The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is moving ahead with possible boundary changes, but how dramatic and how fast the work will be remains unsettled.
On Thursday, the district will start holding meetings around the county for people to weigh in on some of the questions the board grappled with Tuesday night. For instance: Is it more important to relieve crowded schools, to keep students close to home or to break up concentrations of poverty? How far should CMS go toward meeting its goal of increasing socioeconomic diversity?
Differences of opinion emerged Tuesday night, as they did two weeks ago. For instance, board members Ericka Ellis-Stewart, Thelma Byers-Bailey and Ruby Jones pushed the need to make major changes to reduce the concentrations of disadvantage that characterize dozens of neighborhood schools. This year 77 of the district’s 168 schools have poverty levels of at least 75 percent.
Byers-Bailey said the ideal would be an equal mix of low, medium and high socioeconomic status in every school, as defined by CMS and its consultants during the review of magnet schools: “If we could magically come up with all our schools at that kind of distribution, that would be a home run.”
But members Paul Bailey and Rhonda Lennon said that’s unrealistic.
Lennon said CMS can’t make that kind of change without sacrificing its promise to assign students to schools close to home. “It’s either/or,” she said. If diversity becomes the driving force and boundaries are changed dramatically, “everybody with afflulence will choose to go outside CMS.”
Last year the board approved goals that dealt with crowding, academic opportunity, choice, schools close to home and a new focus on diversity.
“They do bump up against each other,” Superintendent Ann Clark said. She said she hopes to use feedback from last year’s opinion survey, the public meetings taking place over the next three weeks and ongoing conversations with board members to decide what to tackle in the next five months.
“I’ve heard different views on scope and pace,” she said.
The rift over timing arose two weeks ago, shortly after the board united to hire Clayton Wilcox as superintendent, effective July 1. The school board’s timetable calls for intensive work over the next five months, culminating with a June vote on boundary changes that would start taking effect in 2018-19.
Board members have known for months that would mean doing the complex and controversial boundary work while preparing a budget and a school bond package, making a leadership transition and gearing up for a school board campaign. At the Jan. 10 meeting, some said they had decided that isn’t realistic. Others said a delay – with the lingering uncertainty it would bring – would doom voter approval for much-needed bonds.
Tuesday night, some members talked about making relatively small changes to fix problems with current boundaries and closing out the review, which began in 2015. Others talked about starting small and rolling out boundary changes over two or more years.
Clark assured the board that the staff could finish the project in the next five months “in a nondisruptive, unchaotic way.” Doing nothing with boundaries is not an option, Clark said: “There certainly are critical capacity issues that can’t wait.”
Board Chair Mary McCray said efforts to balance socioeconomic status should play into boundary decisions as new schools are built.
“I hope with all my heart that we do not open a new school being a Title I school,” McCray said, referring to extremely high-poverty schools that get federal Title I aid.
Board member Eric Davis said CMS should set a bold goal to reduce concentrations of poverty, but realize it can’t be done through reassignment alone. As Bailey noted, housing and transportation policies affect neighborhood diversity.
“Let’s put a goal out there,” David said, “and let’s challenge the community.”
This week in CMS
▪ 10 a.m.: School choice information sessions at Smith Family Center and the West Boulevard Library, 2157 West Boulevard. The Smith session is for anyone and the West Boulevard session is for the CMS violet transportation zone.
▪ 4:30-6 p.m.: Coffee and conversation with Superintendent Ann Clark at Cornelius Elementary School, 21126 Catawba Ave., Cornelius.
▪ 6-8 p.m.: School choice information session for the violet transportation zone at the West Boulevard Library.
▪ 1-3 p.m.: School choice information session for the green transportation zone, Matthews Library, 230 Matthews Station St., Matthews.
▪ 6-8 p.m.: School choice information session for the green transportation zone, Matthews Library.
▪ 7-8:30 p.m.: Public engagement session on school boundary review for people who live in the Ardrey Kell and Providence high school zones, Ardrey Kell High, 10220 Ardrey Kell Road.