The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. How will the new student assignment plan balance diversity, stability, proximity and stability? How will Jim Merrill replace Tony Tata as the new superintendent of the state's largest district? How will voters react to a $810 million school construction bond referendum on Oct. 8 ballot? How will this fall's school board elections impact the future of the district?

WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui. While Keung posts information and analysis on the issues, keep us posted on your suggestions, questions, tips and what you're doing to cope with the changes in Wake's schools.

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Changes in populating and building new schools

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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.


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Just a little info...

If the plan stays as it is now Southeast Raleigh HS has 3 middle schools feeding into them: Carnage, Moore Square and Centennial.  Although a magnet school, the number of magnet seats were dropped this year when they reassigned students.  Two of these middle schools have no band or athletic program, only intramurals.  So how are these programs suppose to compete with the other schools in these areas? 

Also, the feeder pattern for Brentwood Elem goes to Centennial which is no where near the school.  It is across town. Everyone wants to think they are doing these kids a favor by sending them to these schools with all these extra programs, but none of the basic extras.

"Kevin Hill said he's concerned"

Which means he'll vote NO every chance he gets.

Hopefully only for a few more weeks.

Get over yourself. There's a

Get over yourself.

There's a new assignment plan in place.  Quotes in this article acknowledge that there will be added costs.  The only way we have planned to pay for it is "I'll find the money....Trust me".

Better than "Here's where

Better than "Here's where you're going to school and we don't care what it costs!"

Have we ever had any cost analysis of our assignment practices in the past? Nope. Not until this new board took over, and found that on average, our school buses operate at less than half capacity.

Here's one question no one's ever bothered to ask: What does it cost to send 85 buses to Enloe everyday?

Enloe buses

I don't know about the other 84 buses, but the bus my kid takes to Enloe is packed. In fact some days they have to sit 3 to a bench. The other buses I see pulling into the bus lane when I'm there all look equally packed. BTW - where's the data regarding bus filling? I don't recall the board saying this (of course with all the noise coming from them I might easily have missed it). 

Simple math will answer your

Simple math will answer your question.

84 buses at 66 kids/bus equates to 5544 students. That's more than twice the enrollment of Enloe. And that's not counting base kids who walk to school of the hundreds of students who are carpooled each day. So it should be clear that buses aren't filled to capacity, despite the fact that yours is.

BTW - where's the data regarding bus filling?

John Tedesco has pointed this out numerous times over the past two years. But even if you had not heard it, simple math is again your answer. In 2007, 877 buses served 68,000 students, which averages to 78 students per bus. If each bus runs on three tiers, that's 26 students per route. Now not all buses run three tiers, but that is likely offset by the 270 contract vehicle that transport some of those 68,000 students.

A bus has a capacity of 66 students.

Enloe busses

A lot of busses at Enloe are full because they contain students from Ligon and Carnage.

Are you proposing cutting

Are you proposing cutting Enloe's magnet draw area?

Do you think it will cost more or less to potentially send 3 or 4 additional buses into every neighborhood in Wake County?

I still believe the 3-tier busing plan saves more than filling the buses and altering the bell schedules would save.  If you try to fill all the buses, you need more buses and more employees, and you don't necessarily even save much gas.

Look Dan, every form of

Look Dan, every form of transportation that exists recognizes that the closer your vehicle (car, bus, boat, train, plane, ...) is to capacity, the more economical it is to run that route. Why you want to argue with the basic tenets of economics is beyond me.

Major school districts all over the country are using software and GPS devices to optimize bus routes, and all of them have received substantial savings. There is absolutely no basis to believe that Wake cannot achieve similar savings.

There are hundreds of buses that do not operate on all three tiers each and every day in WCPSS. By increasing ridership on each route, it is likely that all of Wake County could be served using just two tiers.

But hey, why believe in the basic laws of transportation and economics? Why believe that Wake could save money, just because every other district has saved money? We've got Dan, the transportation guru, and his hunches to go on.

On a purely dollars and

On a purely dollars and cents calculation, of course full buses are cheaper than half-filled buses.

But, you conveniently leave out some things. 

Parents are quite the big deal in WCPSS these days, and I'm not so sure they'd be happy if their little angel was still going the same school but was riding the bus twice as long.  Now, I know you live in a magical area where only a couple of stops could fill a bus, but I don't believe that is the norm in WCPSS.  And, the instances where that can occur are likely to reduce since each family will now have more options moving forward.

If you went with two tiers, you'd likely have to go with the early tier and the late tier.  You probably couldn't go with any other combination because that wouldn't allow time to fill the buses....if it would, you wouldn't need to eliminate the 3-tier system.

The money that WCPSS is saving is coming from having fewer buses, which means less maintenance and fewer employees.

Also, from the WCPSS website, comes this information from the 2008 "Wheels of Education" newsletter:  

Transportation Information Management System (TIMS)

• Creates stops according to student addresses
• Creates routes
• Optimizes runs to make routing efficient
• Produces reports with student ridership to Administrators
• Provides information on students, stops, runs and routes
• Has the ability to download stops to the county’s website (@wcpss.net —
click on schools at top of page/ click on Schools Directory & select Elementary,
Middle or High School/ click on name of specific school/ top right of the screen
click Bus Routes) for parents to view stops at specific schools

Doesn't that sound a lot like the computer optimization you keep clamoring for?


"He said that they'd notify

"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."

Interesting, so they are going to prenotify parents years ahead of time they will have a new feeder pattern even before the MS or HS is built.   So wake county is going to know 6 years in advance for MS and 9 years in advance for HS that the feeder pattern needs to change for every school that is going to be impacted.   Even for schools that may not even be thought of or funded yet.    You got to be kidding me, they can't plan 3 years out.  I find it almost impossible to believe that statement. 

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.