WCPSS Board elects new chair, discusses reassignment, budget

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a move that was described as "abrupt" by one school board member, the Wake County Public School System elected Keith Sutton as its new chair in a 5-4 vote Tuesday. Dr. Jim Martin held the position and Sutton served as vice-chair prior to the vote.

Sutton thanked his colleagues who voted for him. Another board member nominated Dr. Martin to serve as the board's vice-chair. However, Martin declined to serve in that capacity. Members voted Roxie Cash to serve as the next board vice-chair.

In Tuesday's work session, the board spent time a considerable amount of time discussing changes to the 2019-2020 school year budget and the district's reassignment plan.

Among the biggest changes to reassignment come to students who attend Fuquay-Varina Elementary School and Willow Spring Elementary School. With both schools experiencing overcrowding, some students will be attending a new school -- South Lakes Elementary. The school is set to open in August 2020 on a traditional calendar.

Parents who prefer a year-round option can apply for their child to attend Ballentine Elementary.

In addition, students at Fuquay-Varina Middle School and Holly Grove Middle School will be split between North Garner and West Lake middle schools.

For students at any school affected by a reassignment, parents of students who will be a rising fifth- or eighth-grader will have the option of "grandfathering" their child into their current alternate if done during the designated period.

Tuesday morning, another school bus caught fire in Holly Springs. Board member Lindsay Mahaffey expressed her support for bus drivers in the board's public meeting. A proposal was made to increase pay for bus drivers and other non-certified staff to $15 per hour.

In total, the board requested $519.3 million for the 2019-2020 budget and Wake County Commissioners approved $516 million of that.

"There are some categories that we are able to carry over and we do have some flexibility, just as we have had in the past. We are recommending we use some, very little, but some of that additional carry over beyond what we are planning to have to balance the budget," said one meeting attendee.

Among other items discussed was a dramatic increase in e-cigarette use in students. Records indicate 45 students were punished in the 2016-2017 school year for e-cig use. That number increased by 1,000 percent in the 2018-2019 school year.

"Most of what we have to do is educate. Education, education, education. We need to develop strong peer networks, so peers will tell each other 'knock it off. It's not good for your health. It's dangerous," Martin said.
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