NC lawmaker rips CMS for ‘social engineering,’ wants boundary plan delayed

A May 9 hearing on proposed CMS boundary changes drew an overflow crowd. The vote is scheduled for May 24.
A May 9 hearing on proposed CMS boundary changes drew an overflow crowd. The vote is scheduled for May 24.

Scott Stone is the parent of an Ardrey Kell High student, but he’s also a Republican state representative who serves on the House Education Committee.

When he issued a public statement Monday urging Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to delay voting on proposed boundary changes, he made it clear he’s speaking in both roles – and that riling lawmakers in Raleigh can bring consequences.

If CMS persists in a plan Stone describes as social engineering, “that could be something that comes up in the future that gets addressed by the legislature,” Stone said in a phone interview. “At the end of the day, the legislature is responsible for the education of students across the state.”

The school board is scheduled to vote May 24 on a long list of boundary and magnet changes for 2018. Stone, who represents District 105, issued a news release saying the board should postpone its vote until after Superintendent Ann Clark retires and Clayton Wilcox takes the office in July.

Scott Stone 2
Scott Stone at a 2015 debate when he was running for Charlotte mayor. Observer file photo

“Superintendent Ann Clark appears to be engaged in legacy building, with a particular focus on social engineering within our schools,” Stone said in the statement. “She is pushing a controversial political agenda that has been met with considerable resistance from parents. Given the magnitude and potential impact of these new policies, it is unacceptable for these plans to be finalized under the leadership of someone who will not be held accountable for the results.”

Stone’s statement is just the latest demonstration of the pressure the CMS board faces as it concludes a two-year student assignment review. The board agreed to try to break up the concentrations of poverty that often create low-performing schools, while at the same time protecting successful schools and trying not to alienate families who could leave for private or charter schools.

The plan Clark unveiled last month is, board members and community activists agree, a conservative one that leaves most neighborhoods untouched and most high-poverty schools unchanged. Fewer than 10 percent of students who attend neighborhood schools would see their assignments change, and the district is relying heavily on magnet programs to attract voluntary diversity.

But the board did approve a new plan to rate the socioeconomic status of schools and neighborhoods last year, and it’s being used in the 2017 magnet lottery and the 2018 boundary changes. Some of Clark’s proposals, especially a paired elementary school plan that is reminiscent of 1970s desegregation, have proven controversial.

At last week’s public hearing on the plan, several diversity advocates praised the proposal as a small but important first step toward more equitable opportunity and urged the board not to postpone or back down. But other parents have called for a delayed vote, saying CMS hasn’t given the public or the board enough time to digest the complex series of interlocking changes.

Wilcox, who has left his former job in Maryland and is working for CMS on a per-diem contract, has attended public meetings on the plan. Clark says he’s been briefed on all the decisions. But he has not made public comments and could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

It is unfair that the incoming superintendent Clayton Wilcox will be held accountable for the success or failure of the plan without the benefit of being able to help shape that plan.

State Rep. Scott Stone

Stone said Monday that Wilcox’s approval wouldn’t guarantee his own support. Stone called the CMS approach to student assignment “snow-globe management ... you’re shaking it up, not fixing the problem.” Because CMS is the state’s second-largest district, he said, the push to use assignment policies to create socioeconomic diversity could affect other districts.

Stone said his children would not be directly affected by the plan. One has already graduated from Ardrey Kell High, which would see only a small boundary change under Clark’s plan, and one will graduate in June 2018, before the proposal takes effect.

Stone said he isn’t threatening any specific action if he’s dissatisfied with CMS decisions. But Stone, who ran for Charlotte mayor in 2015, noted that there have been recent cases in which “the actions of a mayor or city council had big impact.”

He didn’t have to spell out the details: In response to Charlotte’s approval of an ordinance on LGBT rights, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 last year, sparking a year of political controversy, national commentary and boycotts by sports teams and employers before the notorious “bathroom bill” was replaced by a compromise bill this spring.

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