CMS asked to delay vote on new South Meck school that will relieve overcrowding

Here are CMS construction projects in the works

Some school construction is to accommodate more students and some are built to replace older structures.
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Some school construction is to accommodate more students and some are built to replace older structures.

Parents want Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to put the brakes on deciding how to configure a new school that will ease overcrowding on other southern Mecklenburg County campuses, but might not be what the community wants.

The Rea Road Relief School, as the project is known, is scheduled to open in August 2020 as the final project from a $295 million school bond package voters approved in 2013. The $40 million school off Providence Road will pull students from Ballantyne, Elon Park, Hawk Ridge and Polo Ridge elementary schools and Community House and J.M. Robinson middle schools.

The 2013 bond package said the school would be a K-8 magnet for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programs. But CMS has floated other options: A K-8 school solely for students from that attendance boundary; a middle school for students from within the boundary; or a K-8 school with about 20 percent of the seats available for magnet students.

CMS officials want to recommend an option to the school board on May 14. Parents asked the board Tuesday night to delay that timetable, accusing the district of ignoring alternatives proposed by community members.

“One thing that has been consistent in the community is not embracing mandatory attendance at a K-8 school,” Leigh Sugg told board members. The bond package, she and others reminded CMS, called for a K-8 magnet school, which students would choose whether to attend.

“To simply ignore the input feels like we’re being forced to choose from three bad options,” added parent Ashley Harvey.

District 1 board member Rhonda Cheek echoed the parents. “This was sold to the community as a magnet, not a home school,” she said. “To say now we’re not even considering a full magnet makes no sense, because that was what was in the bond package.”

Associate Superintendent Akeshia Craven-Howell said the three options had been assessed by the distances from homes to the school, whether they would keep school feeder patterns intact, school utilization and socioeconomic diversity.

Board Chairperson Mary McCray said Craven-Howell had explained at a Monday night community meeting why some options were not being considered. “This project was (subject to) a countywide vote, and we have to sit here as a board and represent everybody and stay true to what we said we were going to do,” she said.

Another community meeting on the issue will be held at 6 p.m. May 9 at Providence High School. Board members could delay the scheduled May 14 vote because Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting because of illness, is scheduled to be out of the district.

Proposed budget

The board unanimously approved Wilcox’s proposed $1.6 billion operating budget for 2019-20, but only after deleting the superintendent’s request for 25 new school resource officers for elementary schools.

On a 6-3 vote, board members approved District 4 member Carol Sawyer’s motion to divert the $2.7 million for law enforcement officers to school support staff such as counselors, psychologists and social workers. Wilcox’s budget had included $5.7 million for additional support staff.

School security has been a CMS focus since the mass shooting at a Florida high school early last year and the shooting death of a Butler High student last October.

District 2’s Thelma Byers-Bailey said CMS faces a critical lack of support services for students. “If they’re stressed out and anxious, they can’t hear,” she said. “And if they can’t hear they can’t learn.”

Member Ruby Jones of District 3 argued that more resource officers are also vital. Violence occurs even in elementary schools, she added. “Go spend some time in the classrooms,” she told her colleagues.

The budget proposal now goes to Mecklenburg County commissioners, who are expected to decide how much local money to contribute in June. CMS gets nearly 60 percent of its funding from the state.

CMS will ask for a 15 percent increase in money from the county. Nearly half the extra $70 million from the county would be for teacher and staff pay raises.

Higher pay for teachers and staff account for $32.5 million of the increase Wilcox is seeking. The money would increase the local supplement teachers are paid, making those supplements the state’s highest plus 1 percent. Teacher pay could rise an estimated 5 percent depending on salary increases set in the state budget this summer.

Taken together, those raises could increase a second-year teacher’s salary by $2,400 a year, CMS said, and $4,000 annually for those with 25 years of experience. Fulltime CMS teachers made an average of $52,122 last year, including stipends and bonuses, The Observer reported last May.

Non-certified CMS staff, such as teaching assistants, would have their minimum pay set at $13.22 an hour under Wilcox’s proposed budget. Teaching assistant hours would also increase, from 37.5 to 40 hours a week.