Education

Big decisions before Wake school board

Posted March 1, 2010 9:52 p.m. EST
Updated March 3, 2010 11:56 a.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

— The Wake County school board could vote Tuesday whether to convert four year-round schools to traditional-calendar schedules, beginning as early as the 2010-2011 school year.

The board started its meeting at 10 a.m. and went straight into a closed session, saying they would discuss personnel matters.

The school system on Monday identified three schools – Wakefield Elementary, Leesville Road Middle and Salem Middle – where parents indicated in a survey earlier this year that they do not prefer year-round schools.

A fourth school, Mills Park Middle, which will open in the fall, is also under discussion for conversion.

The school system received nearly 40,000 responses to an online survey gauging the attitudes toward the year-round calendar, which proponents say, can accommodate more students than schools on traditional calendars.

The school calendar conversions are among a number of issues up for discussion among board members in meetings expected to last all day Tuesday.

The system’s outgoing superintendent, neighborhood, or community-based, schools and the school system’s budget for next year are also on the board’s meeting agenda.

The board will meet at 10 a.m. in a closed session to talk about outgoing Superintendent Del Burns’ future with the school system.

Burns, who announced that he’s resigning June 30, 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, Burns expressed concerns that ending the system’s longstanding assignment policy of busing students to achieve socioeconomic diversity could segregate schools.

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.

Burns has been noticeably absent from recent school board events. It’s unclear if he will be at Tuesday’s meetings.

Although it's unclear what the board is considering, the board is likely considering three options: keeping Burns in his current position until June; limiting his duties as superintendent or removing him from the post and appointing a replacement.

The school board is also expected to take a vote Tuesday on a controversial resolution to end the school system’s decade-old diversity policy in exchange for neighborhood schools.

Currently, the school district assigns students so that no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. Students are reassigned each year to maintain that level, as well as to fill new schools and relieve overcrowding.

At least five of the school board's nine members have indicated that they plan to end the practice – a move they say to give parents more options in where their children attend school.

Under the school board’s community schools proposal, parents would have a choice of traditional, year-round or magnet school in their assigned area.

Board members who support the policy say changing the current plan in favor of neighborhood schools would disrupt diversity at schools.

A fourth item on the board’s agendas Tuesday is nearly $21 million in budget cuts for the upcoming school year.

At a meeting in early February, the school system’s chief business officer, David Neter, told board members that anywhere from 75 to 100 filled positions across all areas of central services could be eliminated in the system’s central services division. It would also eliminate positions that have been vacant since a hiring freeze went into effect in November 2008.

The school system is already reeling from a $35 million budget reduction that last year cut about 500 positions, mostly teachers and teaching assistants.