Wake County Schools

Wake parents uneasy, uncertain about student assignment plan

Posted October 13, 2011 5:41 p.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2011 2:10 p.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— “Where is my child going to school next year?” That's the concern weighing on the minds of thousands of parents who have children in the Wake County Public School System.

A proposed student assignment plan fails to adequately answer that question, parents said during a public feedback session Thursday at Broughton High School in Raleigh, especially while the board's makeup hangs in limbo.

The hearing comes two days after the election of four Democratic-backed school board candidates. A runoff election for the final seat will be held Nov. 8 and will decide whether the four Republican board members keep their majority or if the four Democratic members gain it.

Many parents urged board members to delay voting on the plan until the newly elected board members take their seats in December, citing results from a summer test-drive of the plan that showed 94 percent of parents are satisfied with their current assignment.

"Let's get it right and move (the new board members) up there and start talking," Laura Broadbelt said during Thursday's hearing.

Superintendent Tony Tata, however, said the vote would go forward, as planned, on Tuesday in order to have the plan in place by January.

"We will bring new board members up-to-date when that time comes, but we are focused on getting this done next week," he said.

Susan Evans, who beat current board Chairman Ron Margiotta for the District 8 seat, questioned why the board was rushing their decision.

"It is not a desperate situation where we have to get it done quickly, and I prefer we do it correctly," she said.

But Margiotta defended the board's decision not to delay a vote.

"Government doesn't stop moving because of an election. It continues," he said. "An entire year would be lost implementing the plan (if we wait), something we are not willing to do."

When the new board members take office, parents like Katie Sommers fear the assignment plan won't stick.

“It’s stressful that my son is going to be moving to a new school, and he keeps asking me and everyone keeps asking me, ‘Where is he going next year?’ And I can’t say where, because I don’t know for sure at this point what’s going to happen,” she said.

In 2009, a newly elected majority on the school board threw out a decade-old plan that bussed students for socioeconomic diversity. For the past two years they've been working on a new plan.

Sommers said she learned early to pay attention to the school board. Her son, 10-year-old Jackson Sommers, has already had his first experience with school reassignment.

“I don’t really like it. I was almost changed to Adams (Elementary School) in first grade, and I wasn’t excited about it,” Jackson said. “But my mom fought for me, and I’m able to stay at Oak Grove.”

Other parents say they just want a plan in place and some stability so leaders can focus on what's really important.

“Student achievement is it,” said parent John Dion. “I don’t care who they go to school with or where they go, I just want to know when they go somewhere it’s a good school to go to.”

Four Democratic-backed candidates – incumbent Keith Sutton in east Raleigh (District 4), Jim Martin in south-central Raleigh (District 5), Christine Kushner in central Raleigh (District 6) and Susan Evans in southern Wake County (District 8) – won seats on the Wake County school board in elections Tuesday.

Incumbent Kevin Hill, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Heather Losurdo are expected to face off in a runoff Nov. 8 to decide who will represent north Raleigh (District 3) on the governing board of the state's largest school system.

Hill finished election night with 49.7 percent of the votes in District 3, just shy of the 50 percent he needed to win. Losurdo requested the runoff.

The proposed student assignment policy aims at giving parents choices for their children's education while keeping students closer to their homes. Opponents, including the state chapter of the NAACP, say the move would create pockets of poverty in the school system and segregate schools.

Under the plan, parents could choose among at least five elementary schools and two middle and high schools – including traditional, year-round, magnet and high-performing schools – based on where they live.

Parents would have priority at schools closest to their home and where children have a sibling attending. Students already enrolled in the district may also stay at their current school. Students in schools considered low-performing will also be able to choose to attend a school that's considered high-performing, based on test scores and qualified teachers.