Education

Suburban boundary changes would bring upheaval. CMS board says it won’t do that.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has been suspended with pay, but district officials have refused to say why.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has been suspended with pay, but district officials have refused to say why. Observer file photo

Aligning Charlotte-Mecklenburg school boundaries with town limits would require moving thousands of students who now cross municipal lines, according to a report presented to the school board Wednesday.

Board Chair Mary McCray and Superintendent Clayton Wilcox opened the meeting by trying to defuse concerns that they’ll actually do that.

“There are no votes tonight, next week, next month or next year,” said McCray, one of seven board members who voted to instruct Wilcox to report on possible changes.

Wilcox said he is not recommending any changes to the student assignment plan that was revamped in 2017. His task was to deliver the report that was requested as part of the back-and-forth between the school board and four suburban towns — Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius — that recently got authority to create their own charter schools.

The school board’s “The Municipal Concerns Act of 2018,” approved in August, ordered Wilcox to examine options for relieving crowding and/or aligning school and town boundaries.

The report will be forwarded to a new education task force, made up of representatives from CMS, the city of Charlotte and six suburban towns. That group, which is scheduled to start meeting Dec. 4, will make recommendations to the board, which will decide whether to take any action.

Wednesday’s report shows that more than 2,000 students from the four towns currently attend CMS schools in Charlotte, including hundreds who are there by choice.

Meanwhile, Huntersville schools house more than 5,600 students from outside the town, while schools in the other three towns combined have more than 8,500 students who don’t live there.

Wednesday’s report contained no maps or specific plans. Wilcox said he did that because “we wanted to avoid the possible interpretation of maps as recommendations.”

Instead, it cited numbers and examples that show the complexity of trying to shuffle students in response to what board members say are previous complaints and comments from elected officials in the four suburban towns. Among the examples:

Approximately 750 students who live in Huntersville attend Hough High in Cornelius. Moving them to Hopewell or North Meck, both located in Huntersville, would require moving students out of those schools to make room.

More than half the students at Hopewell and about 90 percent at North Meck come from outside the Huntersville town limits. About 45 percent of North Meck’s students have opted in to specialized programs such as International Baccalaureate, world languages and career-technical education. Moving them out to make room for more Huntersville residents would reduce access to such programs in the northern part of the county, the report says.

Almost three-quarters of students at Elizabeth Lane Elementary, a crowded school in Matthews, live outside of Matthews. Some nearby schools have space, but others, such as Olde Providence and Providence Spring, are also crowded. Changing elementary assignments would also affect middle- and high-school feeds.

High school students who live in Mint Hill are currently assigned to Independence High, which is near the town border in Charlotte. Moving them all to Rocky River High in Mint Hill could be done “with limited changes” for students currently at Rocky River because it is underutilized, the report says.

School board members Rhonda Cheek and Sean Strain, who represent the four towns and opposed the CMS Municipal Concerns Act, both said they thought Wednesday’s report provided good information for planning.

The school board’s August resolution was described as a response to House Bill 514, which allows the four towns to create town charter schools. Unlike other charter schools, which receive county and state money and must accept North Carolina students regardless of where they live, these first-ever municipal charters could get additional money from the towns and offer preference to students who live in the towns.

Saying it's a revival of segregation, the NC NAACP and an array of Charlotte's black education leaders vow to fight a controversial town charter school bill if it passes.

That bill was introduced by state Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican, and approved by the General Assembly in June. According to final but unofficial results, Brawley won re-election Tuesday by a razor-thin margin of 52 votes, defeating Democratic challenger Rachel Hunt 18,949 to 18,897.

The ongoing conflict between Brawley and the CMS board was prominent during the campaign season. Last month three CMS leaders told the Observer that Brawley had offered in a private meeting to drop HB 514 if CMS would fire governmental liaison Charles Jeter, a former state representative with whom Brawley had clashed. Brawley said that didn’t happen and would have been a felony if he had made such an offer.

While action on boundaries remains remote, one part of the Municipal Concerns Act remains in place unless the board votes to reverse it: The resolution instructed the superintendent to prioritize “all capital funding” for future construction to Charlotte, Davidson and Pineville unless any of the other four towns pass a 15-year moratorium on creating town charter schools. CMS leaders say the town charters could undermine planning and create competing taxpayer-funded public schools.

The Matthews Board of Commissioners voted Monday night to approve a legislative agenda that included a measure showing approval for HB 514, legislation that would potentially allow the town to create their own school system.

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