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CMS Board Votes To Close 11 Schools Including Waddell

Board members Joyce Waddell and Richard McElrath talk before meeting starts. align=left

The CMS board voted last night to close eleven schools, including Waddell High. Harding University High will remain open, albeit with significant changes. Nearly all the plans for closure were approved, except for Irwin Avenue Elementary. The board voted to save the building for students and locate administrative offices elsewhere. Board members cast their votes after parents, students and teachers urged them to keep their schools open. Crowd Finds Catharsis At CMS Board Meeting All the discontent people had served up to the board at school forums over the past month, came to a head last night. More than a hundred people over nearly four hours let the board have it. Board member Joyce Waddell urged the board to delay all the school closure votes until February. "Allow more time for community consideration of the new school assignment plan that involves the closing of numerous inner-city schools serving primarily African American and economically-disadvantaged children," argued Waddell. Superintendent Peter Gorman said that wouldn't give the district enough time to close schools for the next school year. The board's two African American members, Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell, voted against closing several schools, including Waddell High and three middle schools which serve the west side. They weren't the only board members to do so, but nearly all of the motions failed. The one exception was a proposal from Kaye McGarry to keep Irwin Avenue Elementary as a school, rather than turning it into administrative offices. "We cannot put adults into Irwin Avenue. I'm sorry that building was built for kids," said McGarry. Irwin Avenue will still close, but Villa Heights will move into the school instead of going to Lincoln Heights Elementary. Lincoln Heights will also close. Throughout the board discussion, the audience of several hundred grumbled and sighed. The Waddell-Harding-Smith conundrum elicited the most noise. Over the past month, CMS has gone back and forth on closing Harding or Waddell. Last night, the board's choice was between the two schools. But board member Trent Merchant said it made more sense to delay that decision altogether until next school year and include more schools in the ripple-effect of boundary changes. "We need to expand the geographic area that's under consideration," said Merchant. "What does that mean? It means that I need to raise my hand as a board member and say, 'Maybe my neighborhood doesn't belong at Myers Park high school.'" Merchant could only convince three other board members to delay the vote. Joe White was not one of them. He said he hated voting to close Waddell, but the matter needed to be resolved to get the tension out of the community and let kids know where they're going to school next year. "Folks, we are in a different ballgame from what we've ever been in before financially and it is not going to get... " began White. The crowd started grumbling. "Folks I was pretty nice," scolded White. "I didn't yell out when any of you were talking. No wonder we have kids that don't know how to behave." Board chairman Eric Davis also said the board couldn't wait to decide Harding and Waddell's fate. He said the board wouldn't have the will to make the call again. "I admit this process has been far from perfect," said Davis. "I have made mistakes through this process. I readily admit it. One mistake I will not make is to drag this out any further. We must move forward." Smith Language Academy will move to Waddell. Waddell students will go to Harding and South Meck. Harding IB students will stay put, but those in the school's math and science program will move to Phillip O. Berry. The board also voted to close Davidson IB. Several west side middle schools will close too and those students will return to elementary schools which will be converted to hold kindergarten through 8th grades. CMS estimates all of the changes will save about $9 million over the first two years. The district expects it will have to cut between $50 and $100 million next year. The board will now move forward by looking at further cuts that will get the district closer to those numbers.