Blog: March 2, 2010, Wake school board meeting

After 11 and a half hours of often-contentious meetings, the Wake County Board of Education adjourned, having approved a resolution to change how students are assigned to schools.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Big news came out of Tuesday's  Board of Education meetings including the move toward an end of the school system's student assignment plan. The school board voted 5-4 in favor of a resolution to develop a plan for phasing out the busing for diversity in favor of community-based schools. The issue requires a second and final vote, which will be taken up at the next school board meeting.
The following are updates from the board's public meeting:
9:27 p.m.: After 11 and a half hours worth of often-contentious discussion, the board adjourns until March 23.
8:50 p.m.: After finishing with the posted agenda, the board agrees to hear from the remaining members of the public who signed up to speak.

"Would you send your own children or grandchildren to one of the high-poverty schools that this resolution would create," a speaker challenges the board.

"This board resolution is the beginning of a disaster for children in high poverty areas. It was irresponsible to vote 'yes.' You should have voted no!"

8:45 p.m.: The board takes up a discussion of designating Civitas Institute as a provider of training for school board members. After questions about the quality and content of the training, a decision is made that select board members should attend some Civitas training and report back to the group.

Several board members suggest that Civitas be named designated trainer for one cycle, but the proposal assigns the group as "approved provider of annual training."

"We're gonna test it," Board Chairman Ron Margiotta says. "If we come back and no one likes it, we certainly won't renew it."

The motion to designate Civitas as trainer carries by a vote of 5-4.

8:30 p.m.: The board hears a request for approval of construction plans for Wilburn Elementary School. It would involve transfer of $1.2 million in savings from construction at Cary High School to be used toward the project.
8:20 p.m. After the hot topic is dealt with, the board moves quickly into remaining agenda items, including a vote to allow Green Hope High School to offer Algebra and Calculus classes during the summer and charge tuition. The motion passes.

The board also passes a motion to allow Garner High School to apply to establish a JROTC – Marines program.

8 p.m. The board returns from recess and gives a final vote on four year-round schools going traditional.

Leesville Road Elementary and Leesville Road Middle in Raleigh and Mills Park Elementary in Cary will undergo conversions.

The board also voted to open Cary's Mills Park Middle School, slated to open in the fall as a year-round school, as a traditional-calendar school.

Earlier in the day, the board also considered conversions of Salem Middle and Wakefield Elementary, but decided against them.

7 p.m. – The board begins discussing the diversity policy. Board member Debra Goldman says that diversity and community-based schools can go together.

The intent of the resolution is to define a clear directive as to the direction the board is going.

Board member Dr. Carolyn Morrison puts a motion out there to defer consideration of the resolution. It's seconded by Dr. Anne McLaurin.

They say proper steps have not been taken to pass the resolution.

Morrison says the board needs time for the board to receive more information and to also get public input on the issue.

McLaurin cites policies to dictate how business is done. Presents a list of procedural requirements violated by the resolution, including the code of ethics policy.

Morrison's motion is denied in a 5-4 vote.

Board member Keith Sutton wants Margiotta to rule the resolution out of order. Sutton says he's sick and tired of the board being put in a position to vote on matters without any fiscal implications.

Tedesco says it’s a directive to begin a planning process over the next 9 to 15 months.

The board votes 5-4 in favor of the resolution, which is to develop a plan for phasing out the busing for diversity in favor of community-based schools.

The issue requires a second and final vote, which will be taken up at the next school board meeting.

6:30 p.m. Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP on community-based schools …

"Your plan is wrong. It's wayward. It will make things worse, and you know it. It doesn't matter if you are white and support it, this is bad policy. It doesn't matter if you are black and support it. The data doesn't support it. Morality doesn't support it. We don't support it, and 46 miles from here in Wayne County you can see what will happen if you continue with this."

Barber is speaking of policies within the Wayne County school system. The NAACP alleges that the school system uses buses to segregate schools in Goldsboro by race rather than by neighborhood, a practice, Barber has said has resulted in "extreme re-segregation."

Barber asked for 45 minutes to present to the board information about what could happen.

"Why don't you want to hear the empirical data we will present to you? Why don't you want it on the record?" he asked. What you have done is unify us."

"We are here. We are not going anywhere," he continued. "We are not turning around. Don’t you be fooled. We may not sit in tonight. We may not go to jail tonight, but if it comes to that, we're going to draw attention to this nationwide and we're going to do it together."

Margiotta has refused the request in the past but has offered to meet with Barber individually.

6 p.m. – Board reconvenes with more public comments. Comments so far have been mostly against changing the diversity policy in favor of community-based schools.

One speaker in support of community-based schools: "We need to focus on the education quality of all students, and I don't think you learn more because of who you are sitting next to in a classroom." Children have a better chance of doing well when their parents can be involved, she says.

