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Gorman, Davis: Closings help preserve funding to aid low-income students

Editor's note: This transcript reflects a correction in the number of schools that Waddell students will be reassigned to attend. It was a tough day for many in the CMS system. Kids and teachers returned to 11 schools that won't exist next year after last night's school board vote to close them. The list includes three West Side middle schools and Waddell High School. Waddell will become the new home for Smith Language Academy. Superintendent Peter Gorman and school board chairman Eric Davis held a briefing with reporters Wednesday morning. In this segment, WFAE's Greg Collard talks All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey about what was said in the aftermath of Tuesday night's controversial votes. Here's a transcript of the segment, which includes comments from Groman, Davis and a Waddell student. Mark: Rumsey: Greg, the board did approve most of what Superintendent Peter Gorman recommended. Was he happy with how last night's vote turned out. Greg Collard: Well, one of the first things Superintendent Gorman said today was that he does not consider the results a victory. He said tough decisions were made, and no one wins when that happens. Everybody loses. Of course, the closures and consolidations primarily affects predominantly poor and minority schools, especially on the west side. They also have room to spare. Gorman said these tough cuts at these schools are necessary to preserve additional funding already dedicated to low and minority students. For example, he said Thomasboro Elementary, a low-performing, high minority and low-income school on the Westside, has the highest per-puil cost for traditional schools at $11,000 per student, and that's a good use of money. He said 800 teachers are specifically dedicated to schools because of high numbers of low-income kids. "And it's the right thing to do. and we need to be able to afford to keeping doing that. continue to afford to do that. And if that means we an empty classroom out so we can have that environment where we have 808 extra teachers, we need to do that," Gorman said. CMS Board Chairman Eric Davis expressed similar sentiments. He said that race is always going to be an issue when discussing education in Mecklenburg County, but that schools were not targeted because of their racial makeup. "Far from it," Davis said. "We closed them because we've go to preserver what we can to continue to provide the addditonal resources that we've been providing to those children in those schools. More teachers, more money, smaller class size - more of our effected principles and teachers. It's incredible painful to do what we did." Mark: Right or wrong, some people may say there are winners and losers as a result of last night's vote. Smith Language Academy gets to move from a cramped and outdated space into Waddell's relatively new building, while Waddell students will be dispursed to four different schools reassigned to South Meck and Harding. And the Villa Heights magnet gets to move into a roomier building at Irwin Avenue. Greg: Right, and I asked Mr. Gorman about that. My question was, did they gain at the expense of students that have to leave Waddell and Irwin? Here's his response. "To us, this isn't necessarily only about the building. The building's one component, but it's about the program. I just don't think it's at that dichotomy of it's at the expense of others. It's (the closings) so we can keep doing the things we've been doing. "We're not (saying) 'We're going to measure this student to that student in how they do.' It's just not the way it is. We have to look at the whole district. Some people got to stay at the school they were at. Some got to move into new schools, and some had to leave schools. If you had to move from your school and you wanted to be at that school, then your perception - and understandably so - is that you lost something." And that certainly was the case today at Waddell High School. WFAE spoke to several students and staff at lunchtime. There was a lot of sadness and resentment about being forced to leave while Smith Language Academy gets to moves in. Here's a student named Edward Brown. "This is our home, and we don't feel like we should have to get up and move out of our home for somebody else." Mark: So, what happens from here? Greg: More cuts. No one knows exactly how much, but there estimtes that cust could total $50 to $100 million. Remember, these cuts (from these closings) will only result in a savings of about $9 million over the next two years. Layoffs are on the table, but board Chairman Eric Davis said he's reluctant to reveal other possible cuts for now because he's afraid that will lead to irrational responses before the budget debate begins. The first meeting on the budget is Dec. 14.