Input needed in school assignment debate

 

HUNTERSVILLE – Parents have an active role in deciding how school assignment is to be planned in the coming years, whether they opt for the current system of emphasis on neighborhood schools or to mix things up through busing.

It’s an issue that some people feel strongly one way or the other, but many question first, “What would it look like?”

The crux of the matter is Charlotte-Mecklenburg District 4 School Board Member Tom Tate’s response to that question: “I don’t know.”

Tate was a panelist during a recent meeting on the topic, held by the League of Woman Voters on Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Charlotte Mecklenburg North County Regional Library.

He stressed to the nearly 50 people in attendance, several not from the Lake Norman area, that the board is very early on in the process, and it’s too soon to say what the board will decide.

Every six years, the school board considers doing a complete review of school assignment for the more than 145,000 CMS students.

Recently, a policy committee developed a student assignment plan goals draft, which included:

• reducing the high concentrations of poor and high-needs children,

• providing assignment options to students assigned to schools not meeting performance standard, and

• maximizing the use of school facilities and transportation to reduce overcrowding and promote equitable access to options.

If those proposed guidelines are put in place, following a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 9 and board deliberation on Feb. 23, it will help lead the board in student assignment plans.

“They probably won’t be approved in exactly this form,” Tate said. “There will more than likely be modifications to it. There are opportunities to weigh in.”

For panelist Roslyn Mickelson, a member of the League of Women Voters and a University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor, the way to better schools is through more diversity and breaking up areas that represent predominately one socioeconomic class.

Mickelson believes having diversification will make students perform better academically and be more prepared for the multi-ethnic global society and for the workplaces.

“All white, black, Latino, poor or rich schools do not,” she said.

Mary Helms of Cornelius, who attended the meeting, agreed.

“CMS’s goal is to prepare children for success,” she said. “It’s very successful, but we are in a bubble. How will they be prepared for the global economy if they are not interacting with people different from themselves?”

CMS already has a history of problems with racial divides. Using busing to promote integration in public schools was declared an appropriate remedy to reduce racial imbalance in a 1971 court case surrounding the local board of education. The court order for mandatory busing for race or ethnicity was lifted in 1997.

For some, having school choice with the return to emphasis on neighborhood schools in 2002 created a resegregation of the Charlotte region. Now the board is potentially at a crossroads for how to proceed.

Among Mickelson’s solutions are busing, constructing new schools in diverse areas, splitting elementary schools kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grade and redrawing boundary lines that consider the changing populations as the area continues to grow.

Huntersville’s Alisia Bergsman said she appreciated Mikelson’s options but was worried about funding.

Sean Strain, a south Charlotte resident in attendance, has been vocal about his opposition to busing, demanding students be allowed to choose to stay at their neighborhood schools. He noted that he doesn’t believe diversity necessarily improves performance.

District 1 School Board member Rhonda Lennon agreed.

“What can we do to reduce the impacts of poverty on academic outcomes?” she said, adding that rearranging kids doesn’t change their circumstances or get to the root of the problem.

Lennon, who attended the meeting briefly, said she would rather work to make improvements at lower performing schools or help some of the outside factors that could be affecting students. She’s also received a lot of feedback that many parents would prefer to keep their neighborhood schools or opt out of public schools altogether.

Residents are invited to weigh in through a survey, whether they have children or students at CMS or not, by Feb. 22.

So far 7,500 have taken it. It’s available at www.cms.k12.nc.us.

“We want to get a sense of what parents and the community is willing to do and comfortable doing for students,” Tate said.

In the midst of these deliberations, the board is also looking at its budget, undergoing a superintendent search and considering adding a bond referendum to the ballot to build schools.

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