Saturday, October 23, 2010

CMS and race: Cutting through the noise

On Thursday night, in an auditorium at West Mecklenburg High, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board Chair Eric Davis introduced himself to a crowd of parents and teachers whose schools he might close. TV cameras pointed his way, as did reporters’ notebooks, ready for drama to break out.

Davis seemed ready, too. As he has at previous forums, he explained briefly why financial strains have caused CMS to consider closing eight schools and changing dozens of others, most in minority-heavy communities. When he finished explaining, he noted that everything he had just said was the logical, rational side to this discussion.

“But,” he said, “there’s another side to it.”

Oh, yes. Davis has, in the past month, been called racist and segregationist, along with his fellow school board members and CMS officials. They likely will be called this all over again Tuesday, when the school board meets to discuss final proposals.

Protests are planned at that meeting, led in part by the local NAACP president, the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, who said this month that CMS had “a diabolical plan, a national plan to close all the inner-city schools.”

It’s been difficult for decades to have a discussion about CMS without including race – and rightly so. In any large metro school system, you have a jumble of parents and communities, each wanting what’s best for their children. You can’t avoid conflicting needs. You can’t avoid past inequities. And you shouldn’t avoid talking about them.

But, for a moment, let’s try.

CMS faces a significant deficit next year – likely somewhere from $30 million to $90 million in state money alone. Add in about $47 million in federal money that won’t be back next year, and CMS officials will have to find at least $75 million in savings from a $1 billion budget.

That number will come from a number of places, including teacher cuts next summer. But CMS has proposed a solution that would lessen those layoffs: close schools that have some combination of poor performance, unfilled classrooms and aging buildings.

Those schools are concentrated mostly in neighborhoods in and near Charlotte’s core. Most of the students who walk through the doors of those schools are black.

And so, we’re back to race. And protests. Nantambu, who was arrested at a forum two weeks ago, has vowed to be loud at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Meanwhile, he declined to attend any more public forums, which he called shams.

So what were we left with Thursday night?

In classrooms and the main auditorium, parents and teachers explained to CMS officials their worries about a plan to send students from closed middle schools to new preK-8 schools. Those schools have had some success in other cities, but they also puts eighth-graders on buses with kindergartners, parents said. And what, they asked thoughtfully, would this mean to their neighborhoods, where schools are a dynamic part of the larger community.

Was race a part of the discussion? Certainly. One questioner wondered why, if the preK-8 plan was so good for their westside schools, that CMS didn’t also try it on schools not filled with minorities. (The answer: Unlike the underfilled schools, there’s no room in suburban schools to combine those grades.)

But drama? There was little. Instead, parents and school advocates spoke about how CMS had brought star principals and teachers to their schools, and how that was working. At Wilson, scores have been improving at a rate greater than any middle school, they said, and Spaugh also was on an upward trajectory. “Can’t we see it through?” one asked, and the crowd heartily applauded.

It not only was a plea, but perhaps an acknowledgement that CMS officials, men and women, whites and blacks, are trying to help their children. In many cases, with staffing and per-student funding and class size restrictions, they have.

Now, those same men and women face difficult choices about the costs that come with trying to saving money. If you’re a cynic, you probably believe school board members already have made their decisions, and the only chance to change their minds is to get loud enough to shame them into it.

Or maybe you can believe that Thursday night was the way to go – that logic and rational thinking can come from all sides and, just maybe, cut through the noise that hijacks too many meaningful discussions in our lives. Because even with questions about schools and race, sometimes the answers aren’t black and white.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

The "race card" is a wild card with a fading value.

It has been thrown around so much for the most frivolous things the
attempt at its usage is almost laughable anymore.

Cry wolf and all that ....

Pamela Grundy said...

I don't think our school board members are racists. However, in several long conversations with school board members, they have stuck adamantly to the position that despite glaringly obvious flaws in the plan and its proposed, hasty implementation, it is the only possible way to proceed. I don't think most of them have been able to step into the shoes of the students and community members who will be affected, and as a result they do not genuinely understand how much disruption these plans will cause in communities and individual lives. The relatively small first-year savings of the plan – $3 million out of a $1.3 billion budget – are simply not enough to justify this level of disruption. If CMS folks believe these changes are necessary, they need to slow down and implement them properly, working with the communities involved.Sometimes anger is the only way to be heard.

Anonymous said...

