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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Charlotte's White Student Flight vs CMS & Kojo Nantambu

CMS vs. The Suburbs

Twelve years ago, the school board declared war on the suburbs. That war would eventually break the county financially, destabilize the school system and launch middle-class flight.

Last Tuesday, the chickens finally came home to roost. At a school board meeting that at times threatened to turn violent, Minority parents accused school board members of Racism. The board closed or reconfigured a long list of schools with heavy minority and poor populations to save money. Understandably, outraged protestors believed this to be an assault on poor minorities, given that whiter, more suburban schools were left untouched.

They're right in their instinct that their children will pay the price for the fiasco school leaders created over the last decade, but not for the reasons they think.

Rewind to 1997, when white suburban parents sued to end busing for racial integration. The school system fought them bitterly in court, but lost. In retribution, the school board's majority and Superintendent Eric Smith decided to starve the then-booming suburbs of school-building dollars. The formula used to calculate where schools should be built was jiggered to show negative growth in the suburbs during a time when the county regularly ranked among America's top 10 fastest-growing places due largely to suburban growth.

Suburban schools were allowed to burst at the seams while the school system went on a billion-dollar building spree, throwing up schools in low-income areas where the bulk of the county's growing population didn't actually live. This was by design. The courts had blocked the school system from busing kids by race to achieve school diversity. They would use space to achieve it instead.

Eventually, school leaders believed, suburban schools would overflow and occupancy would violate fire codes. Suburban, mostly white children would be forced into the half-filled urban schools. Diversity could still be achieved through spite.

Waddell High School, the focus of much of the crowd's anger Tuesday night, was a classic spite school. In a contentious 5-4 vote, the school board decided to bypass desperately overcrowded suburban areas and locate Waddell just a few miles from struggling Olympic High School in a lower population west side area.

Waddell was state of the art, with science labs and a media center that most school districts would envy. Yet it opened half full in 2001 and struggled to attract students while bursting suburban schools were forced to hold classes in their gyms. Waddell was closed Tuesday as a high school and will be replaced with a magnet school.

Between 2001 and 2004, 17 new schools were built. Of those, just four were in booming suburban areas of the county. Dozens more urban schools were renovated from top to bottom. Some of this made sense. Because of the lawsuit, minority kids would be returning to neighborhood schools that were decrepit and needed to be renovated.

But the school board took its construction orgy to levels so outrageous that classes in new urban schools were half full with ratios of 15 kids to a teacher. The school board blew a billion dollars on school construction, doubling the county's debt load while the population only grew by 28 percent. By 2010, Wake County had 6,000 more students than Mecklenburg did, but 17 fewer schools.

In the process, the school board made a terrible miscalculation. It wrongly assumed that suburbanites would put their kids on buses to half-empty urban schools once suburban ones burst at the seams. Instead, parents began to bypass absurdly overcrowded schools here and moved to Union and York counties.

The board alienated an entire generation of suburban parents who could have diversified our schools, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the busing lawsuit. While thousands of new children a year showed up to school in neighboring counties, our schools bled middle-income white kids. In 1998, our schools were 58-percent white. Today they are 33 percent; the schools built to hold them remain partially full.

Worse yet, the county is now struggling to operate its schools and libraries while paying down its enormous school construction debt. On Tuesday, the school board took the first step in cleaning up this mess, closing down and consolidating schools so that they can get back to the business of educating kids.

Complaints Filed: CMS Violated Civil Rights

The U.S. Education Department is reviewing five civil-rights complaints alleging that Charlotte-Mecklenburg's school closings and other assignment changes discriminate against black and Hispanic students.

The department, which does not reveal who files complaints, expects to decide within a couple of weeks whether the complaints merit an investigation.

In a worst-case scenario, a finding that CMS violated federal civil rights laws could block federal money or lead to a Justice Department probe. However, the Education Department tries to negotiate a resolution without resorting to those steps, according to its Web site.

Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the first complaint was filed Oct. 29, before last week's vote to close 10 schools and change programs and/or assignments at about two dozen others. Four more were filed after the vote, he said Wednesday.

Most students affected by closings and major changes are black or Hispanic and from low-income homes, prompting some to accuse Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools of racism or class discrimination. Feelings ran high: About a dozen people protested outside Superintendent Peter Gorman's house the weekend before the vote, and board members Eric Davis and Kaye McGarry received death-threat letters afterward.

