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Twists and confusion as CMS board holds two big meetings at church Tuesday

People who have concerns about magnet busing will get a chance to speak Tuesday.
People who have concerns about magnet busing will get a chance to speak Tuesday.

If you care about student assignment in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools – either the big-picture issues or the immediate changes proposed for next year – two school board meetings Tuesday may be important to you.

And it’s more challenging than usual to get engaged.

From 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, the school board has invited county commissioners and officials from Charlotte and the six suburban towns to a forum on building community commitment around the ongoing review of student assignment. James Johnson of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School will talk about changing demographics in Mecklenburg County and the implications those trends have for schools, neighborhoods and the economy.

“The issues we face are broader than what the school system can deal with by itself,” said board member Eric Davis. “My hope is that this is a conversation that begins the development of collaborative policies among our local governments.”

There’s no agenda posted for this session, and I haven’t been able to reach board Chair Mary McCray or Vice Chair Tim Morgan for details. So it’s not clear how board members and other officials will interact or what steps they might take toward discussing specific issues.

But the meeting is open to the public. It’s in the conference center at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road, a location CMS says was chosen because it has lots of seats, a central location and ample parking.

When the forum ends, the school board will go into closed session for about 90 minutes. At 7:30 p.m. they’ll open the meeting to the public, still at the church. One of the first items on the agenda is a public hearing on busing and magnet changes that were proposed at the last meeting, to start in 2016-17.

That’s where things start to get confusing.

Because the board doesn’t usually take public comments during its second monthly meeting, some board members told parents they couldn’t speak on Tuesday. And some members weren’t aware the starting time for the public meeting had been pushed back from 6 p.m.

I haven’t talked to anybody who’s happy about it.

CMS parent Marjorie Houser on proposal to end shuttle stops

Marjorie Houser, a Randolph Middle School parent, called me in frustration. She worries that the proposal to abolish shuttle stops will create longer bus rides for magnet schools, and wasn’t sure CMS officials were going to listen to such concerns before voting on changes Nov. 10. She said three board members told her there would be no public hearing Tuesday.

When I caught up with Morgan a few days ago, he told me the same thing, but urged me to check with Superintendent Ann Clark. Clark said – and the posted agenda confirms – that the public hearing is on for Tuesday.

So, parents can speak, as long as they get to a meeting that’s in a different location and starts 90 minutes later than usual.

And it turns out that time for each topic is limited, which means those who sign up late could be shut out. Each speaker can have two minutes. There will be a maximum of 20 minutes for the busing changes and for a handful of magnet proposals, and 10 minutes each dedicated to 10 requests for neighborhood boundary changes.

Another twist: Unlike most school board meetings, this one won’t be broadcast live because it’s not in the Government Center. However, CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said video from the meeting and the community forum will be aired Wednesday on CMS-TV and posted at the district’s website.

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

Want to take part?

Both meetings Tuesday will be in the conference center at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road.

Public hearing

▪ At 7:30 p.m. the school board will take comments on shuttle stops for magnet schools, proposed changes to magnet programs at Marie G. Davis Military/Leadership Academy and Harding High, relocation of a language magnet from West Mecklenburg to North Mecklenburg High, future boundaries for a school that will relieve Berryhill, Reid Park and Westerly Hills preK-8 schools, and 10 neighborhoods’ requests for boundary changes.

▪ Sign up to speak by calling 980-343-5139 by noon Tuesday. Time is limited for each topic and registration will end when the time is spoken for.

▪ Comments on other topics will not be allowed.

Community forum

▪ From 4 to 6 p.m., the public is invited to join the CMS school board and municipal and county officials for a forum on demographics and student assignment. It’s designed to be a first step toward getting local governments working together as CMS conducts a review of student assignment policies.

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