Wake board member: 'We're not going back'

June 20, 2012 3:30:38 PM PDT
Despite Tuesday night's Wake County School Board vote that directs the superintendent to start drafting a plan to convert the school district back to student school assignments based on residential addresses, school board members say the current school choice-based plan won't be completely scrapped just a year after it was implemented.

"We're not going back to what we had in the past. We're not starting from scratch. We're looking at taking the best lessons and best practices learned from the old plan and the current plan to try to see what we can do to come together," explained school board Vice Chairman Keith Sutton Wednesday.

While the Wake County School board saw its Democrat majority voted out in 2009 largely based on the unpopularity of the original student assignment plan that bused students to achieve socio-economic balance in schools, the new choice-based plan implemented by Republicans hasn't been an overwhelming hit with some parents either. Many have said they didn't get their first, second, or even third choices - and still ended up seeing their children not sent to the schools closest to their homes.

Critics have also said the choice plan was unsustainable because it didn't take overcrowding into consideration.

Now, with a new Democrat majority elected last fall, it looks like the district will try to come up with a combination of the two plans.

"I think it's sad that they are committed to going back to an old base assignment, reassignment plan that was known for reassigning thousands and thousands of kids every year," Wake County school board member John Tedesco - a member of the old Republican majority that came up with the choice-based plan - said after Tuesday night's vote.

Other critics - like the Wake Education Partnership - publicly doubt that the superintendant and staff can be expected to completely overhaul the assignment plan by September.

"Reaching the stated goals while moving from a choice assignment model to one based upon street addresses would be an extremely complex task even under ideal conditions. The current approach leaves us worried about how parents, educators, businesses, and the community in general will view the coming debate," offered Wake Education Partnership President Steve Parrott.

When asked about the board vote Wednesday, Superintendent Tony Tata pointed out some things with the choice-based plan have worked. He said Wake schools are seeing half the number of transfer requests from parent that were seen two years ago.

"We know we've implemented a plan with a high level of parent satisfaction," said Tata. "Now we're looking for even greater satisfaction."

But the potential frustration with the school board is evident amongst some parents who have said they feel like they're on a roller coaster ride - never knowing from year to year where their children will be assigned.

"Please let's get it together," Wake County resident Rhonda Curtwright said at Tuesday night's board meeting.

The ever-changing assignment policy may also mean the board will have to face frustrated voters when it plans to ask them to approve a bond to pay for the next round of school construction in a May 2013 referendum.

Sutton said that's a possibility, but he doesn't think so.

"No plan is going to be successful without adding more seats to our system," Sutton said - pointing out the number of students flooding into the Wake school system has grown by 3500 a year.

"So if we don't have a bond, and we don't have more schools and more seats, then we're going to be doomed," he offered.

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