Tuesday evening, the Wake County School Board put the final coffin nail into the incredibly short-lived, but by all accounts incredibly popular, 2012 school assignment plan that had as its hallmark, the idea that parents could for the first time exercise real choice as to where they’d like their kids to go to school.
The 2012 bipartisan “Choice Plan” was put into place after nearly three years of work by school system staff. It upended decades of assignments and reassignments and more reassignments based on socioeconomic diversity.
The Choice Plan made it possible for all parents to decide where they’d like their children to get educated. Previously, only families who were fortunate enough to make it through the magnet application process or could afford to provide their own transportation could exercise any real choice in where to send kids to public school.
Some schools anticipated seeing a decline in test scores as those that could, would flee low-performing schools. That was actually a good thing, many folks argued.
Under forced busing and reassignment, low-performing schools benefited from a spreading out of talent. Opponents of the busing plan contended that there were large pockets of underserved students because the overall test scores of the schools were bumped up — like being graded on a curve.
So, while there would be some flight from the low-performing schools, at least the academic problems would be out in the open and readily identifiable. Funds normally put toward shipping kids around the county could instead be used to get help for the ones who needed intervention. Even better, schools would benefit from a real sense of community as most parents would choose to go utilize schools near where they lived.
But when a new Democratic majority was elected to the school board in 2011, there was once again a shift away from anything that looked like parents getting a choice.
In spite of repeated assurances during the 2011 election cycle that the then-candidates would leave the Choice Plan in place for the policy-required three years, almost as soon as they were inaugurated, the new Democratic majority got to work dismantling months and months of effort by staff.
By June of this year, a month before the new 2012 school year started for year-round schools, the board directed staff to begin designing a new assignment plan that would shift back to being address-based. By the end of September, the only stabilizing force on the board, Superintendent Tony Tata was gone — his job terminated by a board majority that didn’t appreciate his straightforward, no-nonsense approach to management.
Is it any wonder, then, that school system staff and board members have to keep answering the same questions about whether or not the school board will really honor their promises to allow grandfathering in place and stay where you start?
When the 2012 plan was passed, the bipartisan school board committed in a 6-2 vote to keeping it in place for three years.
If that promise can be so easily abandoned in less than six months time, how are parents to trust these same school board members when they say grandfathering is here to stay?
As newly chosen Chairman Keith Sutton said in Tuesday’s meeting, “It’s time to slow down and proceed with caution. Time to heal and restore the luster and spirit of excellence … to rebuild trust in the community.”
Those are excellent words and undoubtedly easy to say now that Sutton and his fellow Democrats have shoved through the hastily put together Stopgap Plan.
As usual, it’s the families and children who will suffer the most through the rest of 2012 and into the 2013-14 school year. They can’t forget that there’s still more changes to come with a permanent plan scheduled for 2014-15.
Last year, the school system’s main offices moved from a centrally located spot on Wake Forest Road to 5625 Dillard Drive — in Cary.
From the beginning, folks up in this area have complained that it is extremely burdensome to try and make it to Cary for meetings or any other matter.
Meetings can always be watched online as a local news channel both streams and archives video of them. However board members utilize materials currently unavailable to the public (except for the skeleton agendas), unless the public wants to drive all the way to Cary to get a copy.
In the state’s largest school system, which is also the nation’s 16th largest, it simply does not make sense that they cannot get these documents up on the website ahead of time — or anytime for that matter.
When we made a public records request for copies of board packet materials by e-mail (PDFs), we were told that the system doesn’t currently have the capability to do that.
The materials are clearly generated on computers. Instead of printing, why can’t they be converted to PDFs? We asked our IT folks if they knew of word processing programs that didn’t have the capability to convert to PDF and they didn’t. It has been standard for … a while.
N.C. public record law clearly states, “Persons requesting copies of public records may elect to obtain them in any and all media in which the public agency is capable of providing them. No request for copies of public records in a particular medium shall be denied on the grounds that the custodian has made or prefers to make the public records available in another medium.” (§132-6.2 a)
We notified the board and Interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey of our concern that huge pockets of constituents are being unlawfully denied access to public records. We got back a lot of, “We’ll look into that.”
Board member Debra Goldman, however, responded, “I’m in complete agreement with you. I wondered if you were aware of the transparency policy that I’ve been trying to get this Board to adopt since last spring? This was one of the MANY items on the lists that I’ve repeatedly asked be made easily available and easily searchable to the public. I’m so sorry to hear that this is continuing despite my repeated pleas to the contrary.”
We’ll keep you posted.
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