Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time to shake up CMS board?

Woo hoo! After nine years covering the cyclical news of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, I just encountered something new: The quest to draw new lines for school-board electoral districts.

With 2010 Census data landing in April, the board has to even out the population of its voting districts. The northern District 1, a sprawling zone that was clearly drawn before the suburban boom, now has about 30 percent more residents than the central District 4, CMS planner Mike Raible told the board Tuesday.

But this also poses an opportunity for the board to make bigger decisions, including whether it's time to revise the six district, three at-large makeup of the board, Raible said. They'll also face such thorny questions as how much emphasis to put on drawing districts that promote minority representation and whether to draw lines that give political parties "safe" districts (read the staff presentation, which includes a map of the current districts,  here).

The board plans to start making decisions in March. Any changes would take effect after this year's election for three at-large members.

In their preliminary discussion Tuesday night, members disagreed on pretty much everything.

Kaye McGarry, citing the recommendations of a 2005 CMS reform task force created by business and political leaders, suggested cutting the board to seven members, all elected at-large.

"I would guess that Dr. Gorman wouldn't mind having to deal with less members," she said.

Superintendent Peter Gorman grinned: "Can I pick the seven?"

Rhonda Lennon countered that she remembered the time, prior to 1995, when all members were elected at large. "It was all one giant district and everyone lived on Providence Road," she said. "I would never support that."

Lennon talked about keeping Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson in one district. Joyce Waddell, Richard McElrath and Tom Tate talked about protecting or enhancing minority representation on the board (currently, the only two African American members come from the two "minority majority" districts, though blacks have won at-large seats in the past). Tate added that ideally, CMS might adopt a "pie slice" approach to ensure that all districts include high- and low-poverty schools.

Members swapped opinions on whether to do the work themselves, appoint an advisory group, hire a consultant or ask CMS staff to provide recommendations. They disagreed over the importance of keeping school-board voting districts the same as those for county commissioner (political junkies, add "co-terminus districts" to your vocabulary).

Trent Merchant called county commissioners' redistricting advisory board "disingenuous at best and a sham at worst" and lectured his colleagues on the need to avoid wasting time. "This is the least important thing that we have on our plate right now," he said.

Given the budget cuts, layoffs and school closings that are lurking, he's probably right. But political boundaries certainly make for fine political theater (watch the discussion here; the redistricting talk starts at the 2:33 mark of the Feb. 22 video).

And when all the rhetoric clears, this board's choices will shape decision-making about public education for years to come.


Anonymous said...

CMS, where the fun never ends!

"Waiting for Superman"? More like, "Waiting for Godot" - on drugs.

Anonymous said...

No they did not all live on Providence Road, Rhonda!

Some of them lived on Hempstead Place and some of them lived on Queens Road West.

There was great diversity, as you can plainly see!

Anonymous said...

I would welcome anything that increases the BOE's accountability to the public they serve.

The only BOE member that appears to make themself available to the public is Ms. McGarry.

Wiley Coyote said...

Members swapped opinions on whether to do the work themselves, appoint an advisory group, hire a consultant or ask CMS staff to provide recommendations

Oh why not just go ahead and shirk your responsibilities again, you know, like making a decision on Bright Beginnings to the BOCC?

CMS is currently 42% Black and 16% Hispanic.

Lose the safe "district/minority" mumbo jumbo and go all at-large.

Hopefully, voters will eliminate the status quo by voting every current board member out when their time comes.

Anonymous said...


Trent Merchant said the following Tuesday night about making sure that school district lines were modified to insure one-man one-vote. “..."disingenuous at best and a sham at worst.....This is the least important thing that we have on our plate right now."

It's a good thing that Trent wasn't in Boston in 1773 when he spoke those words. We'd still be paying British taxes. The only Gap the school board would be worried about is that ocean that separates our continent from that tiny island off the coast of France.

The heart of our budget problems is money. But second in the hearts of most is that the resources be equitably spread across the district. The lowly secondary problem of representation is why the “Guiding Principles” were not unanimously passed last year.

Since Mr Phillip Price last night suggested the CMS budget process needs to be in a holding pattern until the legislature and the governor bond as one, now is the perfect time to consider district lines. It as simple to understand as the difference between black and white.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Let's elect a School Board that has financial responsibility - that determines the school tax rate separate from the county tax rate. Then perhaps the electorate would put people of the school board who know what they are talking about when it comes to spending money correctly. Right now the school board can simply say "we want everything" and blame others if they don't get taxpayer paid babysitting (i.e. bright beginnings).

Wiley Coyote said...


Define "equitably spread"....

Anonymous said...

Can we just SHAKE the board?

Anonymous said...

"I would guess that Dr. Gorman wouldn't mind having to deal with less members," she said.

Uh, don't you mean FEWER members, Ms. McGarry?

Anonymous said...

Will the reduction in number of the school board be considered a "reduction in force" and will it be based on performance?

Anonymous said...

please let Mr. McElrath stay on the west side of South Blvd. He obviously has no interest in the neighborhoods on the east side.

