CMS board votes 7-1 for assignment goals, with big questions ahead

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved broad goals for student assignment after almost 90 minutes of debate, ultimately siding with those who said the vote would help move toward answers that could ease public tension.

The goals include providing choice, reducing concentrations of poverty, easing overcrowding and protecting successful schools. The list passed 7-1, with Rhonda Lennon voting no and Paul Bailey, who participated in the discussion by phone from New Orleans, unable to vote because he was not physically present.

A motion by Eric Davis to add support for guaranteed seats in nearby schools to the goals failed 2-6, with only Davis and Lennon voting for it. Other members said they support neighborhood schools but don’t think the goals were the place to spell that out. Instead, they said, specific decisions about strategies lie ahead.

Several board members and Superintendent Ann Clark said it was time to approve goals so that work could begin.

“I believe that we owe the community clarity,” Clark said. “Your staff is eager. I can’t stress how eager we are to begin this work.”

The room was packed with advocates for neighborhood schools, many wearing green T-shirts and bearing signs. They applauded when Davis and Lennon talked about spelling out support for their cause and booed when Tom Tate said parents with different views might not be present because they don’t have transportation.

Board members said they’re well aware of anxiety and distrust as they approach difficult decisions about where students go to school.

“The public is bleeding right now because we have created angst,” Lennon said, arguing that the board needed to stop the bleeding by pledging support for guaranteed seats in nearby schools. “The word ‘guarantee’ is crucial,” she said.

Ericka Ellis-Stewart said CMS has many thriving schools, but others “are struggling to educate children.”

“In layman’s terms, in many instances our schools are segregated,” she said. “We are a community of juxtaposition, a community of dichotomy. We are now as deeply divided by race and by class as we have ever been. Where do we go from here?”

Ruby Jones said Hispanic families, who make up the fastest-growing segment of CMS, haven’t engaged in the discussion so far. She said she went door to door trying to get such families to attend a discussion. “They feel fear,” she said. “It’s palpable.”

Also Tuesday, the board voted 7-1 to wait until March 8 to approve a timetable for hiring a superintendent.

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

What’s next?

February: CMS board plans to hire an assignment consultant and choose a facilitator to conduct community engagement meetings.

March: Board will get an update, including results from the online opinion poll that ended Monday, at the March 22 meeting.

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