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CMS board unhappy with boundary recommendations

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board last night all but shot down the district's recommendations to relieve overcrowding at Eastover Elementary and fill an attendance hole at East Mecklenburg High School for next year. The board didn't vote on the proposals but members brought up several concerns. They ranged from busing to accusations that CMS is afraid to upset wealthy influential parents of students at Myers Park High School. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports. A large part of boundary planning at CMS is driven by the district's preference to spread out the number of students on free and reduced price lunches. First there's the overcrowding issue at Eastover Elementary, an academically solid school of mostly affluent students. The district recommends turning Dilworth Elementary- currently an arts magnet school- into a neighborhood school. This magnet program would be transferred to First Ward Elementary and those students -88 percent on free and reduced price lunch- would attend Dilworth and Eastover. Also, about 70 Selwyn Elementary kids would attend Dilworth. Board member Kaye McGarry doesn't like it. She says it pits neighbor against neighbor. "And now what do we do with this? We're busing- for example- that little wedge in Eastover past three schools to put them in Dilworth. We're busing First Ward kids all the way out- oh we're going to split them- a few to Eastover and more of them to Dilworth," she says. Board member Larry Gauvreau doesn't support the proposal either. He offers this solution: "You've got Billingsville Elementary school which this board, and previous boards, put in that location brand new and it still has less than 500 kids in it- brand new. That school is about half a mile from Eastover." Billingsville is part of the Achievement Zone, a cluster of struggling schools that gets extra attention and resources. With 92 percent of students on free and reduced lunch, Billingsville has small student to teacher ratios, by design. Board members Molly Griffin, Tom Tate and James Ross said they weren't comfortable with the Eastover recommendation and still had questions. Ken Gjertsen is the only board member who supports it, while Trent Merchant and Joe White are lukewarm. But on the CMS recommendation to fill East Mecklenburg High by adding a science and math program, White is adamantly opposed. He says with 3,000 students, Myers Park is overcrowded. White wants to see its international baccalaureate program - which draws students from throughout the county- moved to East Meck. Myers Park in an affluent part of town, is a high-achieving school that regularly receives national accolades. "We have an attractive magnet program that siphons the academic elite from other schools and sends them to a school that we don't have room for them. And we don't need them for the school to be successful," says White. Back in August, the board agreed to look at relieving overcrowding at Myers Park by placing some of its students at East Mecklenburg. East Meck will have plenty of room and fewer teachers when the new Mint Hill high school opens next year. Recently, under pressure from Myers Park supporters, CMS planners took the school out of the picture. They were left to grapple with the impending attendance drop from 2,100 to about 1,500 at East Meck. That led to a proposal for a math and science magnet program there that would draw from the southern half of the county. But parents from the south, whose kids go to a similar program at Harding High, fought that. So last night, the district recommended a non-magnet version of the science and math program for East Meck. Tom Tate says he would support a magnet program at East Meck, but overall, he isn't happy with the way the plan morphed. He says, "Quite frankly, my major frustration with this is that the amendment to our action in August was to try to find a way to relieve overcrowding at Myers Park and find additional students for East Mecklenburg. And I can't see that we have done either of those." Larry Gauvreau also wants the district to solve overcrowding at Myers Park, although he thinks East Meck would be just fine with a lower attendance. Ken Gjertsen and Trent Merchant agree with White that the district should revisit moving the Myers Park IB program to East Meck. Molly Griffin, James Ross and Kaye McGarry favor expanding programs at East Meck. The board will vote on the options on November 10th. CMS plan for Eastover The staff proposal to handle overcrowding: Dilworth arts magnet moves to First Ward Elementary. All First Ward students are sent to other schools. Dilworth then becomes a neighborhood school. Eastover students and most First Ward students go to Dilworth. A few First Ward students are reassigned to Eastover, to try to spread out the free and reduced price lunch populations at these schools. The new boundary for the neighborhood school (Dilworth) includes a few Selwyn Elementary students. Click here to view map detailing Eastover plan Details of staff recommendations on East Meck