Education

Tuesday’s last-minute twist: Can commissioners delay CMS decision on magnet schools?

Mecklenburg County commissioners Vilma Leake (left) and Jim Puckett, both former school board members, are among four commissioners who have asked for a Tuesday vote on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools student assignment plan.
Mecklenburg County commissioners Vilma Leake (left) and Jim Puckett, both former school board members, are among four commissioners who have asked for a Tuesday vote on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools student assignment plan. Observer file photo

Mecklenburg County commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a motion to ask the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to delay its decision on a new diversity-driven plan for magnet schools.

The agenda item, added by commissioner Jim Puckett and co-sponsored by Vilma Leake, Pat Cotham and Ella Scarborough, comes just one week before the board is scheduled to vote on the new magnet plan and more than a year after Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools began a highly publicized student assignment review. The school board plans a Nov. 9 vote on changes that would take effect in 2017-18.

Commissioners have no authority over student assignment, but they do have leverage. Superintendent Ann Clark has said she expects to ask for additional county money in the 2017-18 budget to expand magnet options and provide transportation. CMS also relies on commissioners to put school bonds on the 2017 ballot, which district leaders say is essential to the plan to break up concentrations of disadvantaged students using a new measure of socioeconomic status.

If a majority of county commissioners vote Tuesday to seek a delay, the school board would be faced with two unpalatable options: Scrap a timetable CMS has been promoting for months or move ahead, knowing the district might have to scale back or make cuts to other programs if commissioners balk at the price tag.

Puckett, a former CMS board member, has said repeatedly he believes the new plan is doomed to fail. “It is rare that an argument can be made for one elected body to seek change from another, but we are linked, like it or not,” he wrote in the request for a vote. “I have grave concerns about the lack of change in fundamental educational delivery for at-risk kids in this plan. It continues to address a symptom and not the problem.”

The school board is also engaged in a superintendent search, with the transition expected in early 2017. Puckett’s request says a delay would let the new superintendent weigh in on a plan he or she would be expected to execute.

The commissioners’ vote sparked outrage among some school board members and advocates who have spent more than a year working with CMS on a plan that would promote diversity through family choice.

“CMS and school board members have put in quality work with experts, students, parents, and community members. While not perfect, there has been consensus and compromise at the board level and the district level to come up with workable solutions and a detailed and thoughtful plan,” West Charlotte High School teacher Kevin Poirer said in a Facebook post.

OneMeck, a group that supports using socioeconomic status to increase school diversity, has been urging members to write to commissioners in support of the school board’s plan, including increased funding next year.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the meeting chamber of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. It will air live online and on the Government Channel, Cable 16.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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