by Bob Geary
In our last dispatch of 2009 from the front lines of the Wake County Board of Education, we reported that the new conservative majority was treading lightly, lest what they don't know about student assignments catch their "neighborhood schools" plans in a big ugly slurry of unintendend consequences. But that was so last year. Today, in the first board meeting of 2010, the Margiotta 5 are determined to push ahead, at least on the subject of ending "mandatory year-round assignments."
Reprising their Dec. 1 act where they spring surprise resolutions on fellow members and on Superintendent Del Burns and his staff, the "5" added this item to the day's agenda at the start of the public session:
We strongly oppose the mandatory assignments of students to year-round calendar schools and support calendar choice for all families. Beginning with the 2010-2011 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.
This move came after a lengthy committee of the whole session earlier in the day at which the main topic was, in fact, year-round schools and how to survey parents about whether they want their kids to attend them. Yes, for those keeping score, this was the subject of the December 15 COW session as well; today's subject was how to get the survey done faster because the "5" don't want to wait until 2011-12 to get rid of year-round assignments. A whole new plan was cobbled together today so the survey can be finished in January, not in March, as previously discussed; Margiotta and his "5" were quite clear that whatever the survey should discover, they're going to end mandatory year-round assignments in 2010-11 -- and if doing so creates a mess, well, that's the staff's problem.
Or as the 5's Deborah Prickett just said, when asked by minority-4 member Carolyn Morrison how many classroom seats will be lost if the resolution is adopted: "I do not have a number on that. I do know that our staff ... is competant enough to handle making those changes."
A few minutes ago, on Margiotta's recommendation, the board unanimously created two new committees, one on student assignment policies and the other on improving the achievement of economically disadvantaged students. Both are ad hoc, not standing committees, and both will be a mix of board members and public members, Margiotta said.
So when the resolution on year-round assignments came up, minority-4 member Keith Sutton suggested that it should be put off -- or voted down -- until the new student assignment committee has had a chance to vet it and the results of the year-round survey are in.
Jumping in, minority-4 member Anne McLaurin pressed Prickett for a working definition of "mandatory year-round assignments," since assignments to schools are in almost every case not mandatory but merely the beginning of a process where parents can apply for magnet assignments, year-round slots, or in the case of an initial year-round assignment, a slot in a traditional-calendar school.
Good question. But as Prickett was thinking how to answer it, Margiotta announced that the board room needed to cleared so a crowd of student achievers could be welcomed and introduced -- the year-round discussion was put off for about an hour. Stay tuned, kids. By the way, for those unable (or unwilling) to attend in person, WRAL is streaming these meetings in real time on its website, wral.com.