Gorman and Davis, the board's chair, have repeatedly said closings and school mergers were based on empty classrooms and/or academic weakness. They note that CMS spends millions providing extra teachers, supplies and other aid to high-poverty schools serving mostly minority students, and say sacrificing buildings could help protect such aid in the face of huge projected budget cuts.

"Most of the schools we closed are in the African American community. That's factually accurate," Davis said the day after the vote. "We didn't close them because they're in the African American community."

Parents at Waddell High, which will close next school year, held a news conference the day after the vote urging parents to file complaints with the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights.

"We all need to do this together," parent DeAndra Alex said. "We need to do this proactively, and we need to do this forcefully."

The Observer has filed a request for the complaints and any other related documents. The Office of Civil Rights deletes "personally identifiable information" from any information provided, Bradshaw said.

NAACP Leader Claims "Pat McCrory Is Racist"

The President of Charlotte's NAACP chapter has called former mayor Pat McCrory "Racist" in a televised interview, after McCrory said comments by Kojo Nantambu might incite violence.

The two men's comments are the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute triggered by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' decision to cut costs by closing a number of schools, mostly in African American and Latino communities.

In recent days, two CMS board members reportedly received threatening letters, tied to their votes to close the schools.

During interviews with at least two Charlotte media outlets Monday, McCrory said Nantambu's protest chant during last week's school board meeting could lead to violence.

After the school board voted 5-4 to approve a cost-cutting plan that included the school closings, Nantambu began leading a chant, "No justice, no peace!"

McCrory told WBTV, "This should be a man of peace who's encouraging respectful dialogue, even during disagreements -- as opposed to a mean tone and very violent words."

Nantambu, also in a WBTV interview, countered that his chant was not intended to trigger violence. "In a society or community anywhere, if there is not justice, there's not going to be peace," he said. "But it doesn't mean there's going to be violence."

Then Nantambu criticized McCrory, saying, "That's the way he perceives it. That's because he has a very distorted view of reality in himself. And because he's a racist himself."

When asked by WBTV reporter Brigida Mack if he were calling McCrory racist, Nantambu responded, "Yeah, he's a racist."

McCrory later said Nantambu "sbould be ashamed of saying that."

Nantambu said during the weekend that the NAACP had no involvement in the threatening letters received by board chairman Eric Davis and board member Kaye McGarry.

Police Investigate Threats Against School Board Members

Emotions bubbled to the surface during last week's CMS school board vote, prompting someone to put their feelings down on paper.

"In the letter it's clear and obvious they are being targeted because of the way they voted on the school issue," said Milton Harris with CMPD's Criminal Intelligence Unit.

On Friday, board member Kaye McGarry received a threatening letter. On Saturday CMS board chairman Eric Davis received one as well.

"Basically the contents of the letter would give the average person concern for their personal safety," said Harris.

Both Davis and McGarry were outspoken proponents of closing E.E. Waddell High.

"I feel that as chairman, Davis said we need to make a decision tonight," Kaye McGarry said last Tuesday night at that controversial meeting.

NewsChannel 36 contacted McGarry on the phone Monday, but she would not talk about the threat.

She did say whoever wrote it referenced Waddell in the letter.

"We have it in the lab. We're looking at the forensics. Any forensics that may apply to documents we're applying that to these documents," said Harris.

Police are taking the situation seriously given that whoever made the threat took the time to learn where the board members live.

"We don’t know who wrote the letters. We don’t know their mental status," said Harris.

Davis contacted NewsChannel 36 late Monday afternoon. He, too, declined to discuss the threat.

When asked if he was worried about it he said, "No."

Police think the same person wrote both letters, and they are confident they will learn who that person is and why they made the threats.

Waddell Students Protest Decision To Close School

Hundreds of students at E.E. Waddell High School held hands and stood outside the school Wednesday morning, refusing to go inside as a silent protest to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' decision to close the school.

In a Tuesday night meeting marked by split votes, angry protests and accusations of racism, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved a sweeping plan to close 10 schools and make other dramatic changes.

In the most controversial item, the board voted 5-4 to close Waddell High and make it the new home for Smith Language Academy, a K-8 magnet. Harding High, which had also been considered as a home for Smith, will turn into a neighborhood school housing many of Waddell's students, along with the International Baccalaureate magnet now at Harding.

Most other efforts to block or revise the plan failed, often with the board's only two black members on the losing end of votes.

"That's a racist vote," speaker John White told the board after the seven white members rejected a move by Joyce Waddell and Richard McElrath to delay a vote on all proposed changes.

Race was a common theme as more than 100 people made one last attempt to sway the board on its historic decision.

