Wake County Schools

Group: Schedule shift hides cost of Wake assignment plan

Posted February 17, 2012 1:02 p.m. EST
Updated February 17, 2012 6:32 p.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

— A community group on Friday charged that the costs of the new student assignment plan for Wake County schools is being obscured by a proposed shift in school schedules for next fall.

The Great Schools in Wake Coalition says Superintendent Tony Tata and the Wake County Board of Education should publicly disclose the financial analysis used in drafting the choice assignment plan, which was created after the board decided to stop using busing to balance socio-economic diversity across schools and place more emphasis on allowing students to attend schools closer to their homes.

Tata denied that the school district is hiding anything.

"We are being as open and as transparent as we can," he said.

Under the new assignment plan, parents can choose from at least five elementary, two middle and two high schools, based on their address. The schools are a combination of traditional-calendar, year-round calendar, magnet and other specialty options.

Tata has said that adjusting school schedules – some would start up to an hour earlier or later than they do now – could save the school district $10 million by eliminating the need for 112 buses. The district would cut back on the number of tiered bus routes, lengthen bus runs and increase the number of students on each run.

He acknowledged Friday that savings from the schedule shift might be only $8.5 million because the district might need another 50 buses to make the choice assignment plan work.

Some parents have balked at the changes, noting they would affect their ability to drop children off in the morning before work, volunteer at school and children's after-school schedules.

More than 9,400 people have submitted comments online about the schedule change, which the school board is expected to discuss next Tuesday.

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake, alleges that Tata is pushing the new bell schedule to hide the full costs of the assignment plan.

"We see all these kinds of rushed pushes into the public that are not well thought out, and there's no information," Brannon said. "I think taxpayers are just not buying this stuff anymore. They want to understand why do you need these funds, what are you spending them on, how are you really saving money and is it a smart idea?"

Tata said he presented the schedule change as early as possible to get parental feedback. He said the district's budget needs to be cut, and he would prefer to save on transportation costs than on instructional costs.

"It is a tough economic time right now. It's a zero-sum game," he said. "I either modify the transportation system, or I go into the classroom."

If the school board approves the schedule changes, he said, parents would be allowed to switch their school choices so the hours of their selected schools meet their needs.

Board members said they are just beginning to study the schedule changes and savings, and some said they can't support shifts of more than an hour.

"There is so much more than the dollar savings," board member Debra Goldman said. "This is a whole different program. I love to see the dollar savings, but you have to balance those with the costs, and in this case, it could be costs to parents, to kids, to all of our stakeholders."