to end mandatory year-round schools.

"It is fiscally irresponsible of the board to vote on new resolutions without understanding the consequences …"

Another commenter: "At this very moment, I have never been more ashamed to be a Wake County resident than I am tonight at this meeting. … I think I have witnessed a dog-and-pony show at this meeting tonight. … I am very worried about the future of this school system."

"A travesty of democracy," another citizen says of the board's decision.

Attention turns to school board's pending decision to end busing in favor of neighborhood schools with people speaking in support and against the proposal.

7:20 p.m. – Margiotta wants agenda Item 19 on negotiating a contract for interim special legal counsel added back on the agenda. It was removed at the beginning of the meeting. The motion to add it back to the agenda failed to pass.

7:15 p.m. – The school board votes 5-4 on a proposal to end mandatory year-round schools, effective the 2010-2011 school year.

Board members Dr. Carolyn Morrison, Sutton, Hill and McLaurin vote against the proposal. Chris Malone, Prickett, Goldman and Tedesco vote in favor. Margiotta breaks the tie with his vote in favor.

Questions arise as to whether to continue the school survey. It will go on, the board decides.

6:54 p.m. – School board resumes discussion of mandatory year-round schools.

Board member Debra Goldman points out that ending the policy would allow others who want to go to year-round schools the option.

Board members Kevin Hill and Keith Sutton express concerns about adding the motion to the agenda at the last minute. Hill says that by voting tonight, "you don't know the unintended outcomes of the policy." Sutton asks why the motion wasn't brought up during the committee meeting.

Board member Dr. Anne McLaurin expresses concern that ending mandatory year-round schools will cause significant overcrowding and under-utilization.

"We already have mass-overcrowding," board member John Tedesco says, adding that there is potential to help stabilize capacity.

Goldman: "Let's give the people what they want."

6 p.m. – The school board recognizes students as part of the Spotlights on Students program. Spotlight on Students is a program that recognizes students for outstanding personal achievement. Schools have the opportunity to “spotlight” one of their students during a presentation to the board of education during one of their regular meetings.

"These students serve as role models who have demonstrated outstanding character and are an inspiration to all of us," Margiotta says. "I know that we can all agree that they should be commended for their many accomplishments."

5:35 p.m. – Margiotta puts the discussion on hold at the request of security personnel so the room can be set up for Spotlights on Students. The board, meanwhile, goes into closed session.

Discussion on Prickett's action item is set to resume at 6:30 p.m.

5:25 p.m. – Up next, Prickett's motion to end mandatory year-round school assignments, effective 2010-2011.

Prickett says that once results from the parent survey are in and analyzed the board will be able to make better decisions regarding year-round schools.

"We will be bringing back and adding choices that were taken away," she says.

5:20 p.m. – Board is back from break. It moves to action items on the agenda. First item: approving the two new committees proposed earlier – the Economically Disadvantaged Students Task Force and Student Assignment Advisory Committee. It votes unanimously.

4:55 p.m. – The board votes in favor of approving grant proposals, Item No. 18 on the agenda.

Margiotta calls for a break.

3:55 p.m. – Public comment begins. Some in attendance express opinion over the board's decision at its last meeting to hire attorney Thomas Farr to be an interim special legal counsel.

He and his firm would audit the district's legal services and provide legal advice and be on hand in case of a lawsuit on ending the school system's decade-old policy that buses students to balance diversity. (Some parents say the policy has meant their children have been forced to go to schools far from their own neighborhoods.)

Others comment on mandatory year-round schools and the bussing policy.

"Please before you rush into this major policy change, do explore what the costs are and make that available to the public," one citizen says.

3:30 p.m. – Board member Deborah Prickett has added a resolution to the agenda. It says:

"We strongly oppose the mandatory assignments of students to year-round calendar schools and support calendar choice for all families. Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, there will be no mandatory year-round assignments. Every effort will be made to accommodate families into the calendar of their choice, whether it is year-round or traditional, at a school within proximity of their residence. We will no longer deny calendar applications based on socio-economic status. We will use each and every seat efficiently."

The resolution has not been put to a vote. It comes after more than an hour of conversation earlier Tuesday in the committee-of-the-whole meeting in which board members decided they want to gauge parents' opinions on year-round schools.

3:10 p.m. – The open session of the Wake County school board convenes. There are approximately 25 people signed up to speak during public comment, scheduled for 4 p.m. A number of those comments are in regard to school diversity. There are several people present, but the room is not filled like it was for the last meeting.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta has proposed two committees be created:

Economically Disadvantaged Students Task Force, which would look at student discipline and suspensions, end-of-grade and end-of-course test scores and graduation rates.

Student Assignment Advisory Committee, which would look at current student assignment policies and offer recommendations about what future assignments should look like.

The groups will consist of board members and community members. The board will vote on the creation of these committees later in the meeting.

The following are updates from the Wake County Board of Education committee of the whole meeting, which happened from noon to 2:45 p.m.:

2:50 p.m. –  Board dismisses to get ready for public meetings, slated to begin at 3 p.m.

2 p.m. – Year-round school utilization and enrollment …The board is hearing a report on the use of year-round schools and enrollment. Some schools are under-enrolled, while others are overcapacity.

1:42 p.m. – The board returns from lunch to discuss changes in federal reporting requirements for race and ethnicity. The federal government is requiring a more-detailed breakdown of race and ethnicity reporting from schools.

The changes center around two questions on student paperwork when a child enrolls in school for the 2010-11 school year. They concern whether a student is of Hispanic or Latino origin and the student's race. There is no longer a multi-racial option. A parent would choose one or more of the race choices if the student is multi-racial.

School system staff is working to make sure the district computer systems can accept the new information. If parents do not respond, an observer at the school (such as a teacher) will provide the answers.

The information must be gathered by July 1, 2010. The changes have to do with descriptive demographic data and do not affect decision-making. The Wake County Public School System does not make decisions based on race.

1:08 p.m. – The board breaks for lunch.

1 p.m. – The board decides to include students in grades K-12 in the survey and to hold public hearings on the matter. How many and when have yet to be determined.

Board members hope the survey will be online in the next few days. The survey will close Jan. 22, and staff will present results Feb. 2. This is all the plan. It still needs to go to a vote.

Noon –  Board members are reviewing how to go about conducting a survey on parents' attitudes toward the year-round school calendar. As it stands now, parents will receive a letter informing them about the survey, which would be completed primarily online, but parents would also have the option to return their responses to their children's schools.

The new board majority wants to end mandatory year-round schools and give parents a choice. New year-round schools are on hold until the board can hear from parents through the surveys.

The board is discussing the timeframe on getting the survey out to parents and having it complete. Some want to give it time to make sure the survey is conducted properly. New members want it done as soon as possible to make good decisions for the 2010-11 school year. School board Chairman Ron Margiotta says it should be done soon and thoroughly.

There are also concerns about cost and which grades should be included the survey. Some members want parents of high school students to be included in the survey. Others want it only for parents of students in grades K-8, saying the questions as they stand now are geared toward those grades.

For high-school parents, they would need modified questions, some board members say. (There are no year-round schools for high schools.) The reason for including high-school parents is to find out their experiences if their students attended year-round schools.

Board members put a motion on the floor to have a public hearing on the same topic between now and the end of February.