Wake County Schools

Wake school board discusses student assignment, budget

Posted January 4, 2011 5:30 a.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

— For the first time since selecting a new superintendent, the Wake County Board of Education is meeting Tuesday to discuss two pivotal issues the board will face in 2011 – student assignment and the looming budget deficit.

Tuesday's assignment discussion is the continuation of the planning for 2011-12, the third year in a three-year assignment plan approved in 2008.

Concerned Wake residents addressed the board at the start of the meeting. One resident charged that the board has tried to keep the public out of polcy-making. She questioned their decision to hire new superintendent Anthony Tata just 32 hours before Christmas, with minimal public input.

Another resident said dissolving the district's long-standing diversity policy is "educational genocide." She asked for board support to educate parents on the educational advantages to diversity in the classroom.

A Leesville mother asked the board to consider the "educational welfare of all students, not just affluent students." 

The board asked school system staff to suggest changes to help relieve school overcrowding.

Laura Evans, senior director of growth and planning for the school system, put out a list of schools that will either be under-enrolled or over-enrolled for the 2013-14 school year. This will held board members determine what changes to make next year.

Eighteen schools are projected to be under-enrolled by 75 percent or less in 2013-14. There are projected to be 34 schools over-enrolled by 120 percent or more.

Staff recommendations included: changing the grade configuration at schools, kindergarten through second grade, for example; and using additional temporary classrooms in modular unit facilities.

It was not clear how many students would be affected by these recommendations. 

The board has yet to define terms for a policy change that would favor assignments closer to students’ homes over the long-standing policy of busing to balance socioeconomic diversity within and among the county's schools. 

That policy change prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education after accusations by the NAACP that the change will lead to segregation.

The more pressing issue, estimated $70 million to $100 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2011, is expected to take center stage Tuesday. The district has been taking suggestions from the public on it website on how to make cuts.

With the state facing approximately $3.5 billion in budget cuts, Gov. Bev Perdue has asked all state agencies to draw up a list of spending cuts of between 5 and 15 percent.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction said a cut of only 5 percent would equal layoffs for more than 400 teachers and 73 teaching assistants in the Wake County system.

The school system released 159 pages of suggestions Monday. Among the most common cost savings suggestions:

  • fees for student attendance, bus and facility use and sports participation;
  • pay cuts, early retirement or furloughs for staff;
  • modifications to school thermostats and other utility savings;
  • reduction of paper use and greater utilization of e-mail and web-based documents; and
  • cutting the school and work week to four days.
  • Read all the submitted suggestions

Many comments took the opposition tack as well, pointing out the downsides to a four-day week or added student fees.

New superintendent to make appearance Thursday

The incoming superintendent of the Wake County Public School System will make his first public appearance in the Triangle on Thursday, when he addresses the conservative Wake County Taxpayers Association.

Anthony Tata, a retired U.S. Army officer who was chief operating officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, was named to the post on Christmas Eve.

He takes the job at a time of political tension on the Board of Education and budget pressure from the county and state.