Should Wake County magnet school families have to apply to advance to a magnet secondary school or should it automatically be done for them by the school system?
Staff is recommending preassigning rising magnet application sixth-graders and ninth-graders from group one magnet schools without making them apply.
The group one magnets are ones where the majority of students are supposed to be magnet applicants and the primary role is to reduce concentrations of poverty at the school. Examples include Hunter, Poe and Washington elementary schools.
But some school board members, notably those who are current and former magnet parents, said at Thursday's student assignment work session they didn't think preassignment was a good idea.
Before the choice plan, magnet application students who wanted to continue to the next level to a magnet middle school or high school had to submit an application. They had the first priority so they pretty much got in.
But with the choice plan's use of feeders, Wake preassigned magnet application students from group one and group two magnets into middle schools and high schools for this school year.
When there was a base, magnet families could opt to leave the magnet program at the end of the school year if they wanted to do so. These families complained that the choice plan made it uncertain they could get into what had been their base.
With the return to a base plan for next year, staff has proposed that magnet families can file a base declaration form to return to their base.
Under the proposed magnet selection priorities, magnet students from the group one schools wouldn't have to apply. Group two magnet students would have priority two after siblings of current students.
During the work session, board member Susan Evans, a former magnet parent, said she preferred the old way when magnet families had priority to apply to continue in the program.
Laura Evans, senior director of growth and planning, responded by saying that most magnet students accepted their preassigned feeders. She said the preassignment saved families from having to take the time to apply and get the seat they'd have anyway under the first priority.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore called it a case of "six of one, half dozen of the other" to either preassign magnet students or have them apply.
“Numbers wise, based on what Laura is saying, it sounds like more don’t have to do something, historically, if you preassign them to their magnet program pathway," Moore said.
Susan Evans said that while the process is better than what was under the choice plan, she's concerned because some magnet pathways aren't as clear as others.
Board member Christine Kushner, a magnet parent, said she's heard from other magnet parents who are confused about the selection priorities. She said they should explicitly say that the group one magnet students are being preassigned.
Board member Jim Martin, a magnet parent, said he defaulted toward having the magnet parent do the extra work of applying.
“Being part of the magnet program, you’re making a choice," Martin said. "You’re asking for something additional. I think you have some responsibility on that front and so I have a tendency to lean toward that the magnet families should have to declare rather than the other way around.
When it’s six of one, half dozen of the other, I’m wondering if we don’t need to say, ‘Look magnet families if this is what you want, step up, you need to go to through the process' rather than saying to the base families, 'You’re the ones who need to go through the process.’ I struggle with this a little bit. I understand the mechanics.
We want clean mechanics, but at some level, just like transportation, it needs to be some level provided, but I know as a magnet parent that I have to recognize that my bus rides are going to be longer. That’s a cost I’m willing to pay to be part of the program."
Laura Evans said they can do it either way.
Susan Evans cited how she had talked to a magnet parent who wasn't paying that much attention and didn't realize the preassigned school only had express transportation. She said that if the parent had to apply and realized that she'd only get express transportation that she might have made a different choice.
Moore responded that the other side is the magnet parent who forgets to apply, loses the seat and asks for it back.
Martin said that there's "no easy answer, but “if you’re getting the privilege, then it strikes me you’re the one who should bear the responsibility.”
Susan Evans said that magnet parents are in the habit of applying to get into a magnet so it makes sense to put the burden on them to apply to continue in the program.
Moore brought up how Wake historically made magnet parents file a form each year indicating if they wanted to stay in the program. She asked if that should do it annually or only require it when a student heads to the next school level.
Susan Evans asked if it was an "administrative nightmare" when parents file each year. Laura Evans answered that staff went through a lot of paperwork each year and only few magnet families opted out.
The discussion ended with no consensus on whether the change should be made to require group one magnet families to apply to move on to middle school and high school.