Critics of Wake County’s former student assignment policy and supporters of the current school board majority may be shocked to learn that the student assignment plan being proposed to replace the socioeconomic diversity policy will have higher transportation costs. This week Wake County Superintendent Anthony Tata stated that the new student assignment plan will feature escalating costs in order to continue busing students to their current schools as well as implementing the new assignment plan. Tata and his transportation staff estimate that Wake will need 15 to 25 new buses to make the proposed assignment plan work. At $87,000 per bus, the new system will cost Wake County between $1.3 and $2.2 million at a time when the state has cut transportation funds by 2.5%. Plus, the transportation staff is expending time and effort coming up with the new routes.
One criticism of the diversity policy that members of the current board majority commonly used in their bid to take over the board in 2009 was that it was inefficient and led to students being bused all over the county at a higher cost. Research from Great Schools in Wake has already shown that the fiscal impact of busing for socioeconomic diversity was minimal as only 3% of busing was done for integration purposes and that the overwhelming majority of students attend school very close to their homes. The main cause of Wake’s transportation costs and complex student assignment system was and remains growth.
It is indeed ironic that the proposed assignment policy would involve higher transportation costs than the nationally-acclaimed integration policy that it replaced because the entire point of the proposed system is that it favors proximity and stability. The socioeconomic diversity policy was successful at avoiding the creation of costly and ineffective high poverty schools that plague other urban school districts. The proposed policy will likely lead to higher concentrations of poverty in some schools that will be far more costly to maintain. One would think that a system favoring stability and proximity at the cost of socioeconomic diversity would at least bring lower transportation costs, but it does the opposite.