Anonymous said...

"Tate added that ideally, CMS might adopt a "pie slice" approach to ensure that all districts include high- and low-poverty schools."

Some of those pie slices would have to be pretty irregular to make each district "equally" balanced. And really what would be the point of that? If every district was essentially the same, why not just go back to all at-large? I think the point of districts was to give different parts of the county equal representation, with the emphasis being on "different". This is a huge school system, covering a lot of area. I want someone representing me who understands and advocates for the needs of my community (sorry--but we are not one big community with everyone's needs being the same). And I want other parts of town to have their own advocates. Then I want all of the board members to act like grownups and work together to balance the needs of all our children based on what individual district members are saying. I seriously doubt that Mr. Tate would suddenly become an advocate for those he considers "privileged" if he got his wish and represented a pie shaped district.

Anonymous said...

Tired of CMS.

Wiley Coyote said...

Let's not confuse electoral boundaries with school boundaries...

What purpose would it serve to give Rhonda Lennon a slice of District 2 Pie?

I live in Rhonda's District 1 but my son attends West Meck which falls under McElrath, whom I can't touch with my vote. If I could, I'd vote against him.

Because I disgree with virtually everything Lennon does, I can vote and campaign against her all I want so I treat her as if she's an at-large candidate because she has no effect on the district my son's school is in.

kantstanzya said...

These people just will never get it. The comments about 1995 and the makeup of the board are indicative of why the school system continues its downward spiral.

Apparently the main point is to have diversity on the board and make sure that everyone doesn't come from the same part of town. Hello? This thinking is EXACTLY why CMS schools are in trouble. We are more worried about diversity and social experiments than about education.

If the entire board DID come from the same street and the schools were good would that be OK? Nope.

One question for the knuckleheads who don't like open elections because it might hurt the diversity of the board... Were the schools better and more successful in 1995 than they are today? I think we know the answer to that.

Anonymous said...

I feel bad for you all in CMS. We moved to Harrisburg in Cabarrus County for the sole purpose of providing our children with an excellent public education in a safe environment. Not only did we find such a school system, our property tax rate is materially less than in Mecklenburg. Thinks that make you go "hummmmmm...."

Larry said...

This should be the year where who ever runs, takes a pledge that they will return any salary and give it back to the school. Just like I did when I ran for school board.

I would be willing to run for the school board again, but the not having kids in school seemed the problem when I ran before, or at least according to the voters, according to the exit polls.

I guess I would be too honest with my votes for all the schools which would has stopped this mess of people yelling about equity, before it became this perceived mess.

Anyway, we need to get people in office who are not eventually running for County Commission or other offices and using the School Board as a way to get into the name recognition arena game of politics in Charlotte/Mecklenburg.

We need people who are problem solvers and have lived in the area for a time long enough to know the history of this system and will commit to a history of working with the system to make it work.

Cedar Posts said...

After the email I rec'd from Rhonda Lennon I'd be surprised if she could win in any district let alone at large.

Anonymous said...

Rig it up so that everyone elected is a black Democrat and let them bleed each other dry and sue each other for discrimination until they all run out of money.

That should settle things once and for all.

Anonymous said...

Kantstanzya, I certainly hope you weren't implying that our schools were better in 1995 than they are now. They absolutely were not--many were run down, despite (or maybe because) suburban kids were bused in. Achievement gap was very much alive and well, just hidden. And the board felt pretty comfortable running roughshod over the suburbs--they ignored growth in both north and south Mecklenburg County. By many measures CMS is doing a much better job today. Lots of issues--yes indeed. But we're a much bigger school system too. I don't think the majority of people are concerned about "diversity" on the board. But that doesn't mean they want an all at large board--they want districts and board members that represent them and their communities while making sure the school system is run efficiently and effectively. It seems to me that an at-large board is a sure way to get even more deeply mired into the "diversity" mess, considering how elections seem to turn out in this city.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 3:35...

1995 was still under court ordered busing.

Also, running roughshod continued well into 2005 with CMS, board members and other "leaders" in the community screaming "we need all this bond money to build schools!"

Yeah we did need some schools, in the areas where people were moving, however, it's ironic that today we can close 10 schools because we have all this extra space with more students we had in 2005.

We're still trying to retrofit schools built under seperate but equal, then busing and neighborhood schools today.

There are all sorts of elephants in the room people don't want to talk about. One big one is the fact about 30% of white students in Mecklenburg County don't attend CMS schools (based on the demographic makeup of the county).

therestofthestory said...

Ha, ha, ha, ha! I have been pointing this out for over a year. I ran the numbers how last time the BOCC ignored the already exploding growth in districts 1 and 6 to keep the conservative vote down.

So do not worry BOE and BOCC, just do your jobs. The NC Legislature has veto over what you do with district lines.

By the way, there was a time in the 1980's when all the school board members were in one sunday school class.

Anonymous said...


Any school board seat in America is likely occupied by an entry level politician. There are over 12,000 school boards in this country, each with 5 or more members, most who never held elective office. That's could be 40,000 mostly unskilled politicians ruling over the country's education system. Maybe that is a statement in itself.

