Is bigger better? NC committee studies dividing school districts

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A new committee has been formed to review whether North Carolina school systems should be divided. The committee will answer the question - is bigger better?

The largest school district in the state is Wake County with about 160,000 students. The second largest is Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS) with about 150,000 students.

Rep. Bill Brawley, the co-chair of the committee, says his constituents in Matthews/Mint Hill have been asking to break CMS up. They have not been pleased with the district and claim big school districts are failing students.

"The real problem in North Carolina is we're not educating our kids," Brawley said. "Four out of ten third graders can't read on grade level."

Brawley said the committee will learn how large school districts are organized and will review nationwide statistics. In May, the committee will make a recommendation to the General Assembly.

"A recommendation could be more study, or a recommendation could be getting into, 'this is a real snake pit and we don't need to bother with this right now,'" Brawley said.

A recommendation also could be to proceed with creating legislation that could break up school districts. Brawley says a large school district is considered having 10,000 students, and a really large school district is one with 25,000 students or more. Wake County and CMS may not be the only targets.

The committee will also answer the question - is smaller better?

"What we have to do is find a way to educate the kids," Brawley said.

Democrat Representative Rosa Gill is also on the committee. She has already made up her mind about breaking up school districts. The lawmaker thinks there is an agenda to break up school districts.

"We got a lot of needs out there," Representative Rosa Gill said. "And to divide the school system just for the purpose of quote segregating schools, in my opinion, is not a good investment."

Gill thinks this study has to do with race and she fears a breakup would pit wealthy neighborhoods against poorer neighborhoods.

"The only reason why you would segregate schools," Gill said. "Is to give some an advantage over the other and not have to justify why or how."

Brawley says this study has nothing to do with re-segregation but it's more about doing right by every child.

Some CMS leaders are not concerned about this study.  Mary McCray is school board chairperson at CMS.  She says as an educator is good to study things but she wants it to be open.

"Hopefully they will include some school board members," McCray said. "And get some of our input or have us come before the committee and talk about what we face."

McCray believes just because CMS is the second largest school district in the state doesn't mean it is not getting the job done. McCray admits the district is not making it happen for all CMS students but says the district is trying.

"Rome wasn't built in a day," McCray said. "And neither will our district because of the challenging times we are in."
McCray believes splitting up won't be an easy task and it may be expensive. But Brawley says now is the time for leaders to act if they want different academic results - no matter the cost.

"If you are spending money on education and you're not getting an educated student is that a good investment," Brawley said. "If you spend more and you get educated students - isn't that a better investment."

The committee will meet Wednesday, February 21 at 9 a.m. in Raleigh.

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