Conflicting views on the feeder patterns could determine just how stable they'll be for families moving forward in Wake County's new student assignment plan.
During Tuesday's school board meeting, Democratic board members were skeptical about being able to guarantee that families could have a feeder pattern locked in for 13 years. Board members said it's more realistic to talk about guaranteeing stability for students once they're in a school,
But Republican board members and staff said that 13 years of feeder stability is possible.
This all could play out as the board looks at making potential changes based on how the new plan is working out.
Staff has repeatedly pointed to the feeder pattern component in the plan providing a 13-year guarantee against reassignment.
"Once a student is seated in a particular feeder pattern, s/he is guaranteed a seat up through grade 12 in that feeder pattern," says Wake's website.
But Democratic board members repeatedly questioned that guarantee on Tuesday.
"There are a lot of families who are deciding what to do about this plan based on the feeder," said Democratic board member Jim Martin. "I think the statistics, the reality of opening a school, I don’t think we can guarantee anything for 13 years."
Democratic board chairman Kevin hill said that since they'll be reviewing the plan for potential changes that it seemed "contrary" to say that they're guaranteeing the feeder patterns.
Martin pressed staff to respond to Hill's remarks.
Republican board member John Tedesco stepped in first.
“The ability for us to do that is there,” Tedesco said of guaranteeing the feeder patterns. “Maybe the desire as a board to do that is not because we want to be able to adjust and modify and change that. So to say we can’t do it, based upon the way they’ve built the plan, evaluated the capacity numbers and done the work is one thing.
To say maybe we want to tell the public as a board now that we’re not necessarily going to do that because we are going to take a year to monitor and modify the plan might be a more accurate statement of our interest and desire to change it as opposed to say we can’t promise that.”
"The question that I’m after because I need to know what to tell the public and the public needs to know," Martin replied. "I’m a family at School X, don’t really like the feeder pattern. Do I try to move into a different school to a feeder pattern that I would choose?
If I do that, I don’t want the rug pulled out from under me in a year or two because I moved from a school that I would rather be at to somewhere else to get what I thought was a better feeder pattern only to find out that I don’t get that.”
"But you have the answer, not the superintendent," Tedesco replied. "You have the answer.
So the answer is this: After we look at this for a year now and you see things don’t work. As a board, are you willing to monitor as we’ve said we’re going to do with the data and then modify those feeder patterns to make it work correctly to your values system of what we want? Are you going to do that next year? Are you willing to monitor and adjust the feeder patterns once we get a little more data?"
Democratic vice chairman Keith Sutton broke it up to say they should let staff respond.
“I think Dr. Martin highlights a slippery slope that we go on," said Superintendent Tony Tata. "My guidance or recommendation has always been that these are the feeder patterns. The bottom line for the feeder patterns is as we go into the monitor and evaluation piece that we commit to these and only in extremis, in extreme circumstanced where certain criteria have been met.
Let’s just say that nobody from Carpenter (Elementary), 88 students at fifth-grade, chooses East Cary Middle and they all choose Middle School X. Okay that may trigger a reevaluation and then bring it to the board.
I think the thing we would want to prevent is exactly what Dr. Martin warns against is people saying, ‘This is the plan’ and then move or not and not seems to be more than people who'd indicate they’d move and then we move their cheese. And we don’t want to do that.”
"I don’t want to do that either, making promises that we can not keep," Martin said
Democratic board member Susan Evans said she still has concerns about the feeder patterns, citing in particular the calendar mismatches in her area. But she said she also recognized how she was being told time is short and the plan needs to be implemented.
“So for me the compromise is to say okay we’ll move forward agreeing that we’re going to have to closely monitor and adjust as necessary," Evans said. "That’s the only way I know how to approach this at this point.
We’re not saying we're going into it assuming we're going to overturn everything. But if we can’t give serious consideration to the areas that we think are problematic — and we’re being told over and over there’s not enough time to deal with it at this point or it will mess up the calendar — then what are our other options? For me the option is to make it somewhat clear to the public is that we are moving forward but it is probably not static.”
Susan Pullium, a member of the student assignment task force, said they can do both by guaranteeing a "personal K-12 pathway" for every student while making changes to a school's feeder.
Pullium cited the example of how they'll have to adjust feeders to accommodate new schools. She said they can let parents know that the feeder will change for an incoming class of kindergarten students while the older students would keep the prior feeder.
Then there's the case of adjusting feeders when new schools aren't involved.
“Changing existing feeder patterns based on something you review is certainly something that could happen, but you wouldn’t want to change a student’s feeder pattern," Pullium said. "You might change the school’s feeder pattern so the next rising kindergarten class would know this is the new path for this school.”
Pullium said she "cautioned against" only looking at the data for rising sixth-grade students. While it might indicate that the feeder wasn't preferred for those older students, she said they should also look at how many rising kindergarten students enrolled knowing full well their feeder.
Tedesco later echoed Pullium's statements.
“It’s kind of like saying everybody in our system now gets permanent grandfathering to the feeder, regardless of the district makes changes, and we might make changes to the next grade level coming in or the next feeder pattern in, but you get permanent grandfathering K through 12 unless you choose at some point in the choice process to opt out of your feeder," Tedesco said.
"I would love it if that could be reality," Martin replied.
“I’m going to trust my staff that it can," Tedesco responded.
“It’s possible if we’re willing to pay for it," Martin replied back. "But this conversation continues to assume that there’s indefinite resources and I haven’t seen them yet. If you can show me where they are, I’d be glad to see them.”
What next happened is what's becoming a recurring situation at board meetings in which Tata has questioned statements that Martin has made.
“What is the foundation for that comment, Dr. Martin?” Tata asked. "Where have we assumed indefinite resources?”
“if we can meet the feeder patterns permanently because the feeder patterns are already creating overcapacity schools," Martin responded. "The only way you’re going to deal with that is getting more teachers, you’re going to have to build more space or you're going to reduce the capacity, you’re going to have to push people out. Something's going to have to happen.”
“And that’s what we’re doing," responded Chief Transformation Officer Judy Peppler. "We’re building the next bond plan based on where we see the choice happening, where we’re going to need capacity.”