The Observer asked all nine candidates for the three at-large seats on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to select a top priority for student assignment and explain their views in 500 words or less (get links to the others here). This statement is unedited.
Past student assignment boundary changes conjure painful memories in our community. Race-based bussing ended in lawsuits, declared unconstitutional. Knowing my own personal experience with the “guarantee” of geographically proximate home schools, many might expect me to jump in that direction. My family and neighbors are heartbroken to hear the band play at one school and be bussed nine miles away to another. Nonetheless, school assignment boundaries are not the most pressing issue we face today. We must value stability to tackle key issues.
Especially with graduation rates and test scores climbing higher and higher, school assignment boundaries simply do not speak to our biggest problems. We must focus first on:
1: Hiring an excellent superintendent;
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2: Reforming operations to attract and retain the best talent;
3. Tackling serious capital needs as explosive population growth continues.
In travel across Mecklenburg County, I do not hear large public demand for massive change to assignment boundaries to place diversity above any and all other goals. Parents and community leaders I meet want excellent home schools, and geographically and substantively diverse magnet options. I cannot support elimination of neighborhood home schools and a return to bussing, as some are now advocating.
When bussing existed in Mecklenburg County, our population was 500,000 in 1990; it just passed 1 million. We lack the resources to institute a program of this magnitude. Our bussing program ended when declared unconstitutional by the courts. A new massive redistricting to achieve “socio-economic diversity” may not even be legal, and any such bussing plan would be the object of lawsuits, for which the county and school board lack time or money to defend. As a lawyer myself, I am professionally more aware than anyone that litigation is expensive, time consuming, and distracting, with uncertain results.
We must continue to offer the best available choices to parents. I stand completely in support of school choice and highest quality charter schools with appropriate oversight, but we cannot drive parents to choose charters close to home rather than be bussed all across Mecklenburg County in the name of a social experiment. I cannot support any program to functionally abandon neighborhood home schools, the core of our communities. I will vocally advocate strengthening neighborhood home schools to make them schools of choice. In today’s world of tight budgets, we cannot even consider launching a new redistricting plan without understanding if funding exists at the County and the General Assembly, a dubious proposition at best. Ultimately, with graduation rates at record highs, and test scores up among cohorts, we should be extremely cautious before making massive district-wide changes.
Of the choices presented, while all are important, right now I value maintaining stability and support the current school assignment plan as much as possible, with more choice and magnet options, so we can tackle the most pressing issues before us, preparing our students for their bright future.
Jeremy Stephenson: http://stephensonforschoolboard.com, (704) 574-3472