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School board moving slowly on student assignment review – and that’s a good thing

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board’s review of its student assignment policies could bring major changes for local families.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board’s review of its student assignment policies could bring major changes for local families. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Normally, when government agencies and politicians slow-walk the decision-making process on a major public policy issue, we all groan and complain about how we hate dealing with the snail’s pace of government bureaucracies.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board’s review of its student assignment policies seems to be moving in slow motion. But if anybody’s complaining that it needs to go faster, I haven’t heard from them.

We’re showing the school board members plenty of patience as they wade into this tricky subject. We all know what an all-consuming mess it all could devolve into for this community if they move too quickly and screw it up. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture suburban parents and inner-city parents at each others’ throats as the board tries to tinker with attendance lines in hopes of reducing racial isolation.

To their credit, the school board members understand the perils, and seem to be making prudent moves, at a prudent pace. One good idea they unveiled Thursday: A plan to ask leaders from the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the smaller municipalities in the county to form a joint panel with the school board and give input on the student assignment situation.

“We’re all in this together,” school board member Tom Tate said. “It doesn’t matter what part of the county you’re from.”

Here’s how tricky this process is. The board’s policy committee on Thursday continued its review of the guiding principles that should steer Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ student assignment policies.

The school board members all value diversity in crafting student assignment plans, but they discovered they weren’t exactly sure how they want to define the word diversity. Tate told them each to do some homework on the subject and bring their definitions back to the next meeting.

Asked about the slow pace afterward, Tate chuckled and said, “It’s kind of sad, actually. I’ve been on the board all these years and we’re still trying to define” the word.

Given the sky-high stakes this student assignment review presents for Charlotte, it’s actually not sad at all. A measured pace and thoughtful discussions are exactly what this potential political powder keg require.

Take your time, school board members – within reason, of course. As long as you produce a plan we can all embrace in the end, none of us will mind the wait. Eric Frazier

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