Wake County Schools

Oct. 4 Wake school board blog

Posted October 4, 2011 11:58 a.m. EDT
Updated October 4, 2011 7:35 p.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

Full board meeting: 

Transportation Manager Bob Snidemiller asked the board to vote on outsourcing the Transportation Department's parts operation. He recommended awarding a more than $195 thousand dollar contract to Carolina Thomas, LLC to manage inventory and parts distribution. It is estimated the move will save about $60 thousand every year, but will require cutting six jobs. The board voted unanimously to make the change.

 After talking about the new plan in great detail in their work session, and hearing from the public on the issue, the Wake County school board wrapped up the new student assignment plan discussion until October 13th. There is a public hearing scheduled for the 13th at Broughton high school.

The full board meeting began with board chairman Ron Margiotta thanking superintendent Tata and the student assignment task force for the plan unveiled during the afternoon work session. He said they will listen to all public feedback now and through the public forum scheduled for October 13th, and said there will be plenty of time to make any needed adjustments. Margiotta said he is confident the board will be able to get back together to vote on the assignment plan on October 18th.

More than 30 people signed up to speak during the public comment portion, most to speak on issues directly related to the new student assignment plan.

John Kinney, Sanderson PTA president, raised concerns about the feeder pattern changes to Sanderson under the new plan.

Raleigh resident Sharon Eckard said the board majority has pushed for some fiscally irresponsible decisions including moving the central office from Raleigh to a leased building in Cary. She says the public has not been fully informed of the cost of the new assignment plan, other than noting that transportation costs will increase initially. She argued the board should take more time to evaluate the costs and inform the public.

Raleigh resident Portia Rochelle asked the board how they can justify abandoning an assignment plan that worked for one that could create segregated, racially identifiable, low performing schools. She said studies show diversity and and resources are directly tied to student achievement. Rochelle told the board any new assignment plan should include those items.

Raleigh resident Todd Ewen said the new assignment plan further alienates and segregates a group of students who are already underrepresented. He said the plan sets the school system back decades and argued that there is great haste and waste in pushing the plan forward now.

David Zonderman urged the board not to push forward with a vote on the new assignment plan. He said the plan is not complete and still has many lingering issues that are not addressed. He raised concerns about what it will mean for magnet schools, filling future new schools, and the economic make up of some schools. Zonderman said changing the current plan will only set Wake County Schools back.

More job cuts:

Responding to continuing fallout from budget cuts Chief Business Officer David Neter told the board he will recommend they vote later this month to cut about ten facilities positions, some of which are currently vacant.

Staff will also request a reduction in force for the transportation department. The board will be asked to vote Tuesday to outsource the transportation parts department. They will be asked to cut about six currently filled transportation positions at their next meeting.

The new student assignment plan:

Wake County school board members are getting their first look Tuesday at a new student assignment plan aimed at giving parents more choices about where their students go to school.

School system Superintendent Tony Tata and his staff have worked on the proposal for the past seven months and have held more than 20 public hearings and received thousands of comments on the plan. The school board could vote on it at its next school board meeting on Oct. 18.

"This truly is Wake County's plan," Tata told the board Tuesday afternoon during a work session.

Although the plan is moving forward, Tata has said the district is still listening to parents and adjusting the plan as needed.

The plan:

Student Assignment Task Force lead James Overman walked Wake County school board members through the new student assignment plan proposal. The plan is built on four pillars: proximity, stability, choice, and achievement.

Parents will be able to choose from at least five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools based on their address. That includes a variety of choices including traditional calendar, year-round, magnet, high performing schools, and some newly added single-gender academies. Students will get priority to the schools closest to their home. The only thing that trumps proximity when it comes to priority seating is if a student already has a sibling at that school. Each has a clearly defined feeder pattern, meaning when a parent chooses an elementary school they can see exactly which middle and high school their child would attend.

All current Wake County students fall under a grandfather clause, which means any student who wants to stay at their current school can do so, and still get transportation to that school.

Last week Tata outlined the following points to helps parents understand assignment plan. Overman walked the board through these as well.

