This is an edited version of a letter Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission member Bolyn McClung sent Wednesday:
To: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, City Council, Board of Education, County Commission
After Tuesday night’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Committee meeting, I rushed to Matthews to see what I thought would be a small gathering of parents and one school board member. The subject was student assignment. It was not small. There were more than 1,000 people there, not including staff from the schools.
These folks were there because the Board of Education has to find places for all the students who are the results of our rapid growth and because the board is being pressured to reduce the concentration of poverty in urban schools.
This meeting happened because elected community leaders have been talking a good game about city/county growth and its impact on schools, but none has been willing to take the first constructive step to ensure that high-density growth doesn’t create high-density classrooms and that classrooms aren’t rendered ineffective by forcing impoverished students into under-performing schools.
I attended the very first meeting of the Board of Education’s Policy Committee on what to do with the next student assignment plan more than 18 months ago. I was the only community member there. It remained that way through four meetings. Then two others showed up. By last fall there were 10. Community forums about student assignment by the League of Women Voters are suddenly filled to capacity. The semi-monthly school board meetings are growing. The last spilled into the Government Center lobby. Now this meeting of 1,000-plus.
As a member of the Planning Commission, I see that CMS doesn’t take seriously that the City makes any effort on rezoning decisions based on the impact of growth in schools. The City doesn’t believe CMS is aggressive enough or even accurate in its advice. The County, which has spent more than $2 billion in school construction since 1997, and CMS can’t get on the same page about where classroom growth is occurring, where new schools need to be and how fast that has to happen.
I’m asking the City, County and CMS to join the public debate about where students are going to attend schools so that the community, when it hears what is likely to be an across-the-board unpopular decision about student assignment, will have a feeling in six years that something will have been done to prevent the same tragedy from replaying. I’m asking my elected leaders to be as aggressive as the People.