Wake County Schools

Blog: Wake school board approves assignment plan in 6-2 vote

Wake County's school board is meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss last-minute updates to a new student assignment plan before moving forward with the vote at their regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m. in Cary.

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CARY, N.C.School Board approves the new student assignment plan 6-2

The final vote:

Keith Sutton: No

Anne McLaurin: Yes

Debra Goldman: Yes

John Tedesco: Yes

Kevin Hill: No

Carolyn Morrison: Yes

Deborah Prickett: Yes

Chris Malone: Yes

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.


6:15 p.m. -- Superintendent Tony Tata asks the school board to approve his plan, which he said provides stability and choice for Wake County families. 
The final assignment plan discussion and vote:
Superintendent Tony Tata asked the Wake County school board to approve his new choice-model student assignment plan Tuesday night. Tata's resolution said the assignment plan would be in place for a minimum of 3 years.
Tedesco made a motion to approve the plan. Debra Goldman seconded the motion.

Kevin Hill said he can not support the current plan without guaranteeing set aside seats for low performing students in higher performing schools.

Keith Sutton said he did not think the plan was rushed, but he thinks it is important to have consenus of the borard and community about the new assignment plan. He asked to dealy the vote for 30 days to allow for more detail and information to include discussion with newly elected board members as well.

5:45 p.m. -- Fourteen people addressed the board about their concerns with the proposed assignment plan during the public comment portion of the meeting. Several parents requested specific changes to the feeder patterns for their children's schools.

Others, however, slammed the board for voting before newly elected members take office in December, saying the plan has not been fully "fleshed out" and blasting the Republican board majority for "ramming it through."

WORK SESSION, 3 to 5 p.m.

The work session began with an update on the final plan for board members by student assignment task force lead James Overman.
They started with addressing specific questions from the board asked during  the last meeting. Most involved specific feeder patterns for a handful of schools.

Debra Goldman asked whether choice enrollment happens on a first come first serve basis. Overman told the board all parents must choose by a specified deadline and all assignments are made after that deadline. If there are enough seats in a school for everyone who makes it their first choice they would all get in. If capacity becomes an issue they look to the priority categories including proximity and siblings already in the school.

Filling new schools:

Board members also asked how new schools would be filled under the choice plan. Overman said they recommend filling new elementary schools through parent choice at the K-3 level first and plan future construction to fill future middle and high schools as students age up and follow those new feeder patterns. Some have raised concern about whether parents would be willing to choose a brand new school over one with an established history. When it is necessary to build a new middle school or high school now, they recommend starting at the 6th, 9th, and 10th grade levels through choice.

Kevin Hill raised a question about funding new schools and making those work within the new plan, especially when it comes to asking for a bond referendum. Superintendent Tony Tata said finalizing a new student assignment is important to developing a budget and talking with county commissioners about funding and a bond.


Board members also asked whether there will be enough seats at regional choice schools. Those are additional school choices offered to students who live close to group one magnet schools, which would admit many students who don't live nearby. Staff members told the board projections show there would be more than enough room to seat any student who might want to attend one of those options.

Tata also told the board there will be additional outreach efforts to help fill under-enrolled or under-chosen schools.

Additional Updates:
Overman briefed board members on a few additional changes since their last meeting,and following a final public hearing on the student assignment plan. For year-round elementary students whose closest middle school is not year-round, the staff added a priority option for those students to have a better shot at sticking with the year-round calendar.

They recommend sending notice to all students in November about where they would be assigned to school next year under the current plan, and giving them the option to make a change under the new choice plan. Any currently enrolled students can stay in their current schools. Any currently enrolled student who does not make a choice will be automatically grandfathered into their current schools. All newly enrolling students, including all rising kindergartners, must make a choice under the new plan next year. The superintendent's office will launch an extensive community outreach effort to get all parents involved in the process.

Monitoring and evaluation:
Overman told the board they will include ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure the effectiveness of the new choice-model plan moving forward. That would include the creation of an advisory board made up of Wake County schools leadership, community groups, parent organizations, and students and teachers.

He also said they will pay close attention to under-chosen, under-enrolled schools and take quick steps to make those schools more attractive choices. They will also note an evaluate why some schools are highly chosen, or most popular.

Cost analysis:
Assignment plan task force members told the board it will cost a little more than $700 thousand to launch the new student assignment plan next year.
Because currently enrolled students will be allowed to stay in their current schools Wake County will have to ensure they have enough buses for those options as well as those choosing new options to closer to home. They told the board they need to buy 5-25 additional buses to make that happen. WCPSS can lease buses from the state at a cost of $33,000 per bus, per year.

Additional costs include the creation of registration centers and materials, software, and marketing.

Parent Engagement and Community Outreach:

Superintendent Tata created a new position and community outreach office to prepare for a quick launch of the new plan. The office is already preparing material and a new website to help guide parents through the change and enrollment as soon as a new plan is approved. They will help guide parents who do not have Internet access to places where they can view school choices and make selections for their students.


Once a new plan is approved Wake County schools would send out an immediate letter to all parents notifying them of the change. They plan to start the pre-enrollment process for kindergartners by the end of November. The magnet school application process would begin in December, and all students and parents would be able to start the choice process in January. The plan would be effective for the 2011-2012 school year.


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