Redistricting debate continues

Feb. 28, 2014 @ 01:45 PM

After the third work session, not much has changed in the redistricting debate. 

The staff was asked to research ideas from the last work session, including restructuring the schools in certain clusters, grandfathering all existing students and grandfathering students in certain grades. 

The restructuring idea presented at the last work session was taking the clusters with the most growth and restructuring the schools, making them kindergarten through second grade, third through fourth grades, fifth through sixth grades and seventh through eighth grades.

At the last session it was noted that the plan could potentially impact every child in the cluster and may result in children moving schools if their current elementary school did not align with the new structure. Board member Marce Savage said that everyone gets to stay in their home cluster. 

Superintendent Mary Ellis said it was not feasible in the Cuthbertson cluster because there are only two elementary schools and both are “bursting at the seams.” 

The alternate configuration is not feasible for Cuthbertson, but is feasible for Marvin Ridge and Porter Ridge, she said.  

SEE REDISTRICTING/ PAGE A5

Waxhaw Elementary and Weddington Elementary are partially in the Cuthbertson cluster, according to the school system’s website. They are shared with the Parkwood cluster and the Weddington cluster, respectively.

Mike Webb, deputy superintendent of instructional technology and operations, said that the high schools could handle grandfathering sitting ninth and 10th grade students along with the rising freshmen. The concern with grandfathering rising eighth grade students is that it would potentially lead to capping in the Porter Ridge and Marvin Ridge clusters, if 100 percent of students opted in and chose to grandfather without transportation. 

Webb said that historically, they have grandfathered rising fifth, 10th and 11th grade students with transportation. Ellis added that historically, they have never had 100 percent of students opt-in for the grandfathering. 

When Board member Sherry Hodges asked about grandfathering siblings as well, Ellis said that to the best of her recollection, they have never grandfathered siblings through a board vote, it has been on a petition or appeal basis. 

Webb said they looked at grandfathering all sitting students, which would result in Marvin Ridge and Porter Ridge middle schools starting the school year with a cap and would put Kensington Elementary near cap-level. 

Ellis said they could certainly grandfather every child in a seat, but they would need buses and would have several decisions to make regarding the decision. 

After discussion, Hodges asked about a long-term planning, saying she was under the impression they would discuss one Tuesday night. Chairman Richard Yercheck said the facilities committee was not ready to discuss it, but there was a plan in the works and hopefully it would be presented at the March meeting. 

“I am not convinced of the urgency” to move families, Hodges said. She said their top priority should be to heal their relationship with the county commissioners, have the appeal dropped and collect their $91 million jury verdict that was awarded last summer.

She added that she would like to see more of the innovation that she knows the district is capable of. 

Hodges said she gets “heartburn” over moving kids for kids who do not live in the county yet. She said she did not anticipate that 5,000 students would be “scattered” under the plan and that she worries about teacher morale, a potential loss of teachers, and a potential loss of federal funding if Title I schools are impacted. 

Hodges said she was also concerned about stakeholder satisfaction. She said their schools are great because of the families, which are key to the buy-in of the education system. 

“Anxiety is high and trust is low,” Hodges said, adding that there seemed to be little concern for stakeholder satisfaction. 

The school board did not discuss or take another vote on the $3 million offered by the county commissioners for mobile classroom units, more commonly called trailers, to alleviate overcrowding. Last week the offer was rejected because the board said it would take away from the jury verdict. After the meting, a statement was released by the county commissioners saying that there were no “strings attached” to the offer apart from spending the money on mobile units. 

A few parents asked about the offer after the meeting. 

“You need to start respecting us,” one member of the audience shouted. 

Bridget Warner, a parent in the Cuthbertson cluster feels like they have not made any “traction.” 

“Personally, I feel they all have an agenda,” Warner said. She said the agenda is “Redistricting. At any cost.” 

Warner said she was worried for her son, who has already been redistricted twice. 

“That would be his third move since second grade,” she said. “He doesn’t want to move.” 

Her son plays lacrosse and would be relocated to a school that does not have a lacrosse team under the relocation proposal. 

She said the same questions that were being asked on January 23 are being asked today and are not being answered. 

“It seems to be pointing toward redistricting,” Warner said. Adding that she does not think that is the answer. 

Maura MacKinnon, a parent in the Weddington cluster, said she does not feel that the parents are being heard. 

“I still honestly feel like the majority of the board of education is not respecting our wishes to sit down and have a dialogue,” she said. 

She said members are not responding to their e-mails, or when they do, they are curt responses.  

“There are viable alternatives,” MacKinnon said. “I think they’re afraid. I don’t know why.” 

MacKinnon said that some parents think the plan has to do with test scores. 

“Why else would you move 5,800 students to lower-performing schools,” she asked. 

She was concerned that the board never brought up the $3 million offer, even with Frank Aikmus, chairman of the county commissioners, sitting in the room. 

“Our board of education is shutting us out.” 

Thursday night was the first of two public hearings on redistricting and overcrowding. The next will be on Monday at Parkwood High School at 6 p.m.