5 p.m. – Board goes into closed session.
4 p.m. – Comments began with Ann Shearon, who told the board, “I’m a registered Republican, and I’m a tad disappointed right now.” The system cannot afford to fund parent conveniences like changing schedules, she said. The need is to spend as much as possible on student instruction. Will the “parent convenience initiative” require more money?” she asked. “I believe what you are trying to do will cost more than you think…. Please show me the money.”

Elisha Sidney said she represented mothers in the Walnut Terrace community. “What is going on?” Why do people distrust you? “It is proven,” she said, that the achievement gap is due to teaching, “but now every child has a dollar sign on his or her head.”

“If you dismantle the parent policies without properly thinking them through,” Sidney said, students could be harmed.

John Gilbert, a school board member for 16 years until 1999 and a three-term chairman, told the board it is heading for a mistake.

“There were 47 schools in poverty. Now there are 55.” He said. “If you actually follow through” on having students attend the closest school, “You will create at least a dozen more high-poverty schools.”

“I have trouble understanding” why adopt a policy and then begin discussions. Research supports diversity policy.

Research, he said, argues that diversity is important.

“The central finding, never refuted … is that the most important factor bearing on student achievement is the makeup of the classroom,” Gilbert asserted.

3:20 p.m. – School board hears the superintendent's proposed 2010-2011 $1.2 billion operating budget, which will include a $20 million reduction in central services that will mean a loss of more than 80 filled positions and more than 20 vacant positions.

About $1.4 million will be saved by eliminating the vacant positions; about $4.4 million will be saved by eliminating filled positions, David Neter, chief business officer for the school system, says.

There will also be significant reductions proposed in the area of contracted services and non-personnel services.

Neter tells the board it should expect more budget cuts for 2011-12 and it will be even more challenging. Federal stimulus money will be gone as of June 30, 2011.

The $1.2 billion proposed operating budget, Neter said, includes the opening of four new schools and an increase of 3,800 students despite the reduced construction of new housing. Because the staff has not planned for any increase in funding from county commissioners, Neter told the board, the district’s expenditure per student will drop $100.

Neter said that 89 percent of the budget goes to spending in schools.

The budget anticipates a $35 million drop in state funding, Neter said, and there will be no state money for textbooks in the year that begins July 1.

For the current year, the budget chief said, the system will know after April 15 if current reserve money will be enough to cover the 2009-10 budget.

The budget assumes that Central Services staff will be cut as part of a $20 million reduction Burns ordered last month, though no numbers were given. That will be needed even with all vacant positions being eliminated, Neter said.

The budget asks to increase school breakfast charges by 20 cents and the lunch charge by 25 cents. Prices have not changed since early in the century, he said.

Vehicle maintenance also will be deferred, Neter said, setting up the district for costs further down the road when income rises.

Details of Central Services cuts will be presented during the board’s first work session on the budget. Details will come out, probably in early April, when the superintendent asks the board for authority under district policies to start laying off workers.

Support for schools from the central administration will fall, Neter said. This budget adds an expected county per-student funding cut of $63 per student on top of a $37 drop in the current year.

The staff hopes to have the budget finalized by the first board meeting in April. The schools’ budget is due to the county commissioners by May 1.

Looking further out, Neter said he expects the 2011-12 budget “will be even more challenging.” Recovery Act money falls off, and $35 million in federal funding passed through from the state likely will not come again.

“The bad news you’ve given us tonight isn’t necessarily the end of bad news,” Margiotta said after Neter’s presentation.

“I’m afraid not,” the budget officer replied.

3 p.m. – Public meeting begins with a full audience as the board prepares to discuss the school assignment policy. Outside the school board building, cars line the street, and there is a line to get in the building. About 100 people are signed up to speak at tonight's meeting.
The following are updates from the board's Committee of the Whole meeting:
2:35 p.m. – The board recesses until 3 p.m.
2:18 p.m. – The board took up changing its meeting schedule.

During the last Committee as a Whole meeting, board member John Tedesco wanted to change part of the policy dictating that the board meet the first and third Tuesday of each month because of a scheduling conflict.

Goldman reported that, based on previous discussions, she had sent out a survey about possible conflicts and a day during the third week of each month to have a second meeting.

Margiotta said he had suggested changing the policy on meeting times to give the board freedom to change days and times “as we saw fit.” He has been discussing that with Burns and the rest of the staff, he said.

Attorney Ann Majestic told them that she believes the Open Meetings Law expects a regular schedule, though not necessarily specifying the schedule in the policy.

The board already has waived the policy for the rest of this school year, Goldman noted. The goal now is to find days and times that will work for those months. Monday, she said, is as close as agreement seems to get, based on members’ responses.

The board agreed to vote later to switch its next meeting from the third Tuesday in March to the fourth Tuesday, March 23, and have the Committee of the Whole that day begin at 11 a.m. because of budget matters. Committee meetings could be moved to March 16, they said.

The board agreed to put that on the day’s consent agenda.

1:30 p.m. – The board resumes discussion of calendar conversions.

