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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Charlotte Parents Oppose, Protest Against Racially Segregated Schools

Anger, Anguish At Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Budget Hearing

Angry teachers, tearful parents and students who worry about leaving schools they love bombarded the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board Tuesday night with complaints about Superintendent Peter Gorman's budget-cutting plans.

Plans to lay off hundreds of teachers, eliminate neighborhood bus stops for some magnet schools, and group the district's highest-poverty schools in separate administrative zones generated 2 1/2 hours of complaints, along with some urgings to push state and county officials for more money.

Later in the meeting, school officials rolled out a proposed "pay-as-you-play" plan to save some or all middle-school sports. It would charge $50 fees to play in middle school and $100 in high school.

In recent years, CMS budget hearings have been ho-hum, drawing only a handful of employees and advocates. Tuesday night, emotions ran high.

"You can be replaced; we can't," East Mecklenburg High teacher Gariann Yochym said, as board Chair Eric Davis tried to gavel her comments to a close and the audience applauded and cheered.

Gorman and the board are planning a 2010-11 budget that could require more than $70million in cuts. CMS does not have taxing power, so the board can't control how much it spends on education. Instead, members figure out how to use the money provided by state, county and federal governments.

Among the cuts is the $1.3million CMS now spends on middle-school sports.

The plan the administration recommended Tuesday night would fill that gap by eliminating middle-school soccer, golf, baseball and softball, as well as charging participation fees and adding a $1 surcharge to high-school sports tickets.

Middle-school football, basketball, track, cheerleading and volleyball would survive.

An alternative plan would save all middle-school sports, and some board members said they'll push for that. That plan does not require additional fees, and there was no explanation Tuesday of why the main proposal calls for eliminating the less-popular sports.

The board did not vote Tuesday.

Private donors have offered to pay scholarships for students who can't afford sports participation fees, Chief Operating Officer Hugh Hattabaugh said.

While a couple of middle-school students spoke about the value of sports, other proposed cuts drew more heat.

Teachers told the board that this year's cuts have already created large classes and undermined discipline. They warned that laying off an additional 600 teachers and 160 assistants would create more problems for students.

"Say no to letting go of teachers who do so much and get so little," said East Meck teacher Kenneth Willis.

Francelia Andrade, mother of a Piedmont Middle student, choked up as she told the board that later hours and the loss of neighborhood bus stops would make it impossible for her daughter to continue her eighth-grade year at Piedmont.

Bryana Andrade-Williams, the daughter, told the board: "I want to be able to come to the school that I love, the school where they push us to do our best."

Several speakers objected to a cost-cutting plan to streamline area administrative offices, with two of the new offices serving only high-poverty schools. Speakers said that smacks of segregation.

Board members were divided on that plan in a later discussion. Some wanted Gorman to do more to reduce administration, while others said he's doing a good job of cutting central-office costs.

Vice Chair Tom Tate said if the perception of segregation is false, CMS needs to convince the community. If it's not, "we're in real trouble down the road," he said.

The CMS Board will vote on a budget May 11.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, Google Maps

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