Of this were really about race there would way more than only 200 parents yelling! Especially since CMS largest race is black Americans.

Americans of ALL races are sick and tired of hearing people claim "discrimination"! As the previous poster stated the race card has been used WAY too much in America and esp here in Char-Meck that it is no longer believable.

It is just another tactic to manipulate the government into caving in! NOT fair and not going for it!

I can only hope CMS does not cave in!

wiley said...

Many of these schools could have been closed years ago but were not due to the very thing they are facing now. The Board didn't want to upset a certain faction in Mecklenburg County.

This school system has been retrofitted several times from the separate but equal system, to busing and finally neighborhood schools.

If schools need to be closed - close them, but at least have a well thought out plan to maximize savings while minimizing disruption.

During the breakout session at West Meck, we learned about 350 students would be moved to Harding with the proposed changes. I'm sitting there scratching my head at this revelation so I asked the question; Last week, the plan was to take part of the students from Waddell when it is converted and move them to West Meck and now, a few days later you're saying to help ease overcrowding at West Meck those students are NOT coming and you're going to send 350+/- West Meck students to Harding as well?

Talk about not having a clue!

West Meck is either overcrowded or it isn't.

CMS obviously has no answer to that question.

Anonymous said...

I think that the plan originally was to move students from West Meck to Harding along with Waddell students moving to West Meck (making room for them plus relieving overcrowding with the first move). However, to keep part of the grant money that Waddell was given for 'transformation' if they move to a 'closure' scenario, they HAD to show that ALL of the students were going to be sent to schools with substantially better performance. West Meck did not fit that bill and so the adjustment to send Waddell students to only Harding and South Meck. CMS is hoping that this change will allow them to keep some of the grant $$ for that move - we'll see.

Anonymous said...

At some point you have to stop hand wringing over past inequities.

At some point, enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

The NAACP's problem is its' Leaders and Membership.

Tell me again what percentage of the Black Community graduates from high school?

CMS needs to make decisions based on facts and anybody who doesn't like go get your TAXPAYER PAID FREE EDUCATION somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Various assignment plans for CMS have a long history of disrupting various communities, and often those proposing the changes seemed to have very little empathy for the students and families involved. I can remember Louise Woods proposing a middle school assignment change for McKee Road kids which would have moved them miles away from their assigned school, but her comment was that "they needed to experience a little diversity". Arthur Griffin and company apparently worried little about the assignment mess that was created by the building of Waddell or how that would affect kids and communities. Interesting that the same folks are now suddenly concerned about how assignment might disrupt individual communities. I also find it interesting that those who frequently throw around the charge that CMS is "resegregating" are also arguing that by closing schools we are destroying neighborhoods' identities. These are the same people who did not want suburbanites to identify with their local schools. Remember? We were supposed to be one big community, happy to move from school to school for the sake of diversity.

Anonymous said...

$3.3 million is 0.268% of CMS' current $1 billion, 233 million, 565 thousand, 489-dollar budget. $6.2 million is 0.503% of that
$1 billion, 233 million, 565 thousand, 489-dollar budget. For a savings of 0.771% over 2 years, people will be put on the unemployment line, the lives and academic progress of students may be irreparably damaged by this upheaval in their already fragile existence, fewer taxes will be available for City and County Government creating further job loss, the Board of Education negates its Guiding Principles and destroys its credibility with the community, and neighborhoods will become blighted with shuttered buildings and lowered property taxes. For a less than 1% savings over two years, is it worth it?

To those who decried busing for diversity and got it eliminated for affluent children, don't kid yourself that busing ever ended. It did not for poor and minority students. You have preached neighborhood schools for 9 years and now that some progress is being made in those schools, you are going to disperse the kids all over the place and give their buildings to magnet students. Wouldn't you be angry if this was happening to your children? Answer that and you may be able to walk a mile in the shoes of the students, parents and teachers at these schools who have worked hard.
Performance at these schools are being compared to performance at magnet and partial magnet schools which of course will have more involved parents. Most importantly, compare the percentages of special needs children, limited English proficiency and economically disadvantaged students at these schools with the percentages at the comparison schools and you will immediately see the disparity.

Anonymous said...

