Wake County Schools

Blog: Wake County Feb. 1 school board meeting

The Wake County Board of Education met for more than six hours Feb. 1, discussing a number of matters, includign reassignment for 2011-12, and hearing from the public.

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Wake County Public School System
10 p.m. – Shanahan Law Group contract

After nearly two hours discussing student assignment, the board moves on to talking about an additional $25,000 for Shanahan Law Group to continuing representing the board.

The group, Ron Margiotta says, is representing the board in a case regarding public meetings and wants to keep the firm.

Debra Goldman supports the measure and also suggests retaining Shanahan to help with redistricting since it has experience in the matter. She suggests setting aside an additional $10,000 for that.

Hill says he can’t yet support the $25,000 but does support Goldman’s suggested $10,000. He suggests $10,000 total. And review the matter in March after he has a better idea what the money is going for.

Other board members express similar concerns, and ultimately votes in favor of the $25,000 and an additional $10,000 for redistricting.

Shanahan Law Group, which the board hired in August as a consultant and to help represent it on legal matters. The board already uses the legal services of Tharrington Smith LLP.

The additional funding, according to the meeting agenda, is “based on the possibility of future consultation and potential pending litigation.”

Tedesco says that includes the current public meeting lawsuit, as well as possible legal matters related to an upcoming review by AdvancED and an investigation by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

Earlier, the board voted to delay a decision on a contract with AMI Kids Inc. to provide on-site alternative instructional services for students with disabilities who have been suspended long-term. School staff are asking for $213,930.

The board also unanimously approved a resolution to support National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month to help end teen-dating violence. Seventy percent of women 16-24 years old experience some form of abuse in dating relationships and a third of them never report it.

8 p.m. – Approval of school assignment changes for 2011-12

After more than an hour of public comment and a short break, Laura Evans, senior director of the school system’s growth and planning department asks for approval of assignment changes for the next school year.

Fewer students, she says, will change schools next year because of grandfathering rules that allow them to stay in their current schools.

Last week, the board finalized the proposal that will ultimately reassign more than 3,7000 students.

Carolyn Morrison asks whether approving the plan will jeopardize the board and system’s standing with two pending investigations – the AdvancED review this month and an investigation by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights – by moving students back to high-poverty areas.

Board attorney Ann Majestic says she doesn’t know about the OCR investigation – it’s too early to say and she wouldn’t be surprised if it were to expand its investigation. As far as AdvancED, she doesn’t think so, since the group is only looking at the board’s process.

Kevin Hill wants to pull several changes (line items 4, 5, 13, 17, 20. 24, 27, 30, 37-47, 49, 56, 57, 58, 59, 70 on the proposal) and vote on the others. He wants to introduce a substitute motion to approve all changes with the exception of these.

Tedesco says he has concerns, saying the board worked through the assignment process over the past couple months and that the board worked in a cooperative process to finalize these numbers. Many changes Hill wants removed affect other changes, Tedesco says.

Evans says the changes Hill wants removed don’t have to do with anything that assign students to Walnut Creek Elementary School or addressing overcrowding.

Chris Malone says the board has already deliberated on all the changes. “I don’t see any purpose in lengthening this at all,” he says.

Hill says that the fact that these changes are in the proposal doesn’t mean all the board members approve of the changes.

Tedesco says that he would have a concern about approving the remaining changes without knowing how they would be affected by withdrawing the changes proposed by Hill.

Deborah Prickett agrees with Tedesco, saying a lot of parents want these changes.

The board votes in favor of Hill’s substitute motion but decides to take a vote on each of the line items Hill wants removed.

Tedesco says he wants an additional work session to look at these changes and then come back with a plan that can be approved.

Prickett says taking these off will have an impact but doesn’t see the need for another work session but a full meeting to work on the assignment plan.

McLaurin says they need to get a student assignment plan, open a new school and move forward in the most collaborative way possible.

The board ultimately votes to remove three of the items that Hill suggested to be removed. Those are items 4, 40 and 42.

