By Ann Doss Helmsahelms@charlotteobserver.com
Superintendent Peter Gorman said Tuesday he's moving ahead with plans for 2011 school closings, even as the school board wrestles with its guidelines for making such decisions.
At the end of a three-hour meeting, board member Kaye McGarry said residents are suspicious that there's "something on the drawing board" that hasn't been made public.
"Absolutely. That's accurate," Gorman said. "We've been working on things and will continue to do that."
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Tuesday's board meeting brought lively discussion but little clarity about the board's goals for a five-month study of student assignment and academics.
In previous sessions, the board ranked student achievement as its top goal for assignment decisions. But Tuesday, some members and Gorman questioned how much academic success is shaped by where kids go to school.
"Do you believe that the school makes the kids, or the kids make the school?" asked Joe White.
Gorman noted that low-income, black and Hispanic kids in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which has many schools with high concentrations of poverty, now outscore counterparts in Wake County, which has long assigned students for diversity.
Tom Tate, Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell all argued that CMS should do more to avoid clusters of poverty in neighborhood schools.
But Eric Davis, Trent Merchant and Tim Morgan all said they're not interested in doing a wholesale shakeup of students and boundaries.
"To me, it wouldn't make sense to just gut something that appears to be working," Morgan said.
Tate said it's too early to rule anything out: "I don't know that there will be radical change, but I expect there will need to be some change. Student assignment clearly is causing some people to go as far and as fast as they can to an alternative to their home schools."
The board members voiced general support for magnets, but came to no agreements about guidelines for locations or programs. Some voiced concerns about the cost of magnets.
Merchant said magnets, which served about 13 percent of CMS students last year, consume a disproportionate chunk of the board's time and energy and should be "at the back of the line" for resources.
White and Davis agreed.
"I think we have to make a clear priority of our home schools," Davis said. "If we have one dollar to invest, we're going to spend it on home schools."
But Morgan noted that improving those schools was not even on the priority list the board has been working with.
The board will meet again July 27 to work on its guiding principles. The goal is to make decisions for 2011-12 by November, so families applying for schools in January know what to expect.
Gorman said he and his staff can't wait for the board to finish deliberating before they crafts plans. Instead, he said, they're working on proposals that will "make our thinking visible."
Meanwhile Tuesday, about 65 people gathered at Martin Middle School to weigh in on the ongoing effort to revamp student assignment, boost academics and save money in 2011-12.
What's next? Tuesday, July 27
Special session on student assignment review, 1 p.m., Room 267, Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.
Regular meeting, 6 p.m., meeting chamber, Government Center. Includes public comment period, a vote on a revised equity policy and a possible vote on student-assignment guidelines.
Public forum on student-assignment review, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Crestdale Middle, 940 Sam Newell Road, Matthews.