Education

Parents say CMS plan isn’t ready for a vote, but Clark says important info is coming

Sedgefield Elementary School is one of more than 70 schools seeing changes as part of the latest CMS student assignment plan.
Sedgefield Elementary School is one of more than 70 schools seeing changes as part of the latest CMS student assignment plan.

Last week Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled plans for student assignment changes at more than 70 schools. Next week she’ll tell the public what that proposal costs.

The complex plan, which caps a two-year student assignment review, includes new boundaries, magnet programs, grade configurations and feeder patterns at dozens of the district’s 170 schools. Those changes potentially create transportation costs and staffing challenges, from recruiting scarce bus drivers to making sure teachers are trained for new magnets.

The changes will take effect in 2018-19 if the board approves them May 24.

On Tuesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools posted a school-by-school list of the proposed changes, with maps detailed enough to see where each street falls.

Over the weekend a parent group called for delaying that vote until November, saying too many unknowns remain for the board to make an informed decision and for the public to weigh in.

CMS Families United for Public Education said without knowing costs and details about how CMS will execute Clark’s plan, a May vote is “premature and irresponsible.” The group, which has about 3,300 Facebook followers and is especially active in the southern part of the county, urged members to ask the school board to wait until November.

An online petition posted Monday had more than 900 signatures as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. The petition, which echoes many of the same points, is simply signed “Concerned CMS parents / #delaythevote.”

Six of nine board seats are up for election in November. Clark retires in June and hands off the top job to Clayton Wilcox, who has been attending meetings and consulting on the plan. CMS also hopes the county will schedule a November referendum on approximately $924 million in school bonds; it’s unclear how either a decision or a delay might affect that vote.

CMS staff and board members are currently holding a packed schedule of community meetings to present details of the plan and hear from people who are affected. At the May 9 school board meeting, Clark says she’ll report on costs and other details of her proposal and present any proposed revisions that emerge from the community sessions.

That meeting will also include a public hearing on the plan.

The first year of the student assignment review, which began in 2015, was spent hashing out changes to the CMS magnet lottery. The district created a new socioeconomic status rating that was used earlier this year to award magnet seats for 2017-18, with a goal of creating greater diversity. CMS also expanded magnet programs for 2017 and will continue to do so in coming years, with family choice used as a way to give students better educational opportunities.

CMS has completed two rounds of that lottery, and results will shape the cost of transportation in the coming year’s budget. Clark said second-round lottery results will be released on May 8, though it’s unclear whether that will include a report on how the new diversity priorities played out or simply tally the number of students seated and wait-listed.

The diversity ratings are also part of the boundary plan, which attempts to boost diversity while also keeping students close to home, coping with crowded or underfilled schools and increasing continuity as students move from elementary to middle and high school.

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

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