Local News

Reassignment Plan Moves Forward, Despite Funding Setback

Posted January 9, 2007 6:36 a.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2007 11:13 p.m. EST

— A day after Wake County commissioners voted to withhold funding for 22 mandatory year-round schools, the Wake County Public School System released the final draft of its , which is based largely on those schools transitioning from a traditional academic calendar.

Wake County school board members were left to determine how to proceed in the wake of the commissioners' decision, but they voted Tuesday to move forward with the plan and decided to look at other ways to get the $3.4 million needed to convert the .

What those options are, however, was not immediately clear.

School board members also decided Tuesday to have the school system's attorney look at legal options regarding the commissioners' vote.

“I think the footprint here is a decision that’s not about fiscal resources, but about usurping the school board’s policy-making authority,” said Ann Majestic, legal counsel for the board, at Tuesday's meeting.

The commissioners said they need more time to study the plan.

The reassignment proposal -- the product of almost two years of planning to help manage the school system's booming student population -- affects 11,079 students, or about 300 more students than the last version of the plan in December.

Under it, 6,790 students would be moved to schools closer to their homes, and 3,746 students would have the opportunity to exercise a "grandfathering" option of staying at their current school provided they find their own transportation.

The reassigned students would fill the additional seats created by the year-round conversions and fill five new schools, including three year-round elementary schools -- East Garner Elementary, North Forest Pines Elementary and Sanford Creek Elementary -- and two new middle schools: East Cary Middle and Wendell Middle.

As part of their decision Monday, county commissioners also voted to withhold $3.7 million that would relocate mobile classrooms from schools that were slated for year-round conversion.

They did increase the allocation of funds to build new schools that were part of the bond package from $282 million to $312 million, but they did not allocate funds for many renovation projects that would not add capacity to schools.

"I asked the school board to expend moneys to increase capacity so that they could go back and address the issues where people have no choice -- their being forced into year-round school," County Commissioner Paul Coble said.

The funding is part of last fall's highly debated $970 million school construction bond that Wake County voters approved in November. Although the funding is for schools, county commissioners decide how to allocate the money.

"We were under the impression that the county commissioners were on board with this plan that we have," school board member Horace Tart said.

Tart said he is surprised by what he calls a "change of heart" by the majority of county commissioners.

But groups who were opposed to the school bond said it should not have come as a surprise, because the board and opponents of the bond talked about possible changes after the bond passed.

"They talked about a dialog after the bond passed, that we can amend this thing and change it," said Francis DeLuca, state director for Americans for Prosperity of North Carolina. "What you're seeing now is the fruits of that labor -- that the grassroots people have been talking."

If the school board cannot find the money they need to convert the schools, the commissioners' vote might force it to consider other alternatives, such as charter schools, modular units and private-public partnerships -- in which a private developer builds schools and the school system leases the buildings.

But Superintendent Del Burns said there currently are no alternatives. May 15 is the deadline by state law for schools to give school assignments.

School district leaders said that, without the conversion of those schools, they will be at least 4,000 seats short for the start of the next school year.

"Our plan is the best, given the time remaining," Burns said.

Meanwhile, parents are growing concerned over the latest developments and are left wondering what to think.

"It's kind of like we're in the dark, right now," said Laquita Cotton, whose child attends Leesville Elementary School, which is slated for year-round conversion. ""And we're trying to figure out what's going on."

For other parents frustrated by the lack of choice, county leaders' decision gives them hope that a traditional calendar will remain at Leesville Elementary and 21 others.

"For me personally, that would be wonderful if it does not go year-round," said Leesville parent Desiree Clemons.

There will be three public hearings on the revised reassignment plan: Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Green Hope and Middle Creek high schools; Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Leesville High School; and Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Knightdale High School.

A final plan is expected in February.