The votes change life for about 25,000 students next year. It is the first time the district, which has long grappled with the challenges of growth, has faced massive closings and reassignments because of a shrinking budget.

Most speakers were critical of the plans crafted by Superintendent Peter Gorman and hashed out after five months of board meetings and public forums. Many noted that closings and other major changes would land disproportionately on schools serving minority and low-income students.

Only about 5 percent of students in the schools slated to close are white, compared with a third district-wide.

"Everyone should share the pain, including our suburban families and communities," said Adrian DeVore.

"You are about to wake a sleeping giant called the civil rights movement," said Darrell Bonapart.

Gorman, board Chair Eric Davis and other members say the changes are based on low enrollment and/or academic weakness, not on race or clout. And they say it's just the start of a quest to cut up to $100 million from next year's $1 billion budget.

Before public comments began, Waddell and McElrath argued for pulling the vote off the agenda. Waddell said by waiting until February, officials could craft a fairer plan.

Other members said they needed to vote now to be ready for the 2011 magnet lottery.

After the motion was voted down, a handful of activists began chanting "No justice, no peace." CMS and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police led them from the meeting chamber.

A gray-haired woman collapsed into the space between rows of seats. The board watched quietly as officers worked to get her to her feet.

"You knocked her down?" someone called.

"No," others said.

Another woman, whom police later identified as Niksa Karina Balbosa, 39, was led away in handcuffs. "They are voting to destroy our children," she shouted. "We won't stop until we're heard."

She was charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, CMS Police Chief Bud Cesena said.

Charlotte NAACP President Kojo Nantambu arrived 15 minutes after the meeting began and tried to get into the meeting chamber, but was turned away. He led a group of roughly 30 people, some with signs, who began chanting in the lobby, calling on the school board to push back the vote.

Even after the board voted to keep the closings plan on the agenda, many speakers urged members to start over. Sarah Stevenson, a former school board member, was among them.

"You have a golden opportunity to be fair and equitable to minority children and minority communities," Stevenson said. "You'd be the first board of education to do that in the 60-something years that I've been active in politics in this community."

The local League of Women Voters also called for a do-over, saying the current plan creates too much disruption and distrust for a relatively small savings.

"This is not the time to be penny wise and pound foolish," said co-president Janet Brinkley.

But some speakers from Smith Language Academy, which now moves to Waddell, urged members to vote.

"It's not fair to the students and the parents to delay the process any further," one said.

Joyce Waddell also made a motion to scrap a plan to close three high-poverty, mostly minority middle schools and move the students into new pre-K-8 schools. She said Gorman hasn't shown that students will benefit from the move. Her motion lost on a 5-4 vote.

Five and a half hours into the meetings, feelings were running high. Audience members shouted at board member Joe White as he spoke from the dais. He snapped back that he hadn't interrupted them when they spoke.

"No wonder we have kids who don't know how to behave," White said. He quickly added that some of the best and most civil speakers earlier in the meeting were students.

Kojo Nantambu & Some Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board Members Contribute To NAACP Legal Fund

On the eve of the controversial vote on closing and consolidating Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, CMS board members Joyce Waddell and Richard McElrath made small contributions to the NAACP's legal research fund.

Both McElrath and Waddell put cash in a bucket passed around at the end of an NAACP meeting Monday night.

Chapter president Rev. Kojo Nantambu called the meeting to encourage the African-American community to come out to fight the school district's cost-cutting proposal. Nantambu asked members to put money into buckets he called "a legal defense fund."

Asked later about the purpose of the funds, he said they are for "legal research," including both looking for more equitable solutions to the cash crunch and exploring the possibility of legal action against CMS.

Waddell has said she has concerns about the impact on poor and minority students, reiterating Monday night, "Look at it, and you can see for yourself. Minority students are the ones taking the largest burden of what's out there."

When asked about the donation, "I do not support suing CMS," Waddell said. "That money is for research."

McElrath did not return several phones calls about the donation.

A CMS spokesperson could not comment late Monday on ethics rules regarding donations and conflicts of interest. She promised more information Tuesday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board Votes To Close E.E. Waddell High School & Other Segregated, Failing Schools

Tuesday night the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board voted to shut down 10 schools, expand other schools, and change boundaries.

In the most controversial vote of the night, the board voted 5-4 to shut down Waddell High school and give its building to Smith Language Academy.

That vote also means that Harding High will lose its math and science magnet program to Phillip O. Berry High, and Harding will become a partial neighborhood school instead of a full magnet school. Harding will keep its IB program.

