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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wake school board votes 5-4 to end year-round assignments -- somehow

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 9:46 PM

Bless her heart, not 30 seconds after she'd voted in favor of the resolution ending "mandatory" assignments to year-round schools, helping to pass it by a 5-4 vote, Margiotta-5 school board member Debra Goldman piped up with an urgent "parliamentary inquiry, parliamentary inquiry" to anyone who could answer it.

How's this going to work? Goldman asked.

To which Superintendent Del Burns, who might've been asked that question earlier but wasn't, could only reply: "I don't have an answer now as to how implementation will occur."

Burns said he'd get back to them asap.

In short, it was a fitting end to a day marked by the Wake board majority's new approach -- or to be accurate, the same approach it came in with on December 1 but which it seemed, for a time in mid-December, to have reconsidered.

That approach: Take a position first, deal with its implications later.  "Leading with the vision," John Tedesco calls it. But to critics, it sounds like: Cut once, measure twice, or measure as often as you want, but not 'til it's severed!

Once again, as we noted in our earlier post, the majority put a resolution on the agenda at the last minute, without notice to their colleagues, the public or (it seemed) even to Burns, and passed it as quick as they could before anybody could marshall an argument against it.

The question a plaintive Goldman seemed to be asking afterward was, now that we've banned sending kids to year-round schools against their parents' wishes -- a rare occurrence, apparently, though the only person with any data about it today was a parent in the audience who said it happened in just 134 cases last year -- does that mean there will be no assignments to year-round schools at all?

That could leave the year-rounds very empty if every students must be assigned to a traditional-calendar school first and only later allowed to opt out to a year-round.

Or perhaps what should happen is that parents would be asked to state a preference -- traditional calender or year-round calendar -- and kids would be assigned based on their responses?

But wait a minute. The board majority has chewed over a survey of parents' views about year-rounds for two consecutive committee of the whole sessions, including the one earlier today, with Magiotta & Co. insisting throughout -- as they hurried up the process -- that they were not trying to pin down anybody's intentions, only their general ideas.

Keith Sutton, who voted against the resolution, wondered why the majority waited until after those COW discussions to show their hand. He didn't get an answer. "Because we didn't need you to pass it" would've been, well, gratuitous.

Deborah Prickett, who offered the  resolution, resisted Sutton's and Anne McLaurin's efforts to get her to say what it would mean in practice, or even to define what "mandatory year-round assignments" are. "We'll be reversing," Prickett answered in circular fashion, whatever the policy was that resulted in mandatory year-round assignments in the first place.

But no it won't, because the resolution also bars any use of socio-economic data ("diversity") in the process of filling year-round schools. Diversity has been integral to every student assignment policy in Wake for 30 years. Not to mention that the number of students in year-round schools is far, far higher today than when the first year-round assignments were made in 1999.

Summing up the day, the board majority:

* Reversed course on year-round assignments, ending them for 2010-11 after having seemd to decide to take no such action until 2011-12 at the earliest.

* Did so this time without giving the public a chance to react or comment.

* Did so without giving Burns or his staff a chance to comment, and in fact after leading them to believe that they'd have several months -- and a survey of parents -- to guide their future planning.

When it was over, an unhappy McLaurin wondered if the majority still wanted the survey, and whether it was fair to ask the staff to do it while directing them to simultaneously overhaul the year-round schools process. "I think it's a lot to ask of staff," she said quietly, "to handle these things at the same time."

Try as he did to suppress it, Margiotta could've keep the smirk off his face. "I think they can do it," he said.

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