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Suburban Brawl 

Educrats face the music

"We just don't get it," they claim. Most of the so-called visionaries of local politics want you to believe they're baffled the school bonds failed. Others chalk it up to racism.

It's all a crock. These people know exactly why the bonds failed, and that's the reason they're so bitter. If they really didn't understand, they'd merely be confused.

The answer is mind-numbingly simple: The educrats lost the latest round in their brawl with the suburbs, and they can't deal with it. After a handful of suburban parents clobbered the school board in court in 1998, the board was forced to dismantle the busing plan it was using to racially integrate schools. Educators flipped the 'burbs the finger by virtually halting school construction in the fastest-growing suburban areas of the county. Meanwhile, educators rebuilt and remodeled under-filled schools in urban areas. Even after it became blindingly obvious that more space wasn't needed, the school board refused to spend already-approved bond money elsewhere.

Suburbanites who voted for years for bonds that contained almost nothing for them were bound to figure it out eventually. I'm convinced that if the 'burbs hadn't freaked out the Charlotte Chamber crowd by trying to secede from the school system, the recent school bond package wouldn't have had much money in it for the suburbs either.

If the bond packages of the last decade had been as balanced as this one, with projects for the suburbs as well as the inner city and middle ring, we wouldn't have many of the problems we have today. That's why I endorsed this package.

Schools would be less crowded and more diverse if school leaders had noticed that in just a decade, more than 15,000 white residents were replaced by African Americans and Hispanics in the middle ring census tracts. The educrats could have shuttered some of the unneeded inner-city schools for the moment, built new ones at the midway point between the outer and middle burbs and capped poverty levels at all those schools. It would have been instant diversity. Instead, white enrollment plunged from 54 percent to 37 percent in just a decade as suburban newcomers increasingly bypassed Mecklenburg County for less-crowded schools in other counties.

Some portion of the voters figured out some or all of this and voted against the bonds. But that's not why the package failed. The average person catches only bits of the news and is left with general impressions. With CMS' major and minor boneheaded moves making the news on a weekly basis, that's all it took to sink the bonds.

Here's a sample of blunders from the last year:

• CMS leaders praise their ridiculously low student discipline numbers and bash the media for pointing out that the numbers seem suspiciously low. Thanks to a Charlotte Observer investigation, the public later learns the numbers were doctored. Superintendent James Pughsley turns in his resignation a few weeks before the story hits.

• CMS officials claim they need new schools. They could have been participating in the city zoning process, bargaining with developers for money and land. Instead, it's discovered that officials hadn't bothered to file responses in one-third of the cases and what they did file was often so unintelligible it was unusable.

• A student, after sexually assaulting a girl in a high school bathroom, is prosecuted and forced to register as a sex offender. The school system allows him to return to school.

• School board member and former school resource officer George Dunlap tells the public in a column that there are rapists in our schools and that the system can't throw them out. The school system's attorney says otherwise.

• In a hearing on the state of North Carolina schools, Judge Howard Manning singles out CMS for his harshest criticism and uses the term "academic genocide" to describe what is going on here. In a report, Manning points out that one-third of CMS high schools are among the bottom 20 in the state.

• Manning demands that CMS officials bring him a goal-oriented plan to fix the problem. They bring the plan to court, but neglect to add the goals. Manning blows another gasket.

• After Manning's devastating criticism, the governor sends in a turn-around team to help fix the county's worst schools.

• Administrators assure the frustrated parents of two adorable wheelchair-bound girls that the girls won't be left behind in the parking lot everytime their classmates go on a field trip. Three times in a row, the girls get left behind anyway.

• The principal at Waddell High School fakes a gang-related attack and is convicted of obstruction of justice.

• Schools Safety Director Ralph Taylor explains to school board members that they shouldn't fret over reports of rapes in our schools because "most of the time it starts out as consensual sex on campus" and "95 percent of (reported) rapes end up that way." Apparently satisfied with that explanation, school board members move on to the next subject without batting an eye. Taylor later tells CL the system doesn't permanently expel anyone.

• Police begin using tasers on students on a near-weekly basis to stop fights or assaults of school officials.

Ask yourself, would you give these people half a billion dollars?

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