Eric Frazier

No dodging CMS’ school zone dilemma

Myers Park High School’s attendance boundary dips far down into neighborhoods near Providence High.
Myers Park High School’s attendance boundary dips far down into neighborhoods near Providence High. Courtesy Agentbecky.com

When it comes to the hot-potato question of student assignment, the people of Charlotte-Mecklenburg have spoken.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ recent survey of the community showed people care a lot more about having a school close to home than they do about having racial or socioeconomic diversity on campuses. A whopping 82 percent expressed disapproval when asked if they’d be OK with their child having a longer bus ride to reach a diverse school.

So, as the school board moves toward a spring and summer in which that sentiment will help guide a massive review of the way we draw school attendance lines, it should mean that everyone who wants neighborhood schools will end up happy, right?

Not necessarily. As my friend Andrew Dunn over at the Charlotte Agenda news site recently pointed out, some school attendance zones are currently so oddly gerrymandered many children are already being “bussed.”

The biggest elephant in this particular room is Myers Park High.

Its attendance zone stretches from uptown Charlotte south to Pineville-Matthews Road. Residents in the Olde Providence neighborhood north of that road sit roughly four miles from Providence High, but they’re riding – getting “bussed,” if you like – about five or six miles to Myers Park High.

Would those families be OK with Providence, their true neighborhood school? Maybe. But if they’re heavily invested in Myers Park High, they really don’t care about riding a couple extra miles. They’ll ask the school board the same question the parents who’ve been mobilizing to defend neighborhood schools have been asking: Why can’t you just leave my kid alone?

Eric Davis, the school board member who represents south Charlotte, used Quail Hollow Middle School as another example. That campus sits near middle-class south Charlotte neighborhoods, but its attendance zone reaches south and west, picking up several lower-income feeder school zones. Low-income students comprise the bulk of its campus.

If the school board makes that zone more compact, will there be middle-class parents at not-far-away Carmel Middle School who start fuming when their newer, truer neighborhood school turns out to be Quail Hollow?

“What it really comes down to is if I like the (school) assignment I have, I don’t want it to change,” Davis said.

And there’s the magic word – change. Even parents in lower-income schools say they like their child’s assignment. Stability is never more prized than it is when your children are involved.

Even so, we’re in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Aside from tweaks to accommodate school closures and openings, CMS hasn’t overhauled its approach to student assignment and attendance lines in more than a decade.

It’s time. Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy summer.

Eric: (704) 358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com

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