Blog: Wake school board April 6 meeting

In debating a resolution needed to accompany an application for federal money for magnet schools, the board found itself back to discussing whether community-based school assignments will support diversity.

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Wake County Public School System
RALEIGH, N.C. — Where the Wake County Board of Education stands on diversity efforts and community-based school assignments came to the fore again Tuesday as the board debated a resolution that goes with an application for federal money for magnet schools.

The resolution says the system supports voluntary desegregation, but four members who opposed the community-based assignment plan said they doubted the commitment was as strong as it had been before.

The board voted 5-4 for the resolution, splitting along the same line that has marked many votes since the current majority took office.

Earlier, the board began its working and voting meetings with news from the school system staff that the state Department of Public Instruction is expected to reduce funding by 3 percent for the 2010-11 year.

That means the district expects to confront an additional $20 million funding shortfall on top of other fiscal problems already facing it.

The staff said reductions would be "significant" in many areas, though details are not yet known. Staff did present a plan it already had devised to cut vacant and filled positions in a bid to save $6.6 million.

8:15 -- The board voted to return to closed session for personnel matters.
7:55 -- The board continued to work its way line-by-line through a list of changes to reassignments that it had made at its last meeting.
6:15 -- The board began hearing information on applications for 2010-11 school assignments based on school calendars.

Staff gave the board a list of school changes to its multi-year assignment plan based on parents' requests for year-round or traditional-calendar schools. Some of the reassignments were ones that  had brought people in front of the board earlier with pleas not to make the changes.

Chairman Ron Margiotta suggested after 45 minutes of discussion about various nodes on the attendance map that the board not deal with specific school issues because of the disruption to planning that would cause to staff.

Each change, Acting Superintendent Donna Hargens said, affects the entire system because of changes to student populations and resulting changes in budget allotments for each school.

"We're just going to disrupt too many people," Margiotta said. It took several years to arrive at the current assignment plan, and it will take time to make changes. He recommended the board stay out of what base schools are assigned which neighborhoods.

Regardless, the board voted to change staff plans for nodes 375, 628.1 and 628.2. Goldman asked the board to change nodes 25.0 and 133.0 from Moore Square middle school back to Daniels Middle School, where they had been assigned before the 2009-10 year, but members voted 5-3 against it.

5:42 -- The board took up a resolution, controversial in its earlier committee motion, saying the school system "stands committed to voluntary desegregation in an effort to reduce and prevent minority group isolation and promote cultural integration." The district has to submit the plan as part of its application for federal aid for magnet schools.

Carolyn Morrison said the district has been using the same plan for 15 years. The staff said it had not yet written the plan it would submit with the application. Morrison said she wanted to see the plan before voting for the resolution.

Anne McLaurin asked if the staff would include the previous policy in light of recent votes for a directive to change from busing for economic diversity to community-based assignments.

The staff told the board that example plans given out by the U.S. Department of Education have ones including on community-based schools. McLaurin said the application seemed to her to be an effort to get money without having a true commitment to diversity in the schools.

Member Keith Sutton, saying there is "ambiguity" about diversity and community school assignments, and he asked to send the resolution back to the board's Policy Committee. That was defeated 5-4.

John Tedesco told other members that approving the voluntary desegregation language can go along with community-based schools in writing a new attendance policy.

Ann Majestic, the board's attorney, said that language saying the system "has adopted a directive to transition our student assignment model to use community-based attendance zones" might make the resolution a policy statement that would require a vote at two board meetings. The board voted 5-4 twice for the switch to community-based assignments rather than working to assure economic diversity.

Tedesco noted that language supporting magnet schools came from the board's directive about assignments.

5:09 -- The board returned from a recess that had been requested by the staff and took up its proposed legislative agenda. Member Keith Sutton suggested adopting a shorter list of goals for the Legislature's 2009 short session. The staff agreed that not all items in its list would come up this year, but said that establishing the board's position on issues was useful if one arose in legislation.

Member John Tedesco suggested that some issues might be discussed in legislative committees this year even though they could not be put in legislation until 2011.

In an often-seen 5-4 vote, the board changed the staff's proposed priorities to say that the board does not want to be given taxing authority. The state school boards association supports giving school systems that power, the staff told the board. Tedesco characterized it as checks and balances for the schools to have to go to the county commissioners for funds.

Member Chris Malone asked the board to make it a priority to remove the current state cap on the number of charter schools. Sutton said it would not be "prudent" to take up the issue, particularly because a court decision held that school districts had to give more money to charter schools when students go there. Debra Goldman said the board should support raising the cap, but not removing it, and the board concurred.

Malone said he thinks of charter schools as a "sister system" to the public schools and can help take some pressure off the county system..

