Wake Education Partners In Context 3/21/13

March 21, 2013

School bond utopia:
We don’t live there

Wake’s school board members and county commissioners spent the better part of two hours today talking about how many schools it would take to catch up with Wake’s County’s enrollment growth and repair needs. It took about two seconds to make it clear the next school bond request won’t cover all those needs.

“This is your utopia, right?” asked commission Chair Joe Bryan after the two groups were told it would take $2.2 billion to build 32 new schools and make major repairs at 28 others.

The answer from both the school board and commissioners was yes, which is good because a program that size would require a property tax increase of almost 15 cents per $100. That’s about $375 a year on a house with a tax value of $250,000. The current county tax rate is 53.4 cents per $100.

The discussion was needed as a way to set the stage for future meetings where the commissioners and school board members will decide what size construction program is more realistic. The decisions from those meetings will have a very real effect on taxpayers, children and families. For example:
Also In This Issue
Making the case for early childhood programs

State leaders seek to leave imprint on schools

Can I have my own bus, please?

Enrollment caps sought for 17 schools

Opinions wanted on next superintendent

Bill Fletcher returns to school board

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• How many students will continue to attend classes in classroom trailers and modular units? About 17 percent of Wake’s students now attend classes in “mobile classrooms.”
• Will families be required to attend schools that use staggered, year-round schedules?
• How quickly should schools be filled? The sooner schools fill up, the sooner the school board has to cap enrollments or reassign families.
• How much debt can the county realistically carry and still maintain its triple-A bond rating? The high rating reduces the county’s bond costs.
• How soon do the two boards want to return to voters with another request – and for how much? The current discussion only covers existing needs and immediate projections. If a bond request is approved this fall, voters could be looking at a follow-up in just three or four years.
Senior staff members for both boards will return next month with different scenarios that address school needs and financing. The meeting will be held outside of utopia.

Making the case for early childhood programs

A national business group created to encourage investment in quality childcare and preschool education released a series of short summaries last week about the importance of both in North Carolina.

Citing 123 different studies spanning four decades, the group known as America’s Edge said the research shows about one-third of the achievement gap can be closed by quality early education programs.

It applauded North Carolina’s five-star rating system for providing information about the quality of all licensed daycare programs. It also cited numerous studies showing the link between quality pre-kindergarten programs and the eventual education, employment and income of the state’s workers.

“North Carolina could lead the nation in children’s preparedness in reading and mathematics upon arrival in kindergarten if early care and education programs in our state are of high quality,” the summary states.

The early childhood briefs can be found here along with two companion pieces about the importance of career academies and other innovative high school programs that better prepare students for work or college.

America’s Edge focuses much of its work on state policymaker
s. It is supported primarily by business leaders and organizations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Hagedorn Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and others.

The group visited Wake County in November to release a report showing local businesses benefit first from early childhood investments. That’s because money spent on pre-kindergarten and day-care programs typically stays with employees and vendors who already live in the community.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget calls for adding about 5,000 new spots for 4-year-olds in North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten programs at a cost of about $9 million a year.

State leaders seek to leave imprint on schools

Using a series of bills introduced in the General Assembly the past two weeks and Gov. Pat McCrory’s first proposed budget, North Carolina’s new leadership has set the framework for how it wants to approach K-12 education.

The General Assembly’s involvement in education is magnified in Wake County because lawmakers have offered two bills directly rooted in local politics.

The first bill, SB236, would give county commissions authority to own and construct school buildings. It closely reflects a legislative agenda request initiated by Wake County’s commissioners.

The second proposal, SB325, would change the election district boundaries, the terms of office and the way in which Wake County school board members are elected. Wake’s commissioners had asked that a majority of school board members be elected at-large instead of representing single districts.

Given the effect both bills could have on the operation of the Wake County Public School System, the response to broader statewide proposals has been relatively muted so far.

The more far-reaching of those two bills, SB361, titled The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, contains a number of items from the previous session of the General Assembly that were vetoed by then-Gov. Bev Perdue. It calls for the eventual elimination of teacher tenure, limiting the amount of class time teachers can spend on end-of-grade tests, development of performance pay programs and an accountability model that includes a single grade assigned to each school.

The last bill introduced this week, SB374, is designed to give schools more budget flexibility. Part of the proposal is the elimination of formal class-size limits, leaving that decision to local school districts.

All of the proposals, many of which are likely to be vigorously opposed by various school groups, would operate under the umbrella of McCrory’s proposed budget.

McCrory’s $20.6 billion budget calls for a 1 percent pay increase for state employees, hiring another 1,800 teachers statewide and expanding the state’s pre-k program by 5,000 slots.

It also eliminates money for all teacher assistants statewide in grades two and three and completes the phase out of the state’s Teaching Fellows Programs and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. Both of those programs gained national praise during their operation.

Can I have my own bus, please?

One of the annual spring routines for every school board in North Carolina is the review of next year’s budget before sending it off to county commissioners in the form of a request for local funding.

It’s a lengthy and tedious exercise in Wake given the district’s projected costs of $1.3 billion – of which county commissioners fund more than $315 million. And some questions are like evergreens, standing firmly on the list year after year.

Here’s one: “Why can’t all kids start school at about 8:30 am?” Roughly translated, this usually means, “Why don’t we buy more buses?”

The answer, thanks to a question asked this year by school board Vice Chair Christine Kushner, is $151 million. That’s how much it would cost to buy and operate 884 additional buses to create one uniform start time in Wake County. It would cost about $34 million a year in recurring costs.

About 75,000 students – or roughly half of the children who attend Wake’s public schools – use 924 buses every day. To keep those costs down, the district spends countless hours designing bus runs, calculating distances and adjusting bell schedules.

When it works, it’s a quiet wonder. When it fails, as was the case early this year, it creates havoc and anger. Then someone asks district leaders why every school can’t have its own buses.

There are now 151 million answers to that question.

Noteworthy
…A plan that could cap enrollment at up to 17 schools next year, including four high schools, was presented to Wake school board members this week. The district is capping enrollment to control crowding and to reserve a small number of seats for neighborhood students when a school is nearing its limit. In some cases, no additional students will be enrolled regardless of where they live. Those students will be sent to “overflow” schools. The list of capped schools and proposed overflow schools will be voted on April 9.

…Wake County residents are invited to offer their thoughts about the qualities they would like to see in the Wake County Public School System superintendent. Search firm McPherson and Jacobson will visit Wake from Monday, March 25, through Wednesday, March 27, as part of the school board’s search for a new superintendent. Specific times and locations for the sessions can be found here.

…Former school board member Bill Fletcher was sworn in this week to serve the unexpired term of Debra Goldman, who resigned in February. Fletcher’s term will end in November.

Wake Education Partnership is a 501(c)(3) non-profit created in 1983 to support public schools, in part by educating the community on current school issues and serving as a strong advocate for student achievement and world-class academic standards. Most of its financial support comes from individuals and local businesses. Please send comments or questions to Tim Simmons, VP of Communications,or visit our website .

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About TARR Report

S.M.A. Publications was formed in 1997 with a mission of providing real estate information for practitioners within the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. The company produces the T.A.R.R. Reports which are published monthly, quarterly and annually, covering all aspects of the residential real estate market. The publisher, Stacey P. Anfindsen, has over 23 years of residential experience in the Triangle market. He is an active real estate appraiser, educator and consultant.
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