Board member Deborah Prickett suggests converting both Leesville Middle and Leesville Elementary to traditional schools. She says you can't convert the middle school and not the elementary school because of the campus layout and the way the schools are attached.

She also recommends keeping nearby Sycamore Creek Elementary open as a year-round school.

Hill says he's concerned because the board's reason for looking at the calendars was to help parents. About 78 percent of parents at Leesville Elementary school indicated they liked the year-round calendar.

"Between the two schools, it poses, maybe, a quandary: 'We're going to listen to parents, or we're going to listen to parents.'"

He says he's not sure if the connectivity of the buildings is that big of a deal.

In looking at the survey, it's very clear that is overwhelming that parents (at the elementary school) like the (year-round) calendar.

Prickett said that Sycamore Creek would be a great option for those parents. It's about two miles down the road. In talking with parents, they seem to be OK with that, plus Sycamore Creek has been running under capacity.

Hill says he fears that when the economy recovers and home building starts again, the system may need a lot of seats.

Turning to Wakefield Elementary, returning to traditional calendar there will “slam” core facilities. All 15 modular units will have to be used rather than being mothballed, and the school will lose what was going to be a playground.

Hill says, “I just see us flip-members were told, flopping” on where children go for school. That will take stress off the core facilities. They won’t have to “sign up to go to the bathroom said, seems

Mills Park Elementary, Margiotta said, should open as a traditional school seems to make sense. There are two schools 2 miles away, one that is year-round and one that will open as a year-round.

Hall asked about year-round middle school options for Mills Park people when their children move up from elementary school. He was told there was room at East Cary Middle and at Lufkin Middle. Salem Middle School has 1,335 students with a capacity of 1,269.

Tedesco noted, however, that a lot of parents said they would shift to traditional calendar if they could, opening seats at Salem Middle. He also said that the board should “leave Barwell Middle off the table for today.”

The staff noted that the system probably will not be able to seat all the applicants at Heritage. “We don’t have final numbers,” but Heritage Middle is looking like there won’t be enough room for applicants.

Margiotta calls for a vote for schools to be changed:

  • Leesville Road Middle conversion to traditional - unanimous yes
  • Leesville Elementary conversion to traditional: 7-1 in favor, will Hill voting against
  • Mills Park Elementary conversion to traditional: unanimous yes
  • Mills Park Middle: open in 2010-2011 as a traditional: Unanimous

The board took no action on Wakefield Elementary.

The board will vote again during the 3 p.m. meeting.

1 p.m. – The board recesses for lunch. During a break, Margiotta says no action was taken on the matter regarding Burns but that discussion is not over.

"I'm still at the table, still working," Burns said. "Let's leave it at that."

When asked if he plans to present the budget this afternoon, he said: "The budget will be presented."

12:30 p.m. – The board hears a presentation on converting school calendars and discusses whether to convert the schools.

Four year-round elementary and middle schools could be converted to traditional-calendar schedules, beginning as early as the 2010-2011 school year.

The school system has identified three schools for conversion – 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.

More than half the parents surveyed indicated a preference in traditional schools and that's why they were recommended. Sixty percent of parents at Leesville Middle indicated they preferred a traditional-calendar school; 57 percent of Wakefield Elementary and 56 percent at Salem Middle prefer traditional-calendar schedules.

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

Board member Keith Sutton asks how the system will look at changes in fiscal impact of going to traditional calendars because those cost more. He notes that funding is more a question for the county commissioners, but he wants to know "what can we do to try to assure funding now and in the future?" He directed that to Margiotta, as a former commissioner.

"There are so many factors to consider in that," Margiotta said. "When will the next bond be issued? When will the economy turn around? What will enrollment trends be?" He also says the school board will need to look at the efficiency of year-round schools because "a heck of a lot of them" seem to be under capacity.

Noon – The board convenes for the Committee of the Whole meeting with no decision on Burns. It's unclear if a decision has been reached, but it has not scheduled another one. Burns IS present for the meeting and is sitting next to school board Chairman Ron Margiotta. He has been noticeable absent from school board events since his comments.

Board member Kevin Hill wants a discussion on committee and chair assignments. He says he's concerned that some of the assignment have not been made in an equitable manner …Six of the seven committees, including student assignment, are chaired by the new board members who are calling for a change in the busing policy

He says there's been no discussion of these committees.

Hill says he's concerned that the community-based schools resolution is on the agenda when it hasn't even gone before the policy committee.

Board member Debra Goldman says it was done according to policy and that it will be discussed. The board has a right to reject the resolution or pass it, she says.

The following are updates from a closed executive meeting that convened at 10 a.m.:

The board began its day at 10 a.m. to discuss in a closed session the future of Superintendent Del Burns with the school system and has met for two hours. Burns has been in and out of the meeting room this morning. WRAL News has been told a lot of the discussion has had to do with legal matters.

Burns, who announced that he is 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, he 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.

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