Education

National expert says one piece of the CMS boundary plan will fuel white flight

New boundary plan for CMS

CMS Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled the new boundary plan on Tuesday evening at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
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CMS Superintendent Ann Clark unveiled the new boundary plan on Tuesday evening at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

Researcher David Armor, who has spent decades fighting diversity-driven assignment, says the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools plan for paired elementary schools will likely drive off white and middle-class families instead of creating more balanced schools.

Armor, a retired public policy professor who has been an expert witness in dozens of desegregation lawsuits, told the CMS board that about half of the white and middle-class students assigned to the merged schools are likely to seek other options, leaving the schools with higher poverty levels and less diversity than CMS hopes for.

“I am especially concerned about the Billingsville-Cotswold and Sedgefield-Dilworth pairings because of likely (high socioeconomic status) flight,” Armor said in an email sent to all school board members Friday. “During the desegregation era, I did extensive and detailed studies of white and middle class flight resulting from mandatory desegregation plans that used pairing to promote racial balance. I believe that these two CMS pairings are likely to have similar impacts on white and middle class parents.”

The school board will hold a public hearing on proposed boundary and magnet changes Tuesday, with a vote planned for May 24.

The proposed elementary school pairings are part of a complex plan for shifting students to boost diversity, ease crowding, keep students close to home and give all students better academic options.

Superintendent Ann Clark’s plan calls for merging the zones for Cotswold and Dilworth, two crowded elementary schools with white majorities and low poverty, with zones for Billingsville and Sedgefield, both of which are nearby underfilled schools with high poverty and black majorities. Each merged zone would see students move together from one school for K-2 to the other for grades 3-5.

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Based on trends he has seen in other districts that used similar plans, Armor told the CMS board that about 50 percent of the more affluent families from Cotswold and about 40 percent from Dilworth will never show up for a merged school. At the very least, he said, CMS should poll affected families to see if they’d stick with CMS.

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Armor was an expert witness in lawsuit filed in the late 1990s that led to the end of court-ordered desegregation in CMS. While several groups of parents are fighting parts of Clark’s plan and/or seeking a delayed vote, Armor says he hasn’t been hired by any of them.

Instead, he said he has been watching the evolution of the latest CMS plan with skepticism, predicting it would lead to upheaval to create diversity. “It’s just because of my general interest in the problem of white and middle-class flight from this kind of plan,” he said.

Last year CMS hired Alves Educational Consultants Group, which includes some of the nation’s best-known proponents of diversity-based assignment, to craft a new measure of socioeconomic status that was used to assign magnet seats for 2017 and review boundaries for 2018.

Clark and board members said repeatedly that they weren’t pursuing massive reassignment to balance demographics. An Observer analysis of Clark’s plan shows most of the schools with the highest – and lowest – concentrations of poverty would see little or no change.

Armor acknowledged Monday that CMS isn’t proposing a districtwide shakeup, but said the two school pairings are “mandatory busing ... on a small scale.”

“For the parents in those schools, it’s going to be no less controversial,” he said.

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

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