To continue regarding academic homogeneity vs academic heterogeneity:

The public is never expected to examine data at any depth because CMS knows how lazy Americans are about finding things out for themselves. You live, fight and die by rhetoric someone else supplies depending on which groups they want fighting today. In the meantime, they are ripping this community and this country apart while hoarding its resources for themselves. Wake up Charlotte, why the rush on these plans? To hold a lottery? Believe that and I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. The lottery can happen and you would just have waiting lists as always!
Follow the money! Is it the Land? Does CMS want to fool the Gates, etc. Foundations into giving it more money? Look for yourselves. This is your community that will pay in the long run for this shortsighted, ill-prepared and not thoroughly researched plan.
The children must be our focus. I wish we could do something to increase engagement by parents, but our first obligation is to do the best we can for children who are in our schools for 7.5 hours each day. They did not ask to be born. For less than a 1% savings over 2 years, is it worth it?

Pamela Grundy said...

Contrary to what many people seem to think, protests against the CMS proposal are not primarily about defending neighborhood-based school assignments. If the students in question were simply being reassigned to different, more diverse middle or high schools, I doubt there would be many complaints. Closing a school is a very different matter from changing an assignment boundary.

Anonymous said...

Why is that the NAACP doesn't care that the community is segregated so that individual's home school assignments by WHERE THEY LIVE is what governs what school they go to? That we have gentrified the poor over and over again so that communities are divided for the most part by socioeconomic and racial lines? Why is it that I've worked in schools in the inner city for more than a decade and even when I begged for them to get involved in helping to mentor students of color who were struggling, they never responded? Why is it only when they can cry wolf that they respond? Honestly, it's not helping anyone of color and fueling a nation divided by race.

Anonymous said...

There are many programs that CMS can cut to save millions of dollars. Tax payers would be amazed at the amount of waste taking place.

A call for transparency is in order.

wiley said...

If the students in question were simply being reassigned to different, more diverse middle or high schools, I doubt there would be many complaints.

Pam,

There are very few "diverse" high schools left in CMS.

When you look at the racial makeup of the schools, over half of the high schools (11 of 21) are more than 50% Black, 6 have a 50% or more White student body and in the remaining schools, no group has more than 50% and are somewhat at parity. Of the 6 high schools that are majority White, only a couple have upwards of 60% to 70%+ White students.

Of the magnet schools, 52% of the students are Black.

At what point will the NAACP and others get those facts?

The very obvious fact is that CMS has a minority of White students at 33%. Whether we bus students or live with whatever neighbor schools are left, the idea of some sort of blissful "diversity" in every school isn't going to happen.

Anonymous said...

While closing neighborhood schools is totally wrong regardless of alleged costs overrun that would work itself out in time one must question the validity of this crying wolf with the race card. Technically yelling the race card in 2010 should completely jeapardize the entire past 400 yrs of yelling racism as clearly its bogus today just as it was bogus then. Racism is not only a 2 way street open to individual scrutiny and interpretation with unique herd mentality but a subjective term with a trillion variations of meaning all subject to enigmatic fakery clearly eliminating its validity.
Racism in the modern age is now devious unneeded word that should be immediately stricken from the English language like a plague and like a few others as taboo and roguely offensive.

Pamela Grundy said...

Wiley,

My comment was in response to the reader who sought to suggest that the current situation is similar to the reassigning of students that took place during busing -- specifically the example of changing McKee Road's middle school feed. I was pointing out the difference. A number of posters have been suggesting that people who supported busing but oppose this plan are somehow hypocritical or confused. I think that given the nature of the changes currently on the board, the two positions are entirely compatible. This plan bears no resemblance to busing for desegregation.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between disrupting communities by changing a neighborhood's school assignment for diversity, as was often done here in Charlotte (i.e., taking a group of students from a school they had attended for a long time and moving them to another school--often distant--to balance diversity in that school) and disrupting a community today by closing its school and moving children to another close by school? Isn't a change of schools often upsetting to families whether they are suburban or urban? Do you believe disruption was fair game under busing but is not fair under the current plan?

Pamela Grundy said...

All change brings disruption. There are different levels. I see this plan, which would not only close schools but jerk a group of kids from middle to elementary school and then back to high school, all just to save a tiny fraction of the CMS budget, as especially disruptive. It doesn't have anything to do with urban and suburban. That's your issue.

therestofthestory said...

Pete, just remember this whole mess started when a black kid wanted to go to his neighborhood school and CMS would not permit it.

Anonymous said...

