RALEIGH, N.C. — When Wake County commissioners decided to withhold $3.4 million that was intended to convert 22 schools to a mandatory year-round schedule, Board of Education Chairwoman Patti Head said it was like taking 18 months of planning and throwing it up in the air.
"We went to them with five scenarios," Head said Wednesday. "They were a part of the decision on which scenario to choose."
Head says both boards came to the table to determine a bond package. Converting the schools to year-round was part of the plan to create more space while keeping the tax hike lower.
"We were very disappointed in their actions," Head said, adding that the county commissioners' actions have put a strain on the relationship between the two boards.
Commissioner Paul Coble prompted the change at a meeting Monday night. He says he wants the school board to rework its plan, but if it has short-term needs, he is willing to talk with the members.
Commissioner Joe Bryan voted with Coble. He says he does not feel commissioners went back on any promised deals.
Bryan says he has maintained a position all along that parents should not be forced into the year-round schedule. He also says he feels commissioners have been more than supportive.
"It was the county commissioners that pushed up this bond issue by a year," he said. "It was the county commissioners that led in that effort."
Commissioners did advance money for new construction projects, but Head says that provides the school board with room two to three years from now, not the next school year.
With 8,000 more students expected for the 2007-2008 school year, school officials think the system will be as many as 4,000 seats short without the school conversions.
As far as choice, Head says families assigned to year-round schools can apply to another school starting in February. There’s no word, however, on how many families can realistically expect a transfer.
Parents and teachers at the 22 affected schools — 19 elementary and three middle — are scratching their heads at the tug of war.
"Having a decision and having everyone come to agreement on it would make life easier," said Leesville Elementary School teacher Maggie Piczak.
Leesville Elementary is slated to convert to a year-round schedule, and the school board voted Tuesday to find a way to move forward with those plans.
For Piczak, it is something she has been preparing to do.
"I couldn’t imagine leaving my school yet. I owe it to myself to experience year-round before I can make a judgment on it," she said.
For some parents, there is renewed hope that the course will be reversed.
"I think the majority of our school would prefer to stay traditional," said Caroline Rohs, a parent at Leesville Elementary.
Parent and PTA President Angela Drum agrees.
"I think we’re glad that they’re revisiting — that if it can’t save us, then hopefully other families in the community won't have to go through what we’ve gone through."
Regardless, they need a decision to move forward with their lives.
"It’s hard when you’re stuck in limbo," Drum said.
The school board could dip into savings to fund the conversions. They have also asked their attorney to look at possible legal action.
Brian Shaw, an education law attorney, calls this an unusual situation. He says he is surprised the commissioners held the funds.
State law, Shaw says, intends to give county commissioners control over money matters. The Board of Education has control over educational policy matters.
If the school board can argue that the commissioners were influencing policy, they might have a legal case, Shaw says.
Also on Monday, Wake County commissioners withheld money for several renovation projects. Commissioners Chairman Tony Gurley said he expects that to change when the commissioners meet for a work session on Tuesday.
He says he expects the commissioners to advance the funds in spite of this week’s decision.