In a night marked by split votes, angry protests and accusations of racism, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved a sweeping plan to close 10 schools and make other dramatic changes.
In the most controversial item, the board voted 5-4 to close Waddell High and make it the new home for Smith Language Academy, a K-8 magnet. Harding High, which had also been considered as a home for Smith, will turn into a neighborhood school housing many of Waddell's students, along with the International Baccalaureate magnet now at Harding.
Most other efforts to block or revise the plan failed, often with the board's only two black members on the losing end of votes.
"That's a racist vote," speaker John White told the board after the seven white members rejected a move by Joyce Waddell and Richard McElrath to delay a vote on all proposed changes.
Race was a common theme as more than 100 people made one last attempt to sway the board on its historic decision.
The votes change life for about 25,000 students next year. It is the first time the district, which has long grappled with the challenges of growth, has faced massive closings and reassignments because of a shrinking budget.
Most speakers were critical of the plans crafted by Superintendent Peter Gorman and hashed out after five months of board meetings and public forums. Many noted that closings and other major changes would land disproportionately on schools serving minority and low-income students.
Only about 5 percent of students in the schools slated to close are white, compared with a third district-wide.
"Everyone should share the pain, including our suburban families and communities," said Adrian DeVore.
"You are about to wake a sleeping giant called the civil rights movement," said Darrell Bonapart.
Gorman, board Chair Eric Davis and other members say the changes are based on low enrollment and/or academic weakness, not on race or clout. And they say it's just the start of a quest to cut up to $100 million from next year's $1 billion budget.
Before public comments began, Waddell and McElrath argued for pulling the vote off the agenda. Waddell said by waiting until February, officials could craft a fairer plan.
Other members said they needed to vote now to be ready for the 2011 magnet lottery.
After the motion was voted down, a handful of activists began chanting "No justice, no peace." CMS and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police led them from the meeting chamber.
A gray-haired woman collapsed into the space between rows of seats. The board watched quietly as officers worked to get her to her feet.
"You knocked her down?" someone called.
"No," others said.
Another woman, whom police later identified as Niksa Karina Balbosa, 39, was led away in handcuffs. "They are voting to destroy our children," she shouted. "We won't stop until we're heard."
She was charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, CMS Police Chief Bud Cesena said.
Charlotte NAACP President Kojo Nantambu arrived 15 minutes after the meeting began and tried to get into the meeting chamber, but was turned away. He led a group of roughly 30 people, some with signs, who began chanting in the lobby, calling on the school board to push back the vote.
Even after the board voted to keep the closings plan on the agenda, many speakers urged members to start over. Sarah Stevenson, a former school board member, was among them.
"You have a golden opportunity to be fair and equitable to minority children and minority communities," Stevenson said. "You'd be the first board of education to do that in the 60-something years that I've been active in politics in this community."
The local League of Women Voters also called for a do-over, saying the current plan creates too much disruption and distrust for a relatively small savings.
"This is not the time to be penny wise and pound foolish," said co-president Janet Brinkley.
But some speakers from Smith Language Academy, which now moves to Waddell, urged members to vote.
"It's not fair to the students and the parents to delay the process any further," one said.
Joyce Waddell also made a motion to scrap a plan to close three high-poverty, mostly minority middle schools and move the students into new pre-K-8 schools. She said Gorman hasn't shown that students will benefit from the move. Her motion lost on a 5-4 vote.
Five and a half hours into the meetings, feelings were running high. Audience members shouted at board member Joe White as he spoke from the dais. He snapped back that he hadn't interrupted them when they spoke.
"No wonder we have kids who don't know how to behave," White said. He quickly added that some of the best and most civil speakers earlier in the meeting were students. Staff Writer Meghan A. Cooke contributed