Both Harding and Waddell parents expressed disappointment after the vote.

The four members who voted not to shut down Waddell and make the change to Harding were Tom Tate, Joyce Waddell, Richard McElrath, and Trent Merchant. Board chair Eric Davis, Joe White, Kaye McGarry, Rhonda Lennon, and Tim Morgan voted yes.

The school board also voted to make a host of other changes which are listed at the bottom of this article.

Not long after it began, the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board meeting was disrupted Tuesday night when a group of people started chanting from inside the board chambers.

Several folks began chanting, "No justice, no peace," and were led out of the room by police officers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

At least two people were arrested during the meeting, including CMS parent Niksa Balbosa. She shouted, "There is a bigger plan than public knows! Fight for your children! Fight!" as she was being taken, in handcuffs, into the elevator at the Board of Education.

Police tell us that Balbosa will be charged with disorderly conduct and she was being taken to the Mecklenburg County jail. NAACP members told WBTV's Dedrick Russell that they were planning to bail Balbosa out.

The meeting interrupting lasted for several minutes. When police escorted some of the chanters outside, the chants continued in the hall.

In the lobby, NAACP President Kojo Nantambu lead a group of protests in chanting, "Push Back the Date!" referring to their demand that the board not vote on a host of controversial measures Tuesday night.

A woman fell during the chanting and an ambulance was called to check out her injuries which appeared to be minor. Its not clear how she fell.

There are 25 measures the board is scheduled to consider, which include school closures and other big changes. A crowd of close to 500 showed up, including many who had to watch in the government center lobby and two overflow rooms.

Before the disruption, board member Joyce Waddell had tried to get the board to delay voting on all the measures.

"I am asking that this be delayed until the February meeting," Waddell said.

But Waddell's motion was shot down 7-2, with only board member Richard McElrath joining Waddell.

Here are the changes the board voted to make:

These are the schools that, except for one, will be closed by next school year:

* Irwin Avenue Elementary (students would be sent to Dilworth or Ashley Park elementaries; IB Primary Years magnet program at Irwin goes away; the board originally planned to turn Irwin into CMS offices, but instead decided Tuesday night that the Villa Heights Learning Immersion/Talent Development program would move into the Irwin facility)
* Lincoln Heights Elementary (Lincoln Heights students will go to Bruns Avenue Elementary)
* Oakhurst Elementary (students will be sent to either Rama Road or Billingsville elementaries; Paideia magnet program at Oakhurst will close)
* Pawtuckett Elementary School (Pawtuckett students will go to Whitewater Academy)
* Davidson IB Middle (the IB program will be relocated to Alexander Middle)
* John Taylor Williams Middle
* Bishop Spaugh Community Academy (Middle School)
* Wilson Middle School
* Waddell High School (Smith Language Academy will move into Waddell's building and take the Waddell name)
* Amay James Pre-Kindergarten (closing a pre-K does not require a board vote, so this closure was not voted on Tuesday night)
* University Park Elementary (it will not shut down until the 2012-2013 school year; at that time its creative arts magnet will be combined with First Ward Elementary's creative arts magnet)

Here are some other changes the CMS board approved Tuesday night that will start next school year:


* Community House Middle students who live north of 485 will now go to South Charlotte Middle
* Some Garinger High students will go to Cochrane Middle, which will eventually become a 6-12th grade school by 2014; Cochrane will not have sports but students will be allowed to play for Garinger
* Some Nathaniel Alexander and Hornets Nest elementary students will now go to Winding Springs Elementary, which without its magnet will now become a neighborhood school
* Students at Tuckaseegee Elementary School will go on to Whitewater Middle School
* Students at Barringer Elementary will go on to Sedgefield Middle School
* Students living in the Dilworth and Eastover elementary zones who formerly went to Bishop Spaugh Middle will now go to Alexander Graham Middle


# Create a learning immersion/talent development partial magnet at Mallard Creek Elementary
# Create a Primary Years International Baccalaureate (PYIB) partial magnet program at Blythe Elementary School


# Harding High's math and science magnet program will move to Phillip O. Berry High; Harding will keep its IB program and no longer be a full magnet school -- some kids will be assigned to it as a neighborhood school


* Berryhill Elementary
* Reid Park Elementary
* Druid Hills Elementary
* Byers Elementary
* Ashley Park Elementary
* Bruns Avenue Elementary
* Thomasboro Elementary
* Westerly Hills Elementary

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Sources: Creative Loafing, McClatchy Newspapers, WBTV, WCNC, Zimbio, Youtube, Google Maps

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