The new Wake County student assignment plan will lead to changes in how new schools are built and filled.
As shown in this handout from Tuesday's school board meeting, the plan would have elementary schools open K-3 instead of the current system of opening K-5. Middle schools would only open with sixth-grade instead of the current practice of also having seventh-grade. New high schools would still open with only ninth- and 10th-grades.
The schools would pick up their additional grades as the kids age up.
The changes are being made because Wake will use choice instead of mandatory reassignment to fill the new schools.
James Overman, head of the student assignment task force, told board members they could add fourth- and fifth-grades in the first year to new elementary schools if a community survey shows there's demand for them.
School board member Kevin Hill said he's concerned that only offering K-3 at the two new modular schools, E-20 and E-25, will mean they won't have enough resources to provide program equity with other elementary schools. He cited his challenge offering specials when he opened Wildwood Forest Elementary with only K-4.
Superintendent Tony Tata said they would treat the new elementary schools like the five severely underenrolled schools that got extra months of employment this year to stabilize them.
Hill asked where the funds come from. Tata replied they'd earmark the funds. But Hill said he's concerned what they'd have to cut to come up with the money considering how they're losing nearly $30 in federal stimulus money next year.
Tata said he's already begun doing budget reviews to find the money to replace the $30 million that was used to avoid teacher layoffs this year.
"We know we have some things that we need to resource in this plan, and we will find the money to do so because it’s a priority," Tata told board members.
Overman said the fact they don't open middle schools and high schools now with all grades shows they're experienced in doing so.
School board member Keith Sutton asked if staff was concerned they'd have problems filling the new schools by choice. Overman said they didn't because they wouldn't be opening schools with all grades.
Overman also said they'd market the new schools early to build interest in them.
Tata said other districts they've talked to who've used choice plans have indicated they've been able to fill their new schools pretty quickly.
Overman added that they'll be opening new schools in high-growth areas. He said that the “comments from other districts is that people like shiny new stuff.”
Sutton also asked staff if they foresee the need to use reassignment in the future. Overman answered no.
The building of the new schools ties into a change in the approach for how new schools will be sited.
Overman said the plan is to stagger school construction. For instance, they'd open ta new middle school a few years after they open a new elementary school in an area. A few years later they'd open the new high school.
Tata said this would also help serve their promise of guaranteeing K-12 stability for all students. He said that they'd notify incoming kindergarten students that they'd get a different feeder pattern with the new schools while the existing students would keep the feeder they're on.
School board vice chairman John Tedesco brought up the new Walnut Creek Elementary School to ask if the plan meant they'd next focus on building a middle school for that area. Tata said they needed to approve the assignment plan first "before having that significant discussion."
Sutton questioned whether they'd be able to find land in the target rings to do that staggered school opening.
Hill said he's concerned that when the economy improves and enrollment growth is back to 6,000 to 7,000 students a year that they haven't yet had "substantive talks" with the board of commissioners for the next bond issue.
Tata noted how they have capacity in some areas where the projected growth from a few years ago hasn't happened yet. For the other areas, he said that's why they needed to adopt the assignment plan so they have something "coherent" to present to commissioners when discussing the next bond issue.