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Charlotte Area News

At CMS, Mint Hill kids will go to Charlotte for high school

http://66.225.205.104/SO20090812.mp3

The months-long saga over the boundaries of the proposed new high school in Mint Hill came to an end with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' plan prevailing. The school board approved the district's recommendation that sends a significant number of students from the town of Mint Hill to Independence High School. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports: The board voted six to three for the 13th version of the Mint Hill high school plan. This was after five months of emotionally charged meetings between Mint Hill residents, district officials and school board members. Discussions mostly revolved around poverty levels at the schools surrounding Mint Hill. The town's residents and leaders originally pushed their plan, which would keep the school's attendance zone within the town's borders. This would mean high-income, high-performing students at the new Mint Hill high school. But the board rejected it in June, opting instead for a plan that would distribute poverty levels across four high schools in the area. Last night's vote on the district's plan brought opponents and supporters, and some Mint Hill residents like Jeff Freeman who got what he asked for from the start. He said, "The staff plan before you tonight will once again unite neighbors. Children will once again be able to ride to school together, attend sporting events together. And even more importantly parents will have a better chance of knowing who their kids are hanging out with because they will once again be neighbors. I can and will support any plan that keeps our children together in one high school." Even if those children will have to go to Charlotte to be together. In a last ditch effort, board member Ken Gjertsen put the Mint Hill proposal back on the table. He represents the part of the school district that includes the town of Mint Hill. "Does it make sense to put a high school in Mint Hill and not send a single kid from Mint Hill to that school and to send all of Mint Hill to a high school that's located in Charlotte and to populate the Mint Hill high school with students only from Charlotte or the county? I think that is simply ridiculous," said Gjertsen. Board member Larry Gauvreau agreed with Gjertsen and said, "You can't call this any other thing more than a sham where you've got nobody going from Mint Hill, in general, to the new Mint Hill school. I thought I'd seen it all. We haven't." Apart from Gauvreau, Kaye McGarry was the only other board member who supported Gjertsen's proposal. These same three board members voted against the district's plan. The district prefers plans that spread populations of students who receive free and reduced price lunches across multiple schools. The lunch status is an indication of poverty levels at schools. And poverty is a marker for whether students struggle academically. Independence High, which has the new attendance zone for students from Mint Hill, has 54 percent of students on free and reduced lunch. Board member Trent Merchant thinks it's fair. "I like that all four schools have solid achievement scores. I like that no school is overly burdened by high free and reduced lunch," he said. Merchant raised a bigger concern during the meeting. He said the board would have to come up with clear cut guidelines on how it decides school boundaries. It's an issue many Mint Hill residents complained about. Mint Hill parent Brian Ellsworth told the board there was a lack of transparency throughout the whole process. "I do know that any criteria that are adopted should be publicly disclosed, should be consistently applied and we should see - the affected community should see - that criteria," said Ellsworth. The discussions over the new Mint Hill school have brought the call for uniform and clear guidelines on setting school boundaries to the forefront. All except three At-Large seats on the board are up for election this fall and several members will not seek reelection. The current board members say they expect this issue will be taken up once a new board in place.