The controlled-choice plan bit the dust officially on Tuesday with the 5-4 vote by the Wake County school board to move back to an address-based plan for the 2013-14 school year.
As noted in today's article, Democratic board members argued that the choice plan was too expensive to maintain. They argued the new plan was a good hybrid of the choice plan and a base plan while incorporating long-sought concepts such as grandfathering for all students at their current school.
But Republican board members argued the choice plan wasn't given a fair chance to succeed and that changing assignment plans again promoted instability in the community.
GOP board member John Tedesco said his major objection to the new plan was that it used the 2011-12 maps as the starting point. He said there were too many problems with how those maps affected nodes in Garner.
Tedesco said he also wished that they had given a higher priority in the first round transfer period to rising sixth- and ninth-graders who request next year the feeders from the choice plan. They're priority seven.
Tedesco said he was concerned about other rules in the transfer and magnet selection process that he felt gave unfair advantages to applicants from more affluent areas.
But Tedesco said he appreciated how the board had made changes over the past two months to the plan.
"I do want to let the public know as well as each of you that the process from where we started out when we first made that resolution to use the 11-12 maps to now has been a bit considerate of the concerns of stability and proximity for our families and the community," Tedesco said. "I’m hopeful that it works out well, and I look forward to working with all of you as we develop a plan for the following year that does work.”
GOP board member Deborah Prickett focused on a defense of the choice plan and the uncertainty she said was caused by abandoning it.
"I don’t hear the community clamoring for more assignment changes," Prickett said. "I have concerns about what the 2014-15 assignment plan will look like."
Prickett said that despite what some people say about real estate brokers not liking the choice plan, she said she's heard from several brokers who disliked how the old base plan couldn't guarantee stability.
As for the busing costs, Prickett noted how under the choice plan Wake still has eight fewer buses on the road even with the grandfathering. (Wake started the year with 52 fewer buses before the bus problems forced most of them to be put back in service.)
Prickett said the bus costs would have decreased in future years.
With the new plan, Prickett said she'll monitor it to see whether there are transportation savings.
Republican board member Debra Goldman said that she supports grandfathering. But Goldman wondered about whether there would be "huge fiscal implications" going forward as they keep changing plans and overlay more layers of grandfathering.
"I just wish that the current plan had been given a year and the new plan completed for next year without the temporary stopgap plan in the middle," Goldman said. "I just feel like we could have gone ahead, tweaked as was promised when a bunch of the board members ran for office this past year, that they would tweak the plan and that we would go forward and give the people of Wake County what we had promised, which was a three-year plan.
Even if it was not a three-year plan, I would have liked to see our board work to at least give the choice plan a full year before tweaking it, and skip this whole stopgap measure because I’m not getting any assurances that the plan we’re changing for families for this year won’t be flip-flopped and changed, or possibly changed back or changed to something completely different the next year."
Goldman had several duck figures on her desk in homage of the parent who attended a student assignment public hearing bringing ducks with her. That person said the school board should get their ducks in a row as they work on the plan.
Next came the Democratic board members as they praised the new plan.
“The public is going to be benefit greatly from this," said Democratic board member Susan Evans. "There is no perfect assignment plan. I am not under any delusion that there is a perfect assignment plan. There are a large number of reasons why I am certain that the choice plan as it was this year was not sustainable."
Evans called the new plan "a wonderful compromise that offers the best chance for stability that our families have seen in a long time." She pointed to providing a default base assignment, stay where you start and having a choice element in the first transfer period.
Evans also noted the people who aren't happy with the changes, particularly those who are worried that they won't be able to use the feeders from the choice plan.
“I do want to acknowledge my empathy to the families that feel like they’re sort of getting caught in the middle with a shift between one type of assignment and another, those who made decisions based on the choice plan feeder patterns," Evans said. "We understand that. We wish we could make that perfect for everyone.
I feel like we’re doing the best that we can to offer the option to try to maintain those feeder patterns by applying through the transfer process. But I want families to know I understand there is some fallout for that and for that I am sorry.”
Evans said she too hears from parents who didn't like the 2011-12 maps and that they will look at changes in the 2014-15 plan and future.
Evans also said that she doesn't consider the 2013-14 plan to be a stopgap plan because all the rules in place will in her hope “stand the test of time." She said what might change are "tweaks" to base assignments, which she said "it’s important for families to realize that."
"It’s just a reality of living in a county that is growing and changing," Evans said. "We have areas that the population is growing all the time. We have areas where population is shrinking.
It is just a necessity that as time goes on we’ll have to make adjustments to base attendance areas from time to time. But the fact that we’re offering the grandfathering, the stay where you start and all the things to assure more stability for our families is a great move in the right direction."
Democratic board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner said the new plan incorporates the best aspects of the choice plan along with the certainty of base assignments.
"It’s important to note regardless of how folks felt about a countywide choice plan, we can’t afford it," Kushner said. "We don’t have the seats. I think the bus issues are very real.
We’re adding 13,000 miles a day to our buses because of non-proximate choice assignments. Non-contiguous choice assignments are very real.”
Kushner said the grandfathering elements of the new plan "will provide the stability that parents have been clamoring for.”
Democratic board member Jim Martin also touted the stability in the new plan.
“I’m pleased that we’ve come together with the greatest stability that Wake County has seen in the 19 years that I have lived here," Martin said.
Martin said the choice plan did not offer candid and honest choices to families due to lack of capacity. He said the new plan is honest by only offering choice to schools that have the capacity.
“Thank you for incorporating real choice and not the mythological promise of choice," Martin said.
Martin then spoke directly to Tedesco, saying he too wasn't happy with the 2011-12 maps. Martin said there are a lot of issues from those maps, such as split nodes and split neighborhoods, that need to be fixed.
Martin pointed to how he had voted to adopt the 2012-13 budget even though he didn't like that the county commissioners had given less than requested. Martin said he voted for that budget because it had to go forward so he asked Tedesco to vote for the assignment plan for it to go forward.
Tedesco answered that he wasn't willing to trade in principles for a sense of collaboration.