Tedesco then asks that remaining changes be voted on – the board decides not to remove any.

Margiotta then asks Evans if removing items 4, 40 and 42 will affect the reassignment plan negatively, but Evans doesn’t think so.

Before moving on, Prickett says she wants to magnetize York Elementary School for the 2011-12, but McLaurin says there is a process for deciding which schools become magnets and that ignoring the process would not be in the best interest of the school system, since the process has been successful in the past.

The board votes against magnetizing York but board members say they are interested in the ongoing magnet review of the school.

The board’s approval of changes in the reassignment plan doesn’t include changes the board made after a series of public hearings, and the board has to hold a public hearing before it can approve them. That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 15, which is when the board expects to approve them as well.

The reassignment plan, the final year of a three-year plan, has drawn criticism from those who oppose the board’s new student assignment policy, which moves away from a decade-old policy of busing students so that no school has more than 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches. The new policy, which takes effect in 2012-13, assigns students to schools based on where they live.

Many are concerned that changing the policy will segregate schools and deny children who are economically disadvantaged from receiving the same level of education as their counterparts.

Great Schools in Wake County says nearly 90 percent of students affected by the 2011-12 assignment plan are economically disadvantaged students being reassigned to high-poverty schools.

Many speakers in the public hearing voiced similar concerns.

6:10 p.m. – Public comment

Thirty-nine people are signed up to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.

Many speakers, more than half, are speaking on 2011-12 reassignment – some applauding the board for the changes – but many opposed to the changes. Some asked the board to hold off on changes to the student assignment plan for next year, saying it is moving too many poor, minority students from integrated high-performing schools to segregated low-performing schools.

“Please hold off on making these detrimental moves,” one speaker says, adding that the plan will move poor students into magnet schools, meaning the “death of magnet schools.”

Carrie Dow Smith says the board’s decision will reduce the number of seats in magnet schools and urges the school board to hold off until further study. Her children attend Hunter Elementary School – “a beautiful example of symbiosis,” she says.

Vicky Adamson (sp?) says the plan results in a net loss of more than 300 magnet school seats – only two schools gained magnet seats in the plan.

Other speakers comment on a proposal by the board to pay an additional $25,000 to Shanahan Law Group when there is already a legal team from Tharrington Smith to represent the board.

A lighter moment in the public hearing was when Tama Bouncer, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, presented Superintendent Tony Tata with a “Cat in the Hat” hat. She urged the board to take 30 minutes on March 2 (Dr. Seuss’s birthday) and read with a child. It’s part of a national Read Across America initiative by the National Education Association and the North Carolina Association of Educators to have every child read with a caring adult for 30 minutes that day.

6 p.m. – Projected student enrollment for the next 10 years

Schools facilities director Don Haydon gives a presentation on overall enrollment projections in the school system for the next 10 years.

For next year, he says, there’s expected to be 146,657 students – about 3,400 more than this fall.

“We are still a growing school system,” Haydon says.

Looking at enrollment on the elementary, middle and high school levels, Haydon says:

- Elementary school enrollment is expected to pass capacity in 2014-2015. By 2020, he says there will be a deficit of almost 16,000 seats.

- Middle school enrollment is expected to pass capacity by 2017-18 with a deficit of nearly 5,000 seats by 2020.

- High schools are expected to pass capacity in 2012-13 and have a deficit of more than 20,000 seats by 2020. School staff is looking at a possible deficit as early as 2013.

Haydon cautions that the projections are a countywide overview and don’t reflect regional excess or deficits. The figures also assume every seat is in use and also that all present temporary classrooms remain in use. The rate of economic recovery also affects the rate of enrollment growth, he says.

5 p.m. – Margiotta on state of Wake schools

Additions to the agenda include: student enrollment projections, the board room at the new school headquarters (added by Chris Malone) and redistricting (added to the agenda by Carolyn Morrison and Kevin Hill).

After brief statements from the superintendent and board members, Chairman Ron Margiotta gives an address on the state of the Wake County school system.

Margiotta says:

- Since December 2009, the board and school system has made progress in a number of areas.

