In a move called a "demotion," the Wake County School Board Tuesday agreed to move assistant principals to 10-month contracts as part of a budget savings plan.
At its meeting Tuesday, the school board listened to public comments about Superintendent Tony Tata’s proposed budget, which assumes a 5 percent reduction in funding from the state. Projections in Gov. Bev Perdue’s plan place funding cuts at 10 percent or higher.
Tata emphasized that when considering the budget he will continue to seek to “mitigate the impact on the classroom.”
His proposal cuts 276 months of employment for assistant principals. Rather than eliminate positions, all assistant principals will move to 10-month contracts. Principals will then have the discretion to add non-contract “months of employment” to specific positions.
David Neter, the school’s chief financial officer, called it a "demotion."
The board has until May 15 to approve the budget and send it the Wake County Board of Commissioners, but the timing of assistant principal contracts required the board to take action on this item now.
The board approved the reduction.
“I feel that this is not a good thing to do,” board member Kevin Hills. “But I also recognize how dire [the financial situation] is now. While opposed, I can support the superintendent’s recommendation.”
“I think I can speak for all board members when I say that it’s an unpleasant action that we’re taking but necessary,” said Board Chair Ron Margiotta.
Tata’s budget also provides for an additional 190 “months of employment” to five elementary schools that have experienced under-enrollment and are projected to shed even more students next school year. These schools are Aversboro, Baileywick, Hilburn Drive, Jeffreys Grove, and Root.
Principals can spend the “months of employment” as they see fit to staff the school with teachers.
“What has happened is a significant move away from these schools … has put some in this position through no fault of their own,” said Tata. “Quite frankly there are a lot of families that want to be at these schools, but they have not been attractive options.”
[pullquote]I think I can speak for all board members when I say that it’s an unpleasant action that we’re taking but necessary. ~Board Chair Ron Margiotta.[/pullquote]
Tata and some board members cited competition from charter and year-round schools as a major factor in parents bypassing these traditional schools.
Board member Anne McLaurin disagreed.
“This is not a mass exodus by choice, not because people in the neighborhood are leaving, but because we are moving them,” she said, referring to student reassignment.
Civil Rights Investigation
Many speakers during the non-budget-related comment period criticized the board’s recent response to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation, called for by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
A common theme during the hearing was the document’s misuse of data, especially its conclusion that long bus rides hamper student achievement.
Speaker Matthew Brown was one of several who accused the board of flipping the cause and effect in their data. Because students of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to be underachievers, said Brown, they are also more likely to be assigned to more affluent schools far from their neighborhoods. Busing, then, is part of the solution, not the problem.
“It’s like saying ‘We have found that the data shows that people in the hospital are sicker than those outside; therefore, let’s stop sending them to the hospital. It’s making them sick,’” Brown said.
Read more: The School Board's response to the investigation.
The district racked up $97,996.71 in legal fees defending itself against the NAACP's complaint to the Office of Civil Rights and AdvancEd's accreditation investigation, completed last month. Of that money, $12,840 was paid by insurance and $20,570 was billed to the insurance company, but not yet paid. The remaining $64,586.71 came out of the WCPSS legal account.
Second Removal for Activist
In an echo of last summer’s contentious board meetings, Seth Keel, a leader in the student activist group NC H.E.A.T. and one of those arrested at a board meeting last year, was once again escorted off the premises.
Keel was banned from school board meetings last summer along with several other attendees, including leaders in the NAACP, who refused to give up the floor during a public hearing.
When security confronted Keel Tuesday as Tata addressed the board, Keel stood and appealed across the room to Tata, thereby disrupting the meeting. Tata declined to answer any questions from Keel, who then left quietly.
No More Board Committees — For Now
The board also voted Tuesday to eliminate all board committees for a trial period of six months. Board members will discuss and act on all topics in work sessions with the full board present.
Board member Chris Malone was the lone dissenting vote.
Under the committee structure, committee chairs bring items to the whole board during work sessions or meetings. Now, members will have to go through the board chair, who will relay the agenda items to the superintendent. Together they will determine the best way to address the item.
“I’ve always said I’m just one of nine; I don’t care about titles,” Malone said. “But if there’s something I think is important or want to see on the agenda, I don’t want to have to hope, don’t want to see it eroded by the ones who will bring it before the board.”