Wake County Schools

Wake schools to send letter to accreditation group

Posted January 12, 2011 12:07 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2011 11:06 p.m. EST

— The Wake County school board decided on Wednesday to send a letter to the national group that accredits the county's schools. 

The board came to the decision after a closed session discussion into whether to withdraw from accreditation group AdvancED, which the board believes is overstepping its bounds in reviewing the board’s governance and leadership after controversial changes it made last year to the district’s longstanding student assignment policy.

"This is a vote for ongoing cooperation. It is not a vote to withdraw and I want to be very clear about that," board member Debra Goldman said. 

The letter will be drawn up and made public when it is sent.

Earlier Wednesday, Wake County school board member Carolyn Morrison said she would vote against leaving the group.

“Withdrawing our accreditation would be another discouraging blow to our school system,” Morrison said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, hours before the meeting..

“Withdrawing our accreditation now would be precipitous,” she continued. “It also could be misinterpreted as flight (and) can be used as evidence of guilt.”

The North Carolina NAACP, which fears the changes will segregate schools, filed a complaint in March with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a subdivision of AdvancEd.

In response to the board’s concerns, AdvanceED President Mark Elgart, this week, fired back with a suggestion that the school board consider withdrawing its accreditation after an e-mail from school board attorney Ann Majestic.

Majestic had asked that the AdvanceEd team limit the scope of its review and allow an attorney to be present to represent school because of a legal challenge that the NAACP also filed with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

“We need to follow the SACS procedures in a cooperative/collegial manner, not hinder them in their investigation, receive and consider their decision, and then decide whether to accept it or appeal ultimately to the courts,” Morrison said in her statement. “If SACS issued an unfavorable decision, we could seek to retain our accreditation during the appellate process.”

School board member John Tedesco said Tuesday that AdvancED isn’t the only accreditation agency.

"There are several other agencies that do accreditation of a higher caliber (that) we are looking at,” he said.

Accreditation is important, because it can be used in determining a high school student’s acceptance to a higher institution of learning.

How institutions use it varies, however.

Officials at several local colleges and universities say there are a number of determining factors in student acceptance – ranging from student grades and test scores to campus and community involvement – but that accreditation is still an important factor for several reasons.

"It alone doesn't determine whether or not we accept someone," Christof Guttentag, dean of Duke University's undergraduate admissions, said in an interview in August. "On the other hand, if a school is not accredited, it could reflect that they may not have the resources to provide a student with the education to make them competitive for a school like Duke."

The community group Great Schools in Wake Coalition also weighed in on the matter Wednesday, issuing a statement saying that dropping accreditation could cost students millions of dollars in academic and athletic scholarship and educational loans and limit acceptance to colleges, universities and military programs.

“This majority repeatedly claims to care about the wellbeing of students, yet, when the going gets tough, they put their own self-interests ahead of those of our children,” Great Schools Chairwoman Yevonne Brannon said. “Once again, they are rushing to judgment without regard for how their decisions will impact the reputation of our award-winning school system.”

Also Wednesday, the board held a public hearing on proposed assignment changes to the third year of the school system’s three-year assignment plan that was adopted in 2008.

Last week, school system staff presented changes to the board that could affect the placement of 4,703 students in the 2011-12 school year.

No decisions will be made until the public has a chance to weigh in at four other public hearings on the matter.

The school board’s Finance Committee also met Wednesday to determine what to do about the $100 million budget deficit the school system is facing.

The committee is looking for any way to increase revenue and recently solicited the public for recommendations. It has received more than 800 ideas on how to make cuts and generate revenue.

Ideas have included adding fees for bus transportation, playing sports, pay cuts, employee furloughs, four-day workweeks, staff reductions and decreasing utilities costs.