The outgoing school board approved a new choice-based student assignment plan Tuesday in a 6-2 vote, but it may not be permanent.
Newly elected school board members had asked for the vote to be stalled until they are seated Dec. 6. But Superintendent Tony Tata said the board gave him its full trust nine months ago with a 9-0 vote to let him design a new assignment plan and his new plan should move forward without delay.
The new plan was approved under the banner of a resolution read by Tata. The resolution added some provisions to the adoption of the new plan, most notably, that that the new plan “will remain in effect for a minimum of three years.”
But if board member Kevin Hill wins in an upcoming run-off election against Heather Losurdo, the board majority will change hands and any previous resolutions can be overturned, regardless of the three-year provision.
Hill and Keith Sutton both voted against the resolution, but said they favor the direction of Tata’s new assignment plan.
Hill voted no, he said, because the plan does not guarantee all low-performing students will have access to seats in high-performing schools.
“I can’t negotiate on the issue of student achievement,” Hill said.
Sutton said he voted no because waiting would give the board and community a chance to finally achieve consensus. He also said the newly elected board members should be allowed to weigh in on the plan.
Sutton offered a resolution amendment to delay the vote for 30 days, but his proposal failed.
“It’s got some things to add and we’ll do that,” he said, referring to the possible new board majority.
Of the 18 people who spoke during the public comment period, most favored delay. Just two called for a vote.
After the public comment period, Tata renewed his request for a vote by reading a written statement, arguing the plan’s all-around strength.
He said the old plan failed to deal with growth. The new plan will provide stability, which “leads to better student achievement.”
Tata also emphasized the influence of proximity on the new plan.
“Proximity is a large component of stability for many families,” he said. “We know that proximity helps families be more involved in their schools.”
He said many parents have asked for proximity in assignment. However, as many speakers observed, candidates who valued diversity over proximity were the top vote getters in each of last week’s school board races.
Outgoing Board Chair Ron Margiotta, who was ousted by a diversity supporter in last week’s election, didn’t vote because the resolution carried without requiring a tie-breaker. After its passage he reflected on his tenure in office.
“It’s a new day in Wake County, one I have looked forward to for a long time,” he said. “There will no longer be assignment based on socio-economic status.”
Diversity supporters Anne McLaurin and Carolyn Morrison sided with the board majority to vote for the plan. Both decided not to run for re-election this year and will step down in December, handing their seats to diversity supporters Jim Martin and Christine Kushner.