Wake County Schools

Raleigh mayor concerned over new Wake assignment plan

Posted April 11, 2012 1:49 p.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2012 2:03 p.m. EDT

— Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane expressed concern Wednesday about how confusion over the Wake County Public School System's new student assignment plan could be hurting the city's ability to recruit businesses.

McFarlane was one of six Wake County mayors who met with Wake County Board of Education members and school Superintendent Tony Tata at a meeting of the Wake County Mayors Association. The group met to discuss how the local municipalities can better work with the school system to set and meet educational goals.

"I'm just starting to hear from people who either have businesses here and are trying to recruit new employees, or they may be moving a business here, and people are very surprised, when they're looking for a home, that no one can tell them where their child is going to school," McFarlane said.

The new assignment plan, which goes into effect in the fall, replaces a decade-old practice of busing students for socio-economic diversity. It's intended to allow parents to rank, among several schools, their preference of where their children might attend school, but final placement by the district is based on a number of factors.

"I don't want to see anything happen that would drive business away or people away," McFarlane said. "I have three kids who went to Wake County schools and have always been incredibly proud of them. We always said you can live anywhere in Wake County and go to a great school. That was what kept us at the top of the heap across the country, and we need to keep that in mind as we move forward."

Nearly 75 percent of parents who participated in a first choice-selection phase received their first choice, but some parents said the new plan has their children going to different elementary schools or that they still don't know where their children will go to school.

School board members acknowledged Wednesday that the plan is still evolving, and Tata said that there are still issues that need to be addressed but that the plan needs to be given a chance.

"I take all concerns of elected officials and parents very seriously," Tata said. "I would say that the newcomer issue is at the very top of the list of those that we really feel like we need to address so that we're fair."

Another challenge, he said, is how to figure out what to do when all of them want the same school, but it's too crowded.

Proponents of the new assignment plan have said that it will give parents a better idea of where their child could go to school and that it will also prevent students from being reassigned to schools.

"I had a business owner reach out to me last week, and he said, 'You guys are still doing that busing program, aren't you? We're really concerned about that.'" Tata said. "I actually wrote him back and said, 'No, we have a choice-based assignment plan.' So, let's not pretend we didn't have issues with the old assignment plan."