CMS faces multiple big decisions in coming year
Most of what the public hears about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education (BOE) these days revolves on the renovation of the student assignment guidelines.
However, the BOE has more on its plate than the assignment plan, including a superintendent search and budget preparations, leaving some BOE members wondering if the board is taking on too much, while others say they’ll need to make multiple decisions concurrently.
Parents say ‘no busing’
Parents were clear at the Feb. 9 BOE meeting about what they don’t want to come from the student assignment plan: busing.
Parents worried their child will be bused miles away from their home school – a basis for many families’ housing decisions – as well as fear their child will be used to boost the average of a failing school.
“Busing is a tool of getting kids to school. We bus as many miles today as they did with a court order years ago,” said Roslyn Mickelson, UNC Charlotte professor and researcher.
The guidelines would affect student assignments for the 2017-18 school year. BOE member Tom Tate said the board wasn’t sure exactly what the plan would look like at its completion, but wanted to nail down four goals, which include reducing high concentrations of poverty, alleviating overcrowding, proving more options and preserving successful schools. The BOE held a public hearing regarding those goals at its Feb. 9 meeting.
Parents called for an additional goal to set neighborhood schools as a priority, while others urged for greater measures to help high-need students.
Tate told community members last month the board enforced a deadline of May 24 to determine if they plan to make changes, or postpone the renovation until the 2018-19 school year.
Tate said the board isn’t sure what they’re doing, but hope a consultant will provide suggestions of actions to fulfill the goals. The board will vote on its goals on Feb. 23, with the hope they can give those goals to a consultant, who will help work out a plan.
New superintendent coming next year
After months of minimal action by the BOE, members finally agreed in a 6 to 3 vote to extend Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract one year to give the board time to establish the student reassignment plan and carefully select a superintendent for the district. The board also voted they would establish and vote on a specific timeline for the search at its Feb. 23 meeting.
Many principals and community members urged the BOE to retain Clark as a long-term superintendent, but Clark clarified that since January 2015, she has had no interest in taking over the superintendent seat. Clark said she would stay in the position until the BOE finds a new candidate, but did not want to be considered in the search.
The superintendent search was a stark topic at the BOE’s retreat last month, in which the board remained divided as to how they plan to move forward with the search.
Some members believed the board could work on the superintendent search and student assignment simultaneously, while others believed the board should work on the student assignment first and then find a new superintendent.
BOE Chairperson Mary McCray said the board was “racially” divided regarding the search and potentially student reassignment. Black BOE members McCray, Ericka Ellis-Stewart, Ruby Jones and Thelma Byers-Bailey urged for a superintendent to be selected by October, while the five white members Tate, Paul Bailey, Elyse Dashew, Eric Davis and Rhonda Lennon all urged for a year-long search to hire someone next summer.
Bailey was outraged by the race accusation, stating he had a tight bond with his black son-in-law.
“We need to get over this folks,” Bailey said. “It’s 200 years ago. Get over it. We made mistakes, but this decision will be based on the belief of the right thing to do with the school system. I am not going to buy into anything that tried to take anything that divides the board on race.”
The board plans to establish a specific timeline for the search at its next meeting.
“There was skepticism out there that we aren’t going to do a search,” Davis said. “This timeline shows we will.”
The show must go on
Despite any animosity around student assignment guidelines and the superintendent’s fate, the board is legally required to create a budget to present to county commissioners.
Commissioners and BOE members haven’t agreed on the funding for CMS, and commissioners said last month they hope to build a greater bridge between the boards.
CFO Shelia Shirley said at the Jan. 26 BOE meeting the district’s operating budget, including increased student population and healthcare costs, has increased 12.7 percent since 2009, but the largest percent increase is from the federal government – CMS’s least flexible source of funding.
CMS is ranked last in the state’s per pupil expenditures and eighth in the percent of county expenditures, despite Mecklenburg County ranking the highest in property tax collection.
BOE members hope to come to an agreement with county commissioners on greater allocations for schools.
The board also plans to look at its capital needs and potentially look into established a bond to accommodate those needs that haven’t been met by current allocations.