Education

Property values at stake as rumors of secret CMS boundary plan rattle the south suburbs

The latest flare-up of CMS boundary change rumors arose when a Matthews resident posted that a home sale had fallen through because of false reports.
The latest flare-up of CMS boundary change rumors arose when a Matthews resident posted that a home sale had fallen through because of false reports. Observer file photo

An anonymous letter saying Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools plans to rezone some neighborhoods from Providence High School to Butler High has escalated anxiety in the Matthews area, reportedly leading one prospective homebuyer to withdraw an offer.

Superintendent Ann Clark says the rumors are false. The school board reviewed criteria for upcoming boundary changes Tuesday, and the earliest they’ll get proposals is April 25, she said. CMS will hold a series of public meetings after that before taking a May vote on changes, which would take effect in 2018-19 at the earliest.

The latest flare-up illustrates the anxiety that comes with uncertainty about student assignment – and the high stakes in areas where property values are tied to desirable schools.

The upcoming boundary changes are designed to cope with school crowding and break up concentrations of disadvantaged students, using a new socioeconomic status rating developed late last year. So far specific information is scarce. On Tuesday the school board couldn’t come to consensus on priorities for boundary changes, and Clark declined to offer even a rough estimate of how many schools may see change.

“I don’t know how much of our value is tied up in our school district, but I can tell you it’s not a trivial number,” said Taylor Mokris, a father of four young children who recently bought a home in a neighborhood zoned for Elizabeth Lane Elementary, South Charlotte Middle School and Providence High.

The Mokris family had barely settled in when a neighbor handed his wife, Ashley, an unsigned letter saying that CMS had proposed changing the middle and high school zones to Crestdale and Butler.

About the same time, someone with a house on the market in Mallory Manor, a Matthews subdivision where homes list for $500,000 and up, got an offer on the home. The seller, who asked not to be named in an article, said an agent called back to withdraw the offer, saying the prospective buyer had talked to neighbors and heard about plans to move the neighborhood from the Providence zone to the Butler zone.

The seller posted about her experience on NextDoor.com, an online neighborhood bulletin board. She quickly got more than a dozen replies from others concerned about the rumors.

Taylor and Ashley Mokris posted a copy of the letter, saying “I’m not sure who to believe or what to think.” The letter cites no source for the information, but urges people to “SHOW UP IN MASS” at school board and Matthews town board meetings. “We NEED everyone to fight this change as it will affect our CHILDREN and our HOUSE VALUES!!” it continues.

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Taylor Mokris said he has followed news about the CMS student assignment review, which began in 2015, as it moved through approval of broad goals to a vote on a new plan for magnet schools in November. After that he and his wife, who lived in another part of Charlotte, decided it was a good time to move to a home where they could stay long-term and feel confident their children would go to good schools.

Their new home, near the Charlotte-Matthews boundary, is about two miles from Providence High, so they figured there was little chance they’d be reassigned. Taylor Mokris said he doesn’t have any reason to question the quality of Crestdale and Butler, but the rumors and doubts are unsettling.

“If there is information that CMS has withheld, they need to hurry up and release it, because the public is ahead of them,” he said. “Things are leaked through sources all the time. The question is, has something been leaked?”

Clark says no draft plans have been shared with principals, school leadership teams or others who could have leaked information. She said staff plans are “very much in the formative stages.”

On Tuesday CMS put out an official statement: “No specific maps or boundary changes have been proposed yet.”

Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said Tuesday he has gotten a couple of emails about the rumors but he doesn’t believe them. He said speculation and anxiety have been floating for months, including the idea that Providence High, where less than 1 percent of students come from low socioeconomic status neighborhoods, “has a target on their back.”

Taylor created an education task force about a year ago, driven largely by fears that CMS would make dramatic changes to Matthews schools. This week that task force recommended that Matthews explore creating its own charter schools, and state Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, introduced a bill that would allow that.

Rhonda Lennon, who represents the northern suburbs on the school board, said Tuesday that CMS needs to make decisions and let families know as quickly as possible. “They need to know where their kids are going to school the year after next,” she said.

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

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