Cautious hope mingled with confusion and consternation Tuesday as dozens of parents turned out to talk about proposed changes to some of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' most desirable in-town elementary schools.
Student placement director Scott McCully told the group that the current options to relieve crowding at Eastover Elementary - which would affect Myers Park Traditional, Dilworth and/or First Ward elementary schools - could be expanded to include other nearby schools, such as Selwyn, Sharon or Billingsville.
And he said the plan to move about 110 students who live in the Dilworth neighborhood from Eastover, one of the district's whitest and lowest-poverty schools, to First Ward Elementary, where 95 percent of students are black and most come from low-income homes, might be expanded to shift a larger part of the Eastover zone.
Parents such as Chip Ford, a former Eastover PTA president whose three kids face reassignment, cited "pretty vast disparities" between the two schools in academic achievement and indicators of safety and discipline. He asked whether CMS has ever forced students to move from a top-performing school to one at the other end of the spectrum.
Another parent nearby raised his hand to answer: "If you were a student here in the '70s, West Charlotte was a perfect example of that," he said, referring to a historic court-ordered desegregation plan that has since been overturned.
The meeting was the latest twist in a series of boundary battles making student assignment a dominant issue for a school system in transition. The school board is losing or has recently lost four of its most experienced members. Many say the new crew elected in November must figure out a clearer, more practical approach to deciding where children go to school.
McCully repeatedly insisted that the current options are driven solely by the need to relieve crowding at Eastover. But he perplexed many in the audience by presenting new numbers indicating that the school, with 589 students, is only 16 students over "building capacity." He said the school is expected to keep growing and has no land for mobile classrooms. If no students are added, nearby First Ward will be only about half full next year.
"Why is this a crisis, last-minute, throw neighbor against neighbor issue?" one parent asked, drawing applause.
For years, CMS has struggled to gauge school capacity in a logical, consistent way that makes sense to the general public. Instead it has produced an array of formulas that create dramatic fluctuations: Eastover's capacity went from 522 to 573 when the district updated a report produced less than two weeks earlier.
The Eastover question - coupled with proposals to move students from Myers Park High to East Mecklenburg - has pitted residents of some of Charlotte's most affluent in-town neighborhoods against each other.
The goal, said Eastover parent Mike Malloy, should be to find a plan that "makes the historic neighborhood zone work for all of our kids."
McCully and many school board members say they hope meetings this week and next will produce better options than the three already introduced for Eastover.
One is the Dilworth reassignment. Another would make that boundary change and send the Dilworth/First Ward students, expected to be about 38 percent white, 56 percent black and 57 percent poor, to Dilworth Elementary. The First Ward building would pick up the arts magnet now located at Dilworth.
A third option would keep Eastover's boundaries intact but send the students to the larger Myers Park Elementary building nearby. That would force Myers Park Traditional, a popular magnet that has 738 students, to curtail admissions to fit into the smaller Eastover school.
Some Myers Park parents say CMS's projections, which involve admitting no kindergarteners to the "traditional" magnet next year except those who have siblings already there, understate the level of crowding. One said that forcing the school into a smaller space would harm a successful school that is "well diversified" - 58 percent white, 33 percent black and about 23 percent poor.
McCully acknowledged that the proposed swap "is going to be a difficult one to implement."
Looking like a harried talk-show host, McCully hustled the microphone back and forth across Myers Park High's auditorium. As the two-hour meeting drew to a close, hands waved more frantically.
"Can Dilworth school talk?" called a woman in the back.
When McCully brought the mike, Deborah Edwards told him Dilworth Elementary's PTA just voted to support moving their magnet to the First Ward building, which is in the heart of the uptown arts and cultural district. But she said she feels like CMS is rushing decisions and forcing magnet parents to make hasty choices to save their schools.
Several parents asked how they can be part of a more thoughtful effort to craft new plans, working with staff who can run numbers for them. McCully said his staff is being bombarded with requests for data and trying to respond, but said they can't meet with every group.
He urged people to e-mail ideas to email@example.com. us .