  • School choices (at least five elementary – traditional, year-round, magnet and other schools, including high-performing schools) and priorities are based on a specific address. Parents have priority to the schools closest to their address.
  • Achievement is enhanced through “innovative programming” and “excellent, attractive choices for all students.”
  • Magnet schools remain in their current state, thereby helping “mitigate the spread of high-poverty schools.”
  • Parents who like the schools their children are in can keep their assignment and current transportation arrangement. They can also keep the feeder pattern it provides or choose from their school choices a different school for the next school year or next school level.
  • Parents with children moving from one school level to the next can stay within the feeder pattern of the school their child is in, or they can choose a different school from their school choices (based upon available seats and their priority).
  • Parents who enter the choice process do not give up what they already have until they receive their new choice.
  • If a school’s elementary feeder pattern takes a student away from their most proximate high school, parents still have the highest priority for placement, other than sibling priority, in their most proximate high school.
  • Parents with children in magnet programs can either follow that program feeder pattern or have highest priority on their closest school’s feeder pattern.
  • Parents with children in private, charter or home schools and live in Wake County have the same proximity priority as their neighbor who has children in the school system.
  • Parents with children living near a magnet school whose primary purpose is to avoid high-poverty schools (Brentwood, Bugg, Fuller, Hunter, Millbrook, Poe, Powell or Washington) have at least eight elementary school choices instead of five, and at least two of those choices are schools that have demonstrated high performance ad growth at all student levels.

Overman says the new plan will reduce the number of feeder patterns from 271 to 113 in Wake County. He told the board that will unite neighborhoods, and prevent the need for future forced reassignment.  Overman says new schools built in the future will be filled through the choice process.

If you come from a historically low performing node your student gets priority into a regional high-performing school if you choose to go there. Those are schools with a history of higher test scores, and with highly certified teachers.

Student Assignment Task Force member Susan Pulliam continued the presentation Tuesday.

She told board members there will be a cap on the number of seats in a grade level, and once a school reaches that additional parents requesting the school will get there second choice instead. Pulliam said as areas grow they will try to stay ahead of that growth with new school construction. She told the board that is how they will prevent the need for mandatory reassignments. Pulliam also said they recommend opening new elementary schools as K-2 schools at first, and adding the upper grades later.

Pulliam told the board the task force collected and read more than four thousand comments from the public during two rounds of community outreach sessions. From that she said they learned: parents love choice, parents want stability, parents value achievement options, and parents want feeder parents.

A question came up specifically about the Summerfield North neighborhood in North Raleigh. Right now many homes are closest to North Ridge Elementary, which would eventually feed into Millbrook High School. Sanderson is actually the closest high school to many of those homes and where most families want to go, but Lead Mine Elementary is the main feeder into that high school. Tata wants the board's feedback on whether to change the feeder pattern to send North Ridge to Sanderson, or whether to divide the neighborhood up some in the feeder pattern. That is one of the details that will need to be ironed out in the next couple of weeks.

Pulliam showed the board an example of exactly what the computer program will look like when parents are asked to go online to choose a school. Parents rank their top five elementary school choices and each will show the exact mileage from their home to the school. It also shows the defined feeder pattern of middle and high schools for each choice, along with magnet status, achievement status, capacity, and whether each is traditional or year-round. If a parent chooses a year-round school they can also rank their preference of track, although they are not guaranteed their first track choice.

Students with disabilities:

The new assignment plan is adjusted some for students with disabilities following these goals:

  • To create and develop high quality special education programs in close proximity to students' homes.
  • To develop a wider array of innovative and research-based special education programs that are reflective of our students' achievement levels; their diverse strengths and needs; and parental goals.
  • To increase the access to general education for students with disabilities
  • To partner with schools to build school capacity  through professional learning, the development of positive school climates, and facility planning.
  • To seek parental and community input in the improvement and development of positive school climates, and facility planning.

91 percent of students with disabilities will participate in the new choice model plan like all other students. 9 percent of students will require a specialized plan. Over the next three years Wake County schools will phase in the choice model for those students starting with the younger grade levels. The idea is to give parents the choice of school that best meets their child's needs, eventually bringing those as close to home as possible.

Community Outreach:

Susan Andrews with the student assignment task force talked with the board about community outreach needed to make the plan work.
Wake County schools staff plans to partner with various community, faith-based, and business groups to get the word out. They will tap into both traditional and social media to inform parents about the choice model and how to choose their child's school. The staff is looking at community meetings and training of school staff to help parents enroll their kids. They are also talking about translating the information into multiple languages for printed materials, and website information.

Transportation:

To get the new plan up and running while still providing transportation for any student who wants to stay in their current school,Transportation Manager Bob Snidemiller, told the board they will have to add about 193 new bus runs for the 2012-2013 school year. That means buying an additional 5 to 25 school buses at a cost of about $87 thousand each. He says that cost should come down.

The vote:

Tata told the school board members he is confident that following a final public hearing on the issue on Oct. 13 the assignment plan will be ready for a vote at the Oct. 18 meeting.

The Oct. 13 public hearing is at Broughton High School in Raleigh. Online registration begins at the school system's website at 9 a.m. on Oct. 8. Anyone interested in speaking can also sign up at the door between 4 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. on the day of the hearing. Speakers are limited to two minutes.