 - The board has changed the approach of long-term suspensions, and is changing policies and developing alternatives to keep schools safe and students learning.

 - Four new schools have opened, major renovations completed at Wilburn Elementary, and Wake Forest-Rolesville High School and land has been purchased for a new high school in Rolesville.

 - Board has implemented reductions with a minimum impact on classrooms.

 - Board supported providing Wake parents with more choices by urging the General Assembly to lift the cap on magnet schools.

 - Board implemented Race to the Top funding for a Renaissance model that reinvent four elementary schools where there is a performance composite below 60 percent.

 - Board began the process of returning proximity to student assignment plan “that will strengthen student achievement, not weaken it, strengthens community, not weaken it, and improves parental involvement, not weaken it.” Margiotta hopes ongoing conversation on the matter will be constructive and place all students first.

 - Margiotta says the most difficult budget year lies ahead and there are more questions than answers … The board has to find ways to reduce costs of maintaining services. It’s planning for a school construction bond.

4 p.m – Tony Tata swearing in

Former Army general Tony Tata is officially Wake County's new school superintendent after being sworn in Tuesday afternoon before a crowd of family members, school system officials and local government officials.

Noting that his hiring in December was not without controversy, Tata addressed the crowd, saying:

“I think the noise level is an indicator of how passionate people in Wake County are about the education of our children here. I truly appreciate this care and concern, and the students of Wake County deserve our very best, and I intend to give them everything that I’ve got.”

Board member Carolyn Morrison, who voted against hiring Tata and publicly spoke out on what she called shortcomings in Tata’s résumé – specifically his lack of professional experience in education – was the first board member to welcome him to his new position Tuesday.

She said: “While my experience with Tony Tata has been limited, I have had a very favorable impression.

“On his recent visit to Lacy Elementary School, I watched as he interacted with a group of fifth grade students who were on hand to greet him. As soon as he saw them, he politely bent down, looked them in the eyes, shook hands, and asked about their school and personal interests. He seemed genuinely interested!

“In my opinion, if our new superintendent will so focus on all of our children and consider their welfare as his guiding star, good things will happen in Wake County under his leadership. That is what I hope for and expect from Tony.”

Other board members had the following to say:

Chris Malone: “I knew you were the right guy for the job … I’m glad to have you down here, and welcome aboard.”

Dr. Anne McLaurin talked about having the highest of expectations. “We will support you, and you tell us what you need.”

John Tedesco: “It’s an honor and humbling experience for you to join our ranks. … I believe all of us have the best interest of our kids at heart … I believe there’s no better person to lead those future dreams than you Mr. Tata. … I believe you can be a catalyst to take this school system from good to great.”

Kevin Hill says he gives Tata 100 percent of his support.

Debra Goldman: “As a parent of children who have both graduated from and are currently enrolled in Wake County schools, thank you for being here. We look forward to the implementation for ALL the children of Wake County. We are the lucky ones to have you here.”

The meeting is in recess until 5:30 p.m. There is a reception in Tata’s honor.

Tata, formerly the chief operating officer for District of Columbia Public Schools, comes at a time when the state’s largest school system is facing numerous challenges, including high student enrollment and $100 million in school budget cuts that could mean teacher layoffs.

The Wake County school board that hired him also faces reviews by national accreditation firm AdvancED and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights after a public challenge to the board’s controversial student assignment policy that opponents say will violate the civil rights of economically disadvantaged students.

Compounding those issues have been concerns from the public, educators and some school board members, like Morrison, that Tata might not be the right person to lead the school system because of his lack of experience in education.

Tata is a former brigadier general, an author of military action thrillers and a commentator on conservative websites and news shows who has written that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is far more qualified to be president than Barack Obama.

He served for about 18 months as chief operating officer for DC schools, where he oversaw purchasing, food service, technology and other support areas.

Answering critics’ concerns, Tata has said that education was a natural transition for him after 28 years in the military, during which, he says, he dedicated himself to caring for, coaching, teaching and mentoring young men and women.


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