Goldman asked the board to remove a section saying they support continuing the ban on collective bargaining by public employees. The board voted 5-3 against it, however.

The board then voted 5-4 to adopt the amended priority list.

4:50 -- The board voted 8-0 to raise breakfast and lunch prices in the schools effective July 1. Elementary breakfast prices have been the same since 1995. The latest increase for any meal at any level was 2004, nutrition director Marilyn Moody told the board.

Elementary breakfast and lunch prices will be $1 and $2, respectively. Middle school and high school breakfast prices go to $1.25, and lunches will cost $2.25. Reduced breakfast prices remain 30 cents in all grades; reduced lunch prices stay at 40 cents.

Elementary lunch prices have been 80 cents and lunches $1.75. For middle and high schools, the breakfast charge has been $1, while lunches have cost $2.

"We've been very frugal," Moody told the board. Labor spending is "as tight as we can possibly make it," she said. However, the district food system has spent its reserve funds down to where it has 1.3 months' expenses. That is too low, she said, especially when federal funding for free-and-reduced lunches for disadvantaged students takes six weeks to arrive and sometimes more.

It currently costs $2.68 to produce a student lunch, Moody said. She noted that the district could make more money on meals if cafeterias shifted to less-healthy foods like French fries, but, "We don't want to go there."

Stopping the sale of sugary drinks has reduced revenue, Moody noted.

 4:45 -- Public comments closed, and the board took up its agenda once more.
4:35 -- Parent Lynn Edwards, a member of the PTA at the Washington Elementary Magnet School, presented a PTA resolution urging the board to "maintain diversity through magnet schools and parent choice."
3:58 -- The board returned to resume its public session and began hearing public comments. Eighteen people had signed up to speak, most of them about recent reassignments of some neighborhoods to different schools for the next year.

Elizabeth Benjamin of Morrisville told the board that 300 people had signed petitions urging the board not to reassign children from their neighborhoods to Weatherstone Elementary School in Cary, which they said was three times as far as their current school. Other schools with traditional calendars are closer, she said.s

About two dozen people attended the meeting, leaving numerous empty seats in a room that for the last two board meetings was at capacity. The board has been handing out tickets for the meeting in order to control the crowds.

Several Raleigh police officers were posted at the meeting in response to unruly members of the public at previous meetings.

3:35 -- The board moved into a closed session to consider personnel items.
3:10 -- The board opened its official meeting. On its agenda is raising school breakfast and lunch prices, which it discussed extensively with administrators earlier in the day. There is no way to hold prices any longer, the board was told, because the food program is supposed to be self-supporting.
2:45 -- The board adjourned its committee meeting, but not without another discussion, at times tense, of the change from an economic diversity attendance plan to one that emphasizes community schools.
The focus was an application for continued federal funding for magnet schools. The board needs to approve a resolution as part of the package, and it states, "Wake County Public School System desires to provide the best education
to all children served by the school district, and is committed to equal

opportunities for all students in schools throughout the system."

Members of the four-person minority that voted twice against the change said they thought the statement was an attempt simply to get a grant and did not reflect current policy.

Member John Tedesco, who helped write the magnet school resolution and who drove the policy change to favor community-based attendance zones, told the board there is "a false understanding" in the community "that it's one or the other."

"Community schools can go hand-in-hand with diversity," Tedesco told his colleagues. The district's eventual attendance plan will show that, he said.

Member Chris Malone, one of the five-member majority that has consistently voted for the changes, said, "We don't want to have a rear-guard discussion" of issues that are past.

Chairman Ron Margiotta said the consensus was to to vote on the magnet school resolution during the ensuing board meeting. Asked by member Carolyn Morrison if the resolution didn't surely need a two-thirds vote, he ruled that it was not a policy matter and needed only a majority to pass .

2:05 -- The district's transportation staff said it tries every year to get more and more buses making elementary, middle and high school runs.

Staff asked board to look at moving high schools to third-round bus trips and elementary schools to opening first. No options other than the current proposal to change bell schedules can stay within the budget, however, Assistant Superintendent Don Haydon said.

The board was unable to find a change that did not raise costs. In addition, the disruptions for working families would be "too much to ask of our families," Anne McLaurin said. Member John Tedesco concurred, saying, "Anne's right on the money."

Without a certain answer, the board decided to have its Finance Committee  take up the issue next week. The stumbling block Tuesday was that most alternatives to the current plan would require an additional $748,000 for more drivers. The system has "credit" with the state for 25 buses it could get without laying out money.

At its last meeting, it asked school staff to try to modify a plan that would push back the start time of many of the system's elementary schools by 25 minutes.

The school system runs buses at different times to allow buses to run up to three routes in both the mornings and afternoons. Currently, schools are scheduled to open between 7:25 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.

