Education

Clark tells principals CMS won’t end magnet shuttle stops

Students Get Off Magnet School Shuttle

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has announced plans to modify shuttle stops that force parents to get their kids to one school in order for them to ride a bus to a magnet school farther away. It's supposed to make things easier for families -- but s
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has announced plans to modify shuttle stops that force parents to get their kids to one school in order for them to ride a bus to a magnet school farther away. It's supposed to make things easier for families -- but s

A proposed Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools busing change touted as a boon to families is drawing protest from parents who fear it will prove to be a burden.

Superintendent Ann Clark emailed principals Monday in an attempt to clarify the plan presented two weeks ago. She said magnet families will have more busing options next year, and those who like central “shuttle stops” will probably be able to keep them.

“The district will not eliminate shuttle stops where we have high student participation but will be making sure that every student has a neighborhood stop in order to attend a magnet school,” Clark wrote. “We will in essence be operating a hybrid transportation model.”

Shuttle stops, created during the recession to save money, require families to take their kids to nearby schools, where they catch a bus to magnet schools farther away.

Parents like Erin Sanders and Marjorie Houser, whose kids spend about 90 minutes a day riding a bus to and from Randolph Middle School, say they’re still worried that adding stops will extend bus time. They’re among parents who plan to speak at a Tuesday hearing on the proposed changes.

Sanders says she leaves home around 8 a.m. to get her daughter to McKee Road Elementary School in southeast Charlotte, joining about two dozen other students bound directly for Randolph, about 10 miles north. The students arrive back at McKee Road around 5 p.m., with the bus battling heavy traffic both ways.

“We can’t put our kids on buses for two or three hours a day,” Sanders said.

CMS Chief Operating Officer Carol Stamper said Monday night that the parents are right. Under the new plan, “it would be rare that a child is not riding the bus longer. I would say much longer.”

As CMS leaders inch toward a sweeping review of student assignment, the shuttle stop kerfuffle illustrates the challenge of meeting the varied needs of families.

The proposed changes stem from a consultant’s report on making magnets more accessible and attractive, at a time when CMS faces increasing competition from charter and private schools. Families who don’t have cars or lack an adult to take children to and from shuttle stops may be discouraged from applying to magnets. Several board members and administrators have said it’s time to scrap that requirement.

At the Oct. 13 board meeting, staff presented a plan to “eliminate shuttle stop transportation for magnet schools and provide common stops beginning in the 2016-17 school year.” Clark told the board that could add up to $6 million to busing costs and said she’d report back with more details.

Advance material posted for Tuesday’s hearing says only that the recommendation is to “provide common stop transportation for all students attending magnet schools” starting next year. The board is scheduled to vote on changes Nov. 10.

Common stops are neighborhood locations within walking distance – no more than 0.2 miles for elementary students – of all the students using them. Shuttle stops require someone to drive students to the central location at a school.

On Monday, Clark emailed principals about the plan, saying, “There seems to be some confusion.” She said the goal is to preserve group stops that are in demand while offering individual pickups where needed.

About 20,000 of the district’s roughly 148,000 students attend magnet schools. Busing for magnets is more complex and costly because students are scattered over wider geographic areas.

CMS leaders say they see magnets as a big part of plans to make public schools competitive while breaking up racial and economic isolation in many of the district’s schools.

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

Hearing on changes

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road. The agenda includes a public hearing on magnet busing and other changes proposed for 2016-17. Speakers will get two minutes, and time for each topic is limited. To sign up, call 980-343-5139 by noon Tuesday. Details: www.cms.k12.nc.us/boe.

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