Union County School Board takes surprise vote, approves redistri - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Union County School Board takes surprise vote, approves redistricting plan

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UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) -

No one in the audience saw it coming - that members of the Union County Board of Education were ready to vote on the controversial redistricting plan. But the vote happened anyway.

In fact, item number 11 on the agenda for Tuesday night's regularly scheduled monthly board meeting - held at Porter Ridge High School - said "Discussion of Options to Alleviate Overcrowding."

It was supposed to be a follow up discussion after public hearings were held last Thursday and Monday - and totaled about eight hours, and more than 100 speakers over the course of two nights.

But then came Tuesday's night vote. 

A spokesperson for Union County Public Schools told WBTV a member of the Board made a motion to vote on the proposed reassignment plan.

Stunned parents watched, booed and shouted when the Board took the surprise vote, and approved the redistricting plan that has been the center of a heated debate for months.

Parents were so angry some Board members had to be escorted by police out of the building after the meeting.

As she was driving away, Board member Sherry Hodges told WBTV "there was a majority of the people on the board that voted to pass the proposed redistricting. I'm trying to take it all in right now so I really just don't have a comment. I'm sorry."

Parents had plenty to say.

They said Board members should have slowed down the process and listened to the people.

Instead, many felt their pleas landed on "deaf ears."

"I think there is a deep sense of betrayal. Parents who believed we had a voice in this process and the Board of Ed very arrogantly and definitively told us we do not" said Shannon Mallozzi. "It was anarchy. A lot of angry people feel betrayed."

Mallozzi told WBTV it was a "miscarriage of justice."

Another mother said "very angry. Very angry folks. A lot of people put a lot of time into a lot on stuff for all these weeks.  They haven't listened to us at all."

A father said "I'm still trying to figure out what's going on so don't ask me. I'm still confused."

The spokesperson for the school system said "it wasn't a surprise vote. It was a surprise to some."

The vote, which clears the way for reassignment to start at the beginning of the next school year, did provide one loophole - a clause to grandfather in some students.

Board members say all sitting high school students, current fourth graders, and current seventh graders will not have to leave their schools.

But – parents will have to provide transportation for their kids to school.

School officials say they're dealing with a major growth issue in schools, especially at the middle school level, which is causing overcrowding in some classrooms.

The plan, which officials say would have relocated thousands of students to different schools in the county, was first introduced as a way to fight that overcrowding.

It has sparked outrage among many parents, who say they moved to specific areas in the county so their children could attend the school parents wanted..

Monday night, board members listened to parents and students from Marvin Ridge, Monroe, Park wood, Sun Valley, and Wedding ton.

The hearing, which was held at Park wood High School, was the last of two public hearing the Board of Education held to hear the public talk about options to address overcrowding at Union County Schools. 

"I feel really stressed" ten-year-old Ash ton Williams told WBTV as she listened to parents, students, business leaders talk about Union County's controversial redistricting proposal during Monday night's hearing.

Ash ton is a fifth grader at Wesley Chapel and is supposed to move on to Wedding ton. She says the proposed redistricting would send her to Sun Valley.

"Redistricting is really bad. I'm going to miss all my friends because they're all redistricted around to different schools and it's a bad idea" she said.

Parent after parent also told the Board of Education why they thought redistricting was a bad idea.

"One of the reasons we're not sold is it doesn't solve the overcrowding issue. It just moves it" said one mother. "It moves overcrowding from newer schools to older schools that are not equipped to handle it."

"As a parent I'm primarily concerned about some things that are kind of intangible such as redistricting causing emotional stress to our adolescent children" said one father. "The disruption of academic continuity and student participation in clubs and sports."

Another mother told the board, "We need clear intent, cooperation, collaboration. Enough with the stress and strife. If your focus is truly on student success you will take your time and do what's right."

But there are parents who believe redistricting is the right answer to address overcrowding in some schools. They don't want school officials to spend money on mobile classrooms.

"With redistricting we're filling empty seats and eliminating these conditions" said a mother from Sun Valley, who said she was offended by comments some of the other parents allegedly made about their children being reassigned to Sun Valley.

Another Sun Valley parent added "nobody likes redistricting but you must not lose sight of the needs of the other students in the county while trying to please this segment of the population."

Some parents believe school officials have neglected older schools.

"Shame on you all if you spend one more dollar on the newer schools before addressing the urgent needs, and some of the wants of the older schools - especially when there is space in the schools to accommodate everyone."

Last Thursday, other Union County parents, students, and community members had their say at the first public hearings about the controversial reassignment. 

That hearing - focused only on four of nine clusters: Cuthbertson, Forest Hills, Piedmont, and Porter Ridge - was held at Monroe High School auditorium.

The MillBridge neighborhood will be allowed to stay in the Cuthbertson cluster providing a road is built.

School officials had two overflow rooms ready in the event of a large turnout.

The Board of Education allotted time for 50 speakers.

An individual had three minutes to convey his or her point. Someone speaking for a group had five minutes.

Several parents told members of the Board of Education that they felt the redistricting proposal was being rushed.

One mother said "if you really cared about this being for the children and the parents, and your county – perhaps you would have put some time into it."

 "When we elected you we trusted you to be good stewards of things we value most: our schools, our money, our community - above all else - our children" said another parent.

Parents have attended just about every board meeting regarding redistricting - staying on top of developments.

They've also had weekend protests.

School officials started to look at other options to relieve overcrowding - such as sending kids to school in shifts, year-round school, allowing students to remain at the same school until they graduate to either middle or high school. Another option on the table is mobile classrooms.

County Commissioners agreed to give the Board of Education $3M to buy mobile classrooms.

One of the parents asked board members "are you going to accept the money and stop destroying the county? Are you going to come up with a long term plan and stop the redistricting?"

A father said "my son is what I like to call a 3-repeater. It's not because he's dumb and had to repeat classes in school. It's because this is the 3rd time he's been redistricted."

Some students spoke at Thursday night's public hearing and told board members the proposal would disrupt their lives.

A High Choler, who is in the band and wants to study music in college, said "music and band is truly my passion. If I get redistricted to Piedmont. My mom says I'll have to quit the band. Piedmont is simply too far from the house for her to pick me up from after school rehearsal and other events."

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