Friday, August 27, 2010

As the summer winds down, and the traditional calendar school students return to the classroom, it's time to reflect. What a summer. Last year at this time, I was revving up the campaigning. This year, I am revving up to support programs that focus on the academic success of our students in Wake County.
A lot has happened this summer.

Amid the Policy changes, the Superintendent search, cuts in funding, program cuts, program revisions and more was the budget. I have raised concerns about many of the items included in and alluded to by the budget. After failing to pass the Budget once, we held a long work session on August 3rd. Staff addressed many topics and the budget was brought forward for a vote on August 10th. Right before the vote, in Committee of the Whole, staff made recommendations. The Board did not have enough time to ask all of our questions and fully understand the implications of these recommendations. I had other questions, and many of them, particularly in reference to the proposed changes for Project Enlightenment. The Budget came up for a vote and I was the only Board member NOT to vote for it. There is a lot of work to do, and though it is described as a "fluid document", there is a tremendous amount that concerns me, on many topics.

To give just one example, the implication of one section is that Booster clubs now must pay for the watering of the athletic fields at our schools. At first glance, this might not sound like a lot, but it could run between 12 and 16 thousand dollars per year, per school. Our Booster clubs already supply the athletic programs with equipment, uniforms and much more. Now they are expected to pay the water bills! It will take an estimated 20 percent (or more) of their budgets to pay for this, which means that the same small group of well meaning parents that do all of the other work, will now need to raise an extra $16k per year. And, what if they can't? Will the fields potentially go unwatered and wither and die? This could render them unsafe and unusable for the future.

We have students that are gifted and talented in many different ways. Some students are gifted academically, artistically and some are gifted athletically. I feel that all of our students and schools must be supported to the best of our ability. We are very proud of our athletics in Wake County, and this new field watering plan just isn't feasible. BUT, this is only one of the many concerns that I harbor.

The Board voted at our last meeting to authorize the spending of $2.4 million to "predesign" three schools. On the surface, this sounds like it might be a good idea, we have some land banked and we do need seats. The concern is that our staff members are predicting that we will have an even steeper budget shortfall next year, and may/will need those reserves. And in actuality, we will only be able to afford to build two of the schools. Why not vote on which sites to use, and then do the predesign? Or, why not wait a few more months, until the new Assignment plan is complete, listen to the stakeholder feedback, formalize the plan and then decide where the seats are needed, vote on a site and then pay to predesign the schools for the future? A few months for careful planning will not make a huge difference in a school system that already suffers severe overcrowding at many schools. I'm thinking about Wakefield HS with over 60 modular units, or Garner HS with 38 temporary classrooms (including a trailerteria to handle the lunch crowd!).

We must make decisions as a Board, but they must be decisions with concerns for the future and vision. We will now have a full Board work session each month, and a full, public meeting. Under the old schedule, we'd have two public meetings with a committee of the whole right before each. The problem was that our COW would usually be less than two hours in most instances, not nearly enough time for the Board to have the opportunity to discuss and learn. We also had separate Committee meetings, and not all Committees would fully report to the Board, so we had on one hand, duplication of presentations, and on the other, Board members who were not aware of what happened in some committees. Under the new schedule, the Board will have these long work sessions, at our conference table, in a setting that is more conducive to discussion and learning, and working together to problem solve. Many of the staff presentations of information can happen in this setting, where we can discuss things without the need for microphones.

This is all really good news! We have continued to hold public comment sessions that extend far beyond the required thirty minutes. I have faith in our Board, that this practice will continue so that all will continue to be heard. The bottom line is that I am in favor of the Board being afforded this opportunity to be able to work together. This new plan may just be what we were looking for!

This is an exciting time, full of possibilities for each of our 143,000 students at each of our 163 schools! As the Board of Education looks more deeply into ways to increase the level of academic achievement, and ways to help students and align them with their goals for the future, I am feeling that the coming seasons will bring further success to all in the Wake County Public School System.

So, as the summer winds down, and the traditional school years gears up, I want to wish ALL of Wake County a happy first day of school!