Residents of southern Mecklenburg County love their schools. The question at Saturday’s meeting of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club was how far that possessive pronoun should extend.
School board member Paul Bailey urged the crowd of about 150 to trust the process of a student assignment review and rally behind school bonds for the entire county.
But Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor and state Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Matthews, talked about carving off a new suburban school district if Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools can’t regain residents’ trust.
“What we’re trying to do is say we’re tired of being yanked around left and right,” said Taylor, who has created a task force to explore creating a separate school district. “CMS is a good system. I believe a lot of parents in the town of Matthews are extremely proud of the quality of education that their children have received over the years, but the thing is they want to guarantee that going forward.”
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We invest in our schools, we invest in our children and we don’t want to put that at risk.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor
Anxiety about the assignment review and what changes might be in store for south suburban schools is driving the talk about splitting CMS. Bailey, who represents that area, said most board members have professed support for neighborhood schools, even though the board has yet to vote on that commitment or define what it might mean.
Bailey urged his District 6 constituents to rally behind a proposed $805 million bond package regardless of concerns about the student assignment review, saying the district needs to catch up on decades of underspending. “Fact of life, folks,” he said. “We have not paid the piper for 35 years.”
Bailey said the board has a process in place to move toward student assignment decisions, and he believes support for neighborhood schools will be an essential next step.
We can’t have the bonds if we don’t make a commitment to neighborhood schools.
CMS board member Paul Bailey
He was peppered with skeptical comments and questions from people concerned that the goals approved in February don’t specify support for neighborhood schools. In fact, some noted, a motion to add such a goal failed 6-2.
“We really don’t trust the school board,” said CMS parent James Rachal. “We’re not going to go to the county commissioners and say, ‘Give the school board a billion dollars.’ I don’t even trust you with what I have in my wallet.”
Scott Stone, the Republican nominee for House District 105, said the goals do include reducing the number of schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students. “How do you break up poverty without busing kids from one school to another?” he asked.
Bailey said he believes magnet programs with transportation can give students alternatives to high-poverty, low-performing schools. But another audience member countered that such a strategy just leaves the high-poverty neighborhood schools with even more concentrated challenges.
I can predict this now: The bonds will fail without the support of the surrounding six towns. They’ll go down in flames.
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor
Brawley, who was a Matthews town commissioner in the 1990s, noted that talk about splitting CMS has surfaced off and on for at least two decades. A bill introduced in 2005 went nowhere, he said. But now the General Assembly is dominated by Republicans who support school choice, he said.
Brawley said if Matthews or any other town can present “a reasonable plan to improve the educational outcomes for their children, I will support that bill.”
Dividing a school district is complicated, Brawley acknowledged. “It’s not going to be a trivial exercise but it could be done and it’s within the authority of the General Assembly to do it.”
Ray Eschert, founder of the breakfast club, noted that the Ballantyne development in Charlotte’s southern tip would not be part of a Matthews school district. But he said residents share similar concerns: “Does CMS serve to benefit the suburban schools the way they serve and support the inner-city schools?”
Tuesday: Public hearing on CMS construction and bond plans, 6 p.m., Vance High, 7600 IBM Drive. Sign up by noon Tuesday at 980-343-5139 or on site starting at 5 p.m.
April 12: Special session for the school board to interview superintendent search consultants, 3:30 p.m., Room 527, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. Regular meeting at 7 p.m. in the meeting chamber of the Government Center includes a vote on requesting that county commissioners put bonds on the November ballot.
April 14: School board’s policy committee discusses student assignment, 10:30 a.m., Room 527, Government Center.