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Demands for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools accountability grow louder
Activists, parents want closure of achievement gap
 
Published Monday, May 24, 2021 8:10 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | HERBERT L. WHITE
Activists and Black parents are lobbying Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for more accountability in closing achievement gaps between racial groups, even if it means withholding local funding to make it happen.

The calls are growing louder for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to be more accountable to Black students.


At issue is the district’s transparency in its budgeting and equity plans and Mecklenburg County leaders’ threat to withhold $56 million in local funding. The district is under pressure to be more forthcoming after County Manager Dena Diorio threatened to withhold funding for executives unless CMS produces a strategy to address widening achievement gaps between racial groups. Black students make up a plurality of the district’s enrollment at 37%.


“The county manager’s budget recommendation simply asks for an actionable plan that addresses this unacceptable systemic academic failure,” Colette Forrest, a Wesley Heights resident whose son attends a mostly Black middle school wrote in an email. “What on earth is wrong with that?”


The Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP has joined a coalition demanding an independent audit of CMS operations and capital program funding. The civil rights group will hold a press conference Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Government Center before commissioners vote on the county budget.


“The time for public accountability over for local tax dollars and our children’s education has come,” chapter president Rev. Corine Mack said in a statement. “In my opinion, the most crucial time for public officials to be critical of CMS operations is before the county approves allocating CMS hundreds of millions of dollars.”


District officials maintain withholding money will ultimately hurt students. County commissioners say the funds – earmarked for financial and human resource services, school leadership, policy and public relations – don’t directly impact students.


The Black Political Caucus wants the district to show how it plans to address achievement gaps between Black and white students, which has grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The district had 42 low-performing schools in the 2018-19 academic year, which accounted for a quarter of all campuses and 70% of Black students in grades 3-8 don’t read at grade level. Black high school students also struggle to meet goals consistent with college and career preparedness, with only 37% of English II and 10% of Math I scores meeting the standard. Those students, BPC leaders contend, qualify for multi-tiered systems of support, but only 3.2% have a verified plan to meet grade level expectations.

“The house is on fire and CMS is attempting to solve the problem with a trickling water hose,” the BPC said in a statement. “What CMS has presented as a strategic plan is a mere outline that does not set forth a specific and quantifiable pathway to changing outcomes for Black students. More alarming is CMS and the School Board’s lack of responsiveness and accountability to the families of these students, particularly when the majority, approximately 40% of the school district, is comprised of Black students. Their silence is deafening.” 


Mack, who called for an audit from the last three years to be overseen by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, called out elected officials for their complicity in not calling the school district to account.


“The failure of CMS to improve the standing of our region’s children does not release Mecklenburg school system, the Board of Education or the Mecklenburg County board of county commissioners from responsibility for their actions leading CMS to where it is today,” Mack said. “They have all failed our children.”


Operations and facilities comprise the largest local investment in CMS, which includes 179 campuses and 19,163 employees. The operating budget is $1.4 billion annually and the district budgeted roughly $15.28 billion over the last 10 years without generally reporting publicly on how the money is spent.


“Our Black children deserve the best education and they DO NOT need to sit beside white children to learn,” Forrest wrote. “Our children need qualified Master Teachers, teachers that care, equal access to resources, [Advanced Placement] courses and books and classes that reflect their beauty and brilliance.”





 

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