The CMS board only has one member whose resume' is filled with prior elective service on other bodies. That would be Joe White. Dr. Waddell, Mr McElrath, Mr. Morgan, Ms. Lennon and Mr. Davis are newbies. Mrs. McGarry came to the board with a strong list of community service and has served prior terms. Trent Merchant was appointed to his first term and was re-elected. Rev. Tom Tate, in his second term, didn't have any previous elected experience but I'll grant that a man of the cloth is as skilled as any mayor. That redistricting caused nine new faces would not be the end of the Earth.

Bolyn McClung
Pineville, NC

Anonymous said...

The BOE has failed time and time again to do its single greatest duty: "Watch over, regulate and ask questions of its superintendent."

therestofthestory said...

Sorry but I have lost confidence in Rev Tate. This is a board to run a public education system not a day care. It is not a government indoctrination system. It is not a "if it feels good, do it" philosophical commune.

At this point with most of these kids who have had little if any discipline at school, understanding of authority, or respect for others, it is time for tough love.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn - How is the county's method going to be effective? Merchant was right that appointing stand-ins will be like the CMS Equity Committee - a shadow group of puppets who protect the person who appointed them. And he didn't say not to do the re-districting. He said they should apply party politics last, not first. And as you later noted - they are rookies, so why would you want them leading the redistricting effort?

restofthestory - I have been around a while - and I thought that was the city council that was all in the same sunday school class at Myers Park Presbyterian Church.

Anonymous said...


Redistricting needs to be done sooner; not later. It needs to be done by elected officials but unfortunately will be settled by judges.

The process is always long. Start now not later.

Why would I want "rookies' doing the job? Well that's not what I said. My point was timing. But you have a good observation that i shall reply to. Redistricting is all about protecting individual freedom. That doesn't require experience, it demands the spirit and thirst not to be usurped - a job best done by someone not too used to power and still remembering why it was she ran for office.

Oh, the Sunday school class thing. That would run afoul of some faith based problem. Better that you had used the Harris Teeter at the corner of Queens and Providence. Then when they screw-up something, the Observer could run a headline that reads "Clean-up On Isle 6."

Bolyn McClung

therestofthestory said...

10:14 PM, the city council has had districts far longer than the school board. Though you could be right, I have heard a number of old timers (I have been here since 1985) tell that story. I hope it is not an urban myth. And Bolyn, it used to be good here in the Bible belt to have leaders who were strong in their religious belief. That was the supreme driver for riding us of slavery. Societal ills since have proven harder to deal with becuase the government attempted to do away with the importance of the father and a solid family unit.

Anyway, if serious stuff happens in the NC Legislature about easing school structure and giving more superintendents (and BOE's that can not find their way out of a wet paper bag), we need to lobby for an escape clause with money so real education can be pursued.

We need the public school system to be serious about educating all students. Past BOE memebers have encouraged the "good" people to leave the system knowing it would not hurt the government financially.

Anonymous said...


Sometimes I am not as clear in my words as I am in my thoughts, so I will try again. Obviously redistricting is important, and we need to do it. But I don’t want to go through the charade that the county is going through – appointing proxies to do their dirty work under an overly prescriptive charge that is puts politics as the first consideration. Their invitation to partner is one that we should not accept unless they bring the train back to the station. Even if we were to work in tandem, I will prophesy with some degree of certainty that a committee of 18 politicians or 18 political appointees will not function in a highly effective, collaborative manor. We would be better off importing 3 random strangers from 3 random US cities to devise districts that are fair and non-partisan, as we profess to be.

Our purpose and role is different from the county commission’s, and I agree with Tim Morgan that we should go through the process alone, though it would be interesting for the two bodies to meet later to try to match up districts based on separate proposals. I recommend that we give a general charge to our staff, with the primary interest being equal representation. Have them use the demographic tools at their disposal to produce a recommendation – or two – that serve as a template for later political discussion. I do not believe that it is in the public’s best interest for the board to discuss philosophy and develop maps from the outset because we will flounder. That was our process during the interminable guiding principles discussions, which you have consistently criticized.

I know you have my phone number and email address, so it was interesting to read your comments in the blog. It makes wonder whether you are simply pontificating or if you are gearing up to run for school board. I certainly hope it is the latter, as you have the passion and commitment you noted as being essential, and no candidate – incumbents included – would know the issues better than you. We need more firepower…

Trent Merchant
Board of Education, At Large

Ann Doss Helms said...

I asked Coach Joe White, figuring his history with the city council and school board might give him some insight. He doesn't know anything about a group that all attended the same Sunday school, but recalls then-Mayor John Belk joking about having a city council that could meet in his back yard.

therestofthestory said...

Thanks Ann, I will chase it down some more. I guess I will file it under urban myths for now. Somehow I was thinking Susan Burgess was part of the group. Maybe if I run into her son somewhere, he might recall. Otherwise maybe Sue Myrick remembers.

Shucks, if true that would have been one of the great political stories of this town.