The move would have allowed the school system to save about $2.5 million and eliminated the need of 24 more buses and drivers to accommodate up to 2,000 addition bus-riders at the four new schools.

Some board members were worried about how a 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. school schedule would affect families and children with after-school activities; others were concerned about student performance.

1:25 -- Administrators asked the board to approve an increase in breakfast and lunch prices in school cafeterias, saying that elementary lunch prices had not changed since 2002 or breakfast prices since 1995.
1:10 -- The board's discussion of calendars included the state law that sets starting and ending dates school systems cannot violate. The rules also require 180 school days and 1,000 hours of instruction.
12:55 -- Administrator Dawn Dawson led the board through the 2010-11 calendar. Weather makeup days were an issue, with Debra Goldman asking if makeup days could be moved to March and May. after storms typically occur and when there are few other breaks.

 Dawson noted that some teacher work days in the fall are used to acknowledge Jewish holidays. "We try to make sure we k\honor those holidays," she told the board.

A committee of members from various parts of the school system devise the calendars for board approval. The 2010-11 calendar has been set, and the committee is almost ready to give the board the 2011-12 plan, she said.

12:35 -- The board has resumed its "committee of the whole" meeting with a review of the 2010-11 school calendar.
11:50 -- District staff told the board that one area where converting some schools from year-round to traditional calendars will reduce expenses for clerical workers in the schools because of paying people for a 10-month year rather than for 12 months.

The current proposal for 2010-11 calls for spending $8.8 million for communications and leadership, which includes assistant superintendents. The board also received the staff proposals for cutting vacant and filled positions in next year's budget. The total proposed changes would save about $6.64 million.

Member Anne McLaurin told the staff that "this is a terrible time to be cutting jobs," but she acknowledged the lack of money to pay people.

Chair  Ron Margiotta asked the staff to have all budget details ready as soon as possible so the board can decide if it needs to have another budget work session before it forms a final budget for a vote.

The board then took a lunch recess.

11:35 -- The board began moving through various budget items, including pre-school and special education programs and math and literacy coaches funded by federal stimulus money.
11:15 -- The board members also heard that revenues for the current year are running about $5 million below projections for such items as fines and forfeiture that are supposed to go to school systems. Interest on accounts also is below the target, staff reported. As the board moved into line items, member Debra Goldman asked for information about who in the district is provided with cellular devices such as smart phones.

The board later expects to receive a rundown of how the district will implement layoffs.

Budget talks are also on the board agenda. The school system is facing a projected $20 million budget shortfall that will mean about 70 lay-offs in central services and another 30 to 35 vacant positions eliminated.

The $1.2 billion proposed operating budget includes the opening of four new schools – Heritage High, Holly Grove Middle, Mills Park Middle and Alston Ridge Elementary – and an increase of 3,800 students despite the reduced construction of new housing in the county.

The schools’ budget is due to the county commissioners by May 1.


WRAL's earlier story is below.

In anticipation for another large crowd Tuesday, the Wake County Public School System is again limiting the number of people who can sit in on the school board's public meeting.

Exactly 153 vouchers will be available at the system's administration building at 3600 Wake Forest Road, beginning 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

School officials have cited security and safety concerns for the decision.

Recent board meetings have overflowed with citizens wanting to give their input on the Board of Education's recent decision to implement a community-based school assignment plan.

In a 5-4 vote on March 23, it voted in favor of developing a proposal that would do just that when the system's current assignment plan ends with the 2011-12 school year.

The issue is not among the items on the board's meeting agenda Tuesday.

What is on the agenda includes changes to the current three-year assignment plan, budget talks, bell schedules and sites for what will be the school system's largest high school.

Current reassignment plan
Last week, the Student Assignment Committee reviewed numerous requests for reassignment in the fall, and the board is expected to vote on those requests the committee approved. (See a list of proposed changes.)

Although the changes affect the enrollment levels at certain schools, many of the changes allow students to go to schools closer to where they live – a beginning step toward the community-based assignment policy.

H-6 high school

The board had been expected to take up  finding an alternative site for the high school that had been planned for a site at Forestville Road and U.S. Highway 401, but that was sent to the Facilities Committee for more work.

One of the first actions by the new board majority elected in November was to kill the Forestville plan, already under way on land the district had acquired, and order staff to investigate two alternative sites that were not chosen the first time.

The sites up for consideration are one at U.S. 401 and Louisbury Road and another at Rolesville and Quarry roads.

In its February 5-4 vote to abandon Forestville Road, it cited concerns about traffic congestion, safety and cost overruns.

The move could cost the school system an additional $15.4 million and delay the opening of the new school by as much as two years, to 2014.

A board committee already has decided that the new school will be named Wake Forest High School. The current Wake Forest-Rolesville High School will be renamed as Rolesville High School.


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