Public sounds off on CMS board’s proposed guiding principles

CMS public hearing on guiding principles for student assignment

CMS board holds a public hearing on guiding principals for student assignment Wednesday night at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.
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CMS board holds a public hearing on guiding principals for student assignment Wednesday night at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

Recent talk of changes to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools student assignments has been contentious at times, but a public hearing on the matter Wednesday was largely polite and drew a less-than-capacity crowd to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

Just over 40 speakers addressed the board, and nearly all spoke in support of the idea that CMS needs to do its best to break up high-poverty schools. “Forced busing” remained an unpopular idea, but the few speakers who brought up the term combined their comments with tentative support for the proposed guiding principles.

Speaker Thomas Hu summed up what many had to say when he called the guidelines “a step in the right direction that strike a reasonable balance between differing opinions.”

Those principles lay out a system that, like the current one, combines assignments based on where students live with options to apply for magnets and other alternatives. Responding to community and board concerns that some schools now have extreme concentrations of poverty, the new guidelines call for using “socioeconomic status,” or family income, to shape admission to magnet schools and some boundary decisions.

The draft plan also calls for students attending schools that have been labeled low-performing for three years in a row to have priority for admission to magnets and other opt-in schools, such as high schools on college campuses.

Critics honed in on the idea of giving students from low-performing schools priority for magnets admission, calling it unfair to those who need the “greater academic rigor” of magnets.

Beth Springston, interim president of the League of Women’s Voters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, voiced support for the principles, particularly the idea of constructing attendance boundaries that assemble more socioeconomically diverse student populations.

She also lauded the board for including language that calls on all municipal agencies to work with the board on finding ways to reduce concentrations of poverty in the city.

“The school board cannot fix this alone,” she said.

The guiding principles set the stage for assignment decisions that will be made in the coming weeks and become effective in 2017-18.

Superintendent Ann Clark presented the draft report last week, after talking with board members and reviewing public input from a CMS online survey and numerous discussion forums.

The board is scheduled to vote on the guiding principles Tuesday, then work with a consultant on a revised assignment plan.

Ann Doss Helms contributed.

What’s next?

Tuesday’s board meeting, which is expected to include a vote on the student assignment principles, starts at 6 p.m. at Butler High School, 1810 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, Matthews. Details: