Wake County Schools

Last-minute changes proposed for Wake student assignment plan

Posted January 3, 2012 10:24 p.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2012 5:23 a.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

— Just two weeks before Wake County's new student assignment plan is set to take effect, some school board members said they're not comfortable supporting it and proposed last-minute changes. 

Three newly elected board members, all Democrats, joined the rest of the board Tuesday afternoon for a work session to discuss questions and concerns surrounding the new choice-model plan, which was approved in October when Republican members had the majority.

The plan passed 7-2, with "no" votes coming from Kevin Hill and Keith Sutton, who now hold the chair and vice chair seats on the board.

Parents are supposed to begin ranking school choices on Jan. 17, but the new Democratic majority asked for more time to work on the plan and better inform parents of how it will work.

Board member Chris Malone, however, said putting the plan on hold could be a "disaster."

"I am really concerned about the instability of the system and where people are going to be going to schools," he said.

Despite information sessions and other outreach efforts over the last few months, board member Jim Martin said he doesn't think parents fully understand the plan.

"Is the communication getting to the right places? I went to (an information) session where I did not feel people understand the plan," he said. "Was that a fluke session?"

Susan Evans, who defeated former Chairman Ron Margiotta for the District 8 seat, said discussing the plan in detail is crucial to get new board members to support it and believe it can be successful. 

"Is there enough space to have more time to work on this?" she asked. "I want to make sure this will work (and) I'm not there yet."

Concerns about the plan centered mostly on new feeder patterns that guarantee students in an elementary school move on to specific middle schools and high schools, but board members also raised issues with the cost of the plan and the number of seats available in magnet schools.

Superintendent Tony Tata said that, despite concerns, he expects the plan to be on track and on time for implementation.

"I am confident we are moving forward," he said. "I really feel good about the plan."

James Overman, who led the task force charged with developing a student assignment proposal, said he acknowledges the plan isn't perfect, but that it's the best step for Wake County right now. 

There were some heated exchanges at Tuesday's meeting when board member Debra Goldman learned that new board members and Hill had met with education consultant Michael Alves without alerting or including the rest of the board. The new assignment plan is largely based on Alves' choice model.

"I think it's great the new board members were given that opportunity, but I don't think it's transparent by any stretch that the rest of the board was not even notified of this (and) that the public didn't know," Goldman said.

Hill argued that board veterans had previously met with Alves and that the recent meeting was only intended to bring new board members up to speed.