Wake County Schools

Despite concerns, Wake school board to vote on assignment plan

Posted October 17, 2011 1:47 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2011 8:10 a.m. EDT

— Wake County's school board is expected to vote Tuesday on a new student assignment plan, even though there are calls within the community to wait.

The plan, which is based on four key elements – proximity, choice, stability and student achievement – replaces the district's longstanding practice of busing students for socio-economic diversity and aims at giving parents choices for their children's education while keeping students closer to their homes.

School Superintendent Tony Tata, along with a team of district staff, spent several months developing it, testing it and gathering community feedback before presenting the proposal two weeks ago to the school board.

Tata has called it "a very strong plan" with broad community support, but some, including the state chapter of the NAACP, say there are still many unanswered questions for it to be adopted now.

One of the most vocal opponents of last year's controversial policy changes, the group worries the new plan could segregate schools and create what it calls "pockets of poverty" in the school district.

It wants Tata to hold more public hearings and says that, despite meeting with Tata about its concerns in July, they have not yet been fully addressed.

"There are still many unanswered questions including: How will the new plan prevent creating additional high-poverty, racially identifiable schools?" state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said Monday. “Also, what evidence is there to show the new plan will work better than the current gold standard, nationally recognized plan to provide the right balance of diversity and resources necessary for student achievement?"

Barber said that any plan must measure up to the law, and he pointed out that an investigation into a civil rights complaint and a review of the school system's accreditation by a national organization are still pending.

The NAACP isn't alone in its opposition.

Great Schools in Wake County says it also wants the board to hold off on voting, citing lingering concerns about how the plan will affect feeder patterns and about cost and whether the Wake County Board of Commissioners will support them. The plan is initially expected to take more buses, drivers and gas.

"This is more of a concept brief than a full-fledged plan. Let's take this great concept brief and lets make sure we take our time to get it right," Great Schools in Wake co-founder Yvonne Brannon said. "There is not a dime to waste in this economy. Next year we are losing over $26 million in federal funds."

Brannon said her group would like the board to wait until at least December, when newly elected members – who also have expressed concerns about the plan – will take their seats.

"We need to let them have an input into this plan," she said. "They are going to have four years to implement it and to live with it."

Tata wasn't available for a comment Monday, but has said that it is important to move forward now so that parents can begin ranking school choices in January in preparation for the next school year.

Student assignment software needs to be written, he said, people need to be trained on it and the community needs further education about the plan.

It includes constant monitoring and evaluation, he has said, and any changes will be made as needed.

In contrast to the current plan, in which a student could potentially be reassigned every school year, Tata's plan assigns students based on proximity to their homes and gives parents more options about their children's schooling.

Parents would choose among at least five elementary schools and two middle and high schools – including traditional, year-round, magnet and high-performing schools – and would have priority at schools closest to their home and where children have a sibling attending.

Students already enrolled in the district could also stay at their current school. Students in schools considered to be low-performing would also be able to choose to attend a school that's considered high-performing, based on test scores and teacher qualifications.

Tata has said that keeping magnet schools in place and giving students higher-performing schools on their choice list will help balance diversity and achievement in the new plan.