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Legislative Committee Reviewing Effectiveness Of Large School Districts

North Carolina Legislative building

A bipartisan legislative committee is set to begin debate next week on the merits and disadvantages of large school districts. Charlotte-Mecklenburg school officials are closely monitoring this issue, considering that CMS is the state’s second largest system. The topic is not new, but the committee is, and some are concerned that it will lead to legislation to break up large districts.

The joint legislative committee was created last year with 10 members, evenly divided along party lines. They are supposed to look at the size of school districts and compare the educational effectiveness of counties with single school districts to those that have multiple districts. Committee member and Mecklenburg County senator Joyce Waddell is not convinced that’s all it will do.

“I’m against what the committee is assigned to do, which is breaking up the CMS school system,” Waddell said.

When the committee was established, many Democrats opposed it and said it was a backdoor tactic to split off suburban districts and lead to increased segregation. In the 1960s, in an effort to desegregate schools, and also to save money, many school districts in the state merged, creating the larger school systems.

But Republican Rep. William Brawley, who co-chairs the committee, says the issue for him is whether school districts over a certain number of students are meeting the needs of students.

“Right now we will be looking at a break point of probably 20,000 and see if school systems larger than that are performing as well as they should and see what recommendations that can come out of that if any,” Brawley said. “When this committee’s over, I don’t think CMS will be changed in any way.”

Brawley says he doubts the committee will come up with any specific legislation but Waddell says, “They’ve talked about this in the past and I think the purpose of this is for some of the small towns to pull away and be separate and apart and I’m not for that. About a year ago, Matthews wanted to break away from CMS and be its own entity so I’m suspicious about that."

Waddell is referring to a bill Brawley introduced last year that would have allowed Matthews and Mint Hill to operate their own charter school. At a contentious meeting with CMS officials in January, Brawley said his constituents asked for the legislation because they didn’t think CMS was providing their children with a good education. He says his work with the committee involves collecting data to determine what size system provides the best outcome for all students.

“If you just broke Charlotte into a center city and suburban school system I don’t think that would improve the outcome for all students,” Brawley said. “Bottom line is we have a lot of kids we aren’t educating for whatever reason. Are we spending so much time administering large systems that we don’t have time to educate the kids who aren’t succeeding?”

CMS officials say they want to see what the committee comes up with before commenting. The committee will meet on Wednesday and report their findings at the end of April.