The race card is worn out its welcome. Sadly, the results, enrollment, and future for many of these inner city and western county schools is UNDERwhelming. NO amount of $ thrown at the cause is going to fix the "problems" with the schools. Unfortunately, the CMS Board must make tough decisions that effect good and caring people along with those that Education is an afterthought. The silent minority is tired of seeing the bars lowered to close the gap between those that choose to succeed and those that are apathetic and want to blame, the economy, race, George Bush, etc. for poor results. Now is the time to restructure ALL school boundaries based on a common and well published critera so all students will have equal opportunities to succeed and learn. IF all races are equal, then let's toss out that variable and stick with other facts to quantify and catergorize each child to maximize facilities, staff and resources.

JAT said...

PSo, I think we need a blood-less walkthru CMS history since the 2005 bond defeat, including the Gantt Commission report which was quickly deep-sixed because it suggested actual reforms, including inverting the magnet system to serve those most in need rather than suburbanites in need of a hobby, quality time with their snowflakes.

I'd love to hear anyone try to square what CMS told us in 2007 vs. 2010 -- beyond "we were lying in 2007" I mean. No wonder the local NAACP wants an audit. Evidently a lot of folks thought 2003-2008 boomtime money was forever.

Me, I think Pete Gorman is the first actual professional education establishment manager CMS has had in its history. And that is not a complement, just a statement of fact. Like all good managers operating without meaningful performance standards, Pete merely manages expectations, using the odd crisis to tease out the path of least resistance, all while protecting "his" people -- at the expense of his customers and shareholders.

Anonymous said...

Racism is the most commonly most abused most offensive pc term in the English language and should be banned mainly benefiting only elitist liberals who use it as their weapon of choice to ficticiously destroy those they cannot brainwash with their lies. Your days are numbered and your heads on the chopping block... Gonna be hilarious.

cltindependent said...

People on here are saying "racism" doesn't exist anymore and shouldn't be a word? Ok. I'd love to live in their world. Rent a dvd call "Eyes on the Prize". Read the "Brown vs. the Board of Education" case. That didn't happen in another country. It was here in the U.S. and people that lived through it on both sides are still alive and STILL remember. I don't care how you try to whitewash these textbooks.

Pamela Grundy said...

Actually, the Swanns wanted their child to go to an integrated school, because they had seen the benefits of integration in India. They thought it was wrong that he had to pass a predominantly white school on the way to the predominantly black school where he was assigned. In every conversation I've ever had with them, the power of their commitment to integration has shone through.

AugustEve said...

We must stop using terms and colors and jaded opinions to describe each other. Each time we do this we fit the very category we are normally against. This is America and we have the right to be right or left or red or blue and we should defend each others right to do so. We are living in a climate of devisiveness that will only lead to destruction. We all should share the burden. This atmosphere has been in our past and we know where it will lead. Let's all agree to dissagree. You get so much more with understanding. It is childish to name call and label. Don't take my word for it just ask your children. Take the high road because the low road has always led to destruction.

Anonymous said...

Racism is just another word for hate and hate is a normal emotion of all people. Make the word racism taboo. Use hate instead. Its less pc less inflamatory and more accurate.


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It's a thin line, between love and hate
It's a thin line...

Anonymous said...

Here's everything in a nutshell: We spend millions building schools in areas where nobody wants to go (inner city) and we put the schools too close to each other (Berry, Waddell, Harding). Then, we suggest consolidating them since they're half-full.

The result: People who perpetually whined about their schools being horrible now love them so much that the only possible reason for the suggested closings is that it somehow is racially motivated.

Continuing to play the race card and continuing to think the grass is always greener on the other side (if whites go to school over there, it must be better and somehow get special privileges) is the biggest detriment to our children ever learning anything of value.

There's nothing hasty abut these plans. They've been in the works for several years now. People knew this was coming. We need to quit making this about politics and race, and make it about educating our kids.

Such a sad legacy our African American apologists are leaving for their kids. Show them how to make their place better instead of making excuses about why someone else got something they didn't.

If parents encouraged their kids to learn the way they encourage them to make excuses we'd have no issues at all...

Anonymous said...

11:40-
No one griped about Harding. The kids love their school. Get your facts straight.

What is wrong with supporters of schools speaking out against school closures? Don't they have that right?

Any one has the right to speak out against anything they want. We live in the great U. S. of A. Get used to it!