Has CMS changed school boundary priorities? Revised list sparks questions

Neighborhood school proponents turned out for a 2016 CMS board meeting on student assignment.
Neighborhood school proponents turned out for a 2016 CMS board meeting on student assignment. Observer file photo

Diversity moved down and schools close to home moved up on a revised boundary policy added Wednesday to Thursday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board agenda.

That sparked questions over one of the most anxiously watched decisions in town, though Vice Chair Elyse Dashew says it’s only a matter of alphabetizing four equally-weighted factors: Socioeconomic diversity, distance from the school to students’ homes, making best use of buildings and keeping students together as they advance to middle and high school.

Last week, after viewing a complex ranking system that turns all four factors into numbers, the board discussed giving one or more factors added weight, but couldn’t come to consensus. The board is trying to make decisions about 2018-19 boundary changes by June as part of a two-year review of student assignment. Superintendent Ann Clark has said she hopes to present specific proposals on April 25.

The diversity vs. proximity debate is especially intense. Some board and community members say giving students seats in nearby schools should be the top priority, and they cite a 2016 CMS survey that found strong support for that view in every district.

Others say breaking up concentrations of poverty is the only way to offer all students a shot at a good education, and have pushed to make a new diversity rating based on socioeconomic status the top priority.

When the boundary policy was added to this week’s agenda, activist Jess Miller posted the two versions on Facebook and challenged people to identify the differences and discuss what they mean. Dashew responded that the new version is simply “listed alphabetically with bullets instead of numbers.”

Under the previous version, diversity was listed as No. 1. The proposed revision uses bullet points and starts with “average home-to-school distance.” The agenda calls for a first reading, which sets the stage for a vote and public hearing at later meetings.

Thursday’s meeting is being held at an unusual time and place: The normal Tuesday meeting next week would fall during CMS spring break, and the board is meeting at Myers Park High School as part of a longstanding effort to hold sessions at schools in all six districts.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the school, 2400 Colony Road. It includes a public comment period and will be broadcast live on CMS-TV Cable 3.

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