Wake to end mandatory year-round school

RALEIGH It passed with a 5 to 4 majority vote Tuesday night.

The newly elected majority said they wanted to end mandatory year-round school and give parents an option.

The resolution added to the agenda by Deborah Prickett read in part:

"We strongly oppose the mandatory assignments of students to year-round calendar schools and support calendar choice for all families. Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, there will be no mandatory year-round assignments. Every effort will be made to accommodate families into the calendar of their choice, whether it is year-round or traditional, at a school within proximity of their residence. We will no longer deny calendar applications based on socio-economic status. We will use each and every seat efficiently."

Many were upset that the resolution was added to the agenda with no prior notice, taking board members and the public by surprise.

"I feel this is going to shortcut everything this board has put into place over the past two meetings," Wake County School Board Member Kevin Hill said. "I hoped Dec. 1 would be the last time of adding action items with no notice."

The anger that followed came from parents, students and taxpayers.

"I have never seen a public meeting where people have been taken out by the knees with resolutions that haven't been put on the agendas; you should be ashamed of yourself," one parent said.

"At this very moment I have never been as ashamed to be a Wake County resident as I am tonight at this meeting," another parent added.

Parents like Lisa Boneham, who support neighborhood schools, weren't as outspoken as they used to be.

"I'm thrilled that we've got four new members that ran on a similar platform of family-friendly policies," parent Lisa Boneham said.

Currently, more than 50 schools in Wake County operate on a year-round calendar. According to the school system's Web site, those numbers will likely change for the 2010-2011 school year.

While some parents choose to send their children to year-round schools, others are assigned and the current majority doesn't believe those families should be forced into a calendar they don't want.

The entire board has agreed to survey all parents in the county to see where year-round may be preferred.

The Wake County Public School System plans to conduct an online survey of parents of all enrolled K-12 students about school calendar preference. While year-round mainly applies to elementary and middle school students, the board believes parents of high schoolers may have valuable input.

Letters will be sent home this week informing parents about the survey, which will need to be completed by January 25 at 12 p.m.

Parents will use their student ID numbers to complete the survey to avoid "ballot stuffing." This will allow parents of multiple students to fill out a survey for each child enrolled in Wake County schools.

Parents who do not have access to a computer will be able to ask their child's school for a printout of the survey. The board also will conduct four public hearings to gather input from parents, educators and taxpayers who may not have children in school or parents whose children are too young to attend school.

The outcome of the survey could determine the calendar at various schools for the 2010-2011 school year.

"We want to know what parents want," said newly elected School Board member Debra Goldman. "We may find that people are happier where they are now than we believe or we may see they want change."

Board member Dr. Anne McLaurin said she doesn't want the process rushed. "I think it's great that we are asking for everyone's opinion. While we want to do things quickly, I want to make sure it's done thoroughly and accurately so we do not make a big mistake."

The board will also hold at least four public meetings before they consider changing any specific school calendars.

Another hot topic the board is trying to make a decision about is the hiring of an attorney to review the school system's current legal fees, which total about $2 million a year. Some board members believe the yearly fees are too high.

Thomas Farr is the attorney who would be offered a contract. He, like the new majority of the board, is Republican and that is causing controversy amongst board members.

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