News: CJ Exclusives

Some Wake Parents Voting with Feet

Prospect of all year-round schools drives some to consider moving

Faced with the threat of forced conversion to a year-round public school schedule in Wake County, Cary resident Linda Hayduk and her husband are taking matters into their own hands by leaving the county rather than allow the reassignment to split their family apart.

“We’re a family who has elected not to participate in too many extra-curricular activities because we want our family to eat dinner together more than once a month like some families do,” Hayduk said. “We are moving because we believe in public schools, but not Wake County public schools. Not anymore.”

Many Wake residents share Hayduk’s concern. Local parents say that mandatory conversion from a traditional to year-round calendar would separate their families and throw a wrench into the social and academic schedules of their children.

Melissa Inglis, an Apex mother of three, said that her middle daughter was devastated at the thought of not being able to attend the same school as her older sister. “We’re a pretty close-knit family,” Inglis said. “It’s not just our vacation time. It’s the fact that it’s going to split up my family. My kids like each other. They like to play together, and their childhood is so short.”

Mandatory conversion is a growing schism across the county. On Feb. 6, the Wake County Board of Education approved a growth management plan for the 2007-08 school year that transfers 10,762 students around the county, including 2,335 year-round conversion assignments, according to a Wake County Public School System press release. The plan estimates that Wake County’s enrollment will increase by 8,000 students next year.

The school board has been at odds with the Wake County Board of Commissioners over the reassignment plan. School board Chairwoman Patti Head sent a letter to county commissioners Feb. 5 reiterating a request for funding and stating that year-round schools are necessary to meet enrollment growth. Commissioners voted, 4-3, the same day to deny allocation of $4.7 million to help convert traditional schools to year-round formats.

Many area residents point to aspects such as family stability as a primary concern with the year-round conversion. According to Dave Duncan of Stop Mandatory Year-Round, the reassignment push boils down to philosophy.

“There are some who really buy into wanting kids in school even more days,” he said. “For many kids, [parents] choose activities outside of the school to enrich their lives. Wake County seems to forget that the strength of your community is the family unit, not the classroom. The classroom is supposed to support that. They have a hard time thinking beyond the walls of their classrooms.”

Family togetherness is one reason for opposing the conversion plan, according to Dawn Wagner, a mother of three with children in elementary, middle, and high school.

“With the age ranges of our children, there are very few opportunities to have something where all three children are on the same schedule, be it anything,” she said. “School was really the only thing we could count on to have all the children on the same page, and that’s no more. The reason we had a family is so that [our children] could have brothers and sisters and have the opportunity to play with them and be a family together.”

Wagner said that her youngest child is the most affected by the reassignment. “He wants to move,” she said. “He’s just very upset. He doesn’t want to be in school.”

Parents are also frustrated over what they see as inattentiveness by school board members. “Unfortunately, in this Wake County school system, they have a lot of power, and they make changes accordingly,” said Tim Inglis, director of mobilization for Stop Mandatory Year-Round. “Talking to the county is like a tsunami—it just keeps coming at you.”

Similarly, Hayduk thinks that school board public hearings addressing the issue of reassignment have not been genuine. She thinks the school board made its decision before conversion plans were announced to the public.

“It doesn’t seem like they’ve explored every option,” Hayduk said. “It seems like they’ve been set on this, no matter what.”

Ron Margiotta, a District 8 school board member from Apex who opposes the year-round conversion, said that families are looking for educational alternatives. “Many people look outside the public schools, but private schools are packed,” he said. “We also have parents who are joining together and actually opening a private school.”

Parents are moving toward private and public alternatives such as charter schools, Inglis said. “The waiting list for any and all private schools is longer than they’ve ever had it,” he said. “[Parents] are looking for charter school options, some for magnets. There’s a waiting list for getting a book on homeschooling from the library.”

Inglis also said that the issue of year-round assignments was used as leverage to gain support for the $970 million bond referendum narrowly approved by voters in November. A good number of parents supported the bond with the understanding that they would be able to negotiate with the school board regarding year-round conversions, Inglis said.

“Some of us supported it, some of us didn’t, but the idea was that we would at least be able to talk,” Inglis said.

Reassignment plans could actually backfire if wealthier families choose to remove their children from the public school system in favor of private options, Duncan said. “Wake County thinks it’s got these growing diverse populations,” he said. “What they’ve refused to recognize is that they’re losing the one population that they’re trying to leverage, and that is the affluent — those who can afford to opt out and sign their kids up somewhere else.”

Duncan said he would like to send his children to private school or take advantage of a charter school option, but neither is feasible because of financial constraints and the sheer number of students trying to get in.

David N. Bass is an editorial intern at Carolina Journal.