Wake County Schools

Wake schools assignment committee back to basics

Posted October 12, 2010 5:43 a.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2010 6:45 a.m. EDT

— With political fire over student assignment damped down at least temporarily by a surprise school board vote last week, the committee charged with implementing a new policy shifted Tuesday from proposed maps to the meaty details of operations in the 143,000-student Wake County Public School System.

The board swerved last week from the course it had followed since last November’s elections. It voted 5-3 to pull the plug immediately on a plan to put a community-based assignment policy into effect by creating a series of school assignment zones and to dump socio-economic diversity as a criterion.

With discussions reset Tuesday, the term most used during a three-hour Student Assignment Committee meeting was “equity.”

Administrators gave the committee dozens and dozens of pages laying out the basic mechanics of school funding and how program offerings differ across the county’s 163 schools.

“It puts an end to the zones and it puts us back to where we were before the election,” board member Chris Malone, who was elected last year with three other opponents of continuity assignment based on trying to balance socio-economic diversity across the schools, said about last week's action.

“It” was board Vice Chair Debra Goldman's resolution to stop the mapping process in its tracks. Goldman, another of the newcomers, had voted with the other three and Chairman Ron Margiotta for the community-based policy.

The process in Tedesco’s committee was moving too fast, and not enough voices from the board and community were being heard, she said, though she also said she said she remains committed to community-based assignment.

Goldman is expected to discuss her concerns about how to do it in a forum Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Cary Town Hall.

“I believe that we don't need to completely tear down and start over,” she said last week. “I believe we can keep what is working and address the areas where there are problems.”

She said she wants an "equity-based" system that still works toward community-based schools without “putting in lines and dividing communities.”

The equity theme has been heard frequently in another committee Tedesco chairs, the Economically Disadvantaged Student Performance Task Force. Equity, in those discussions and in the committee meeting Tuesday, means giving each school the resources to have students succeed.

Assignment Committee members noted that how students are assigned to schools affects the demands on teachers and what resources are available to inspire students.

"What role does assignment play" in helping or hurting schools in maximizing "the effectiveness of the dollars" that come to them through the district's formulas, said Anne Cooper, one of the nine non-voting community members of the committee.

"All of that plays a role into the questions that we want to ask ourselves," Tedesco said.

David Williams, another of the community committee members, summed up the potential power of the mounds of data that staff presented.

If all the information about district funding, grants and PTA funding and program differences like AP courses and JROTC could be summarized in one document, Williams suggested, "Maybe we'll see why some schools are more popular than others."

Keith Sutton, one of the board's minority that opposed the policy change through a series of contentious 5-4 votes, said Tuesday, "I certainly think it’s a new direction. I don’t know that we’re necessarily starting over. He added that the committee is right "going back to what we had or looking at the pieces that we're working with in terms of what we had and looking at how we can make some modifications to that, to improve it."

Asked about the committee's direction, Tedesco said, "I guess we’re going to have to continue talking about that as a committee. I wish I knew. I’ll be honest with you I don’t have a clear answer as of now. …”

"We had real hope and promise," Tedesco said of the proposed assignment zones.

Malone and Tedesco both noted that Goldman was not at the meeting.

"She’s a busy lady. She has a lot of meetings, I guess," Tedesco said. He and Goldman had traded barbs during last week's board meeting, and he later referred to her on a Facebook page as "Benedict Goldman."