A letter of Opinion from Jim Puckett, County Commissioner
Published in the Charlotte Post.
Anyone unhappy with the current state of public education needs to know voting for the bond package is tantamount to enabling the dysfunction to continue.
In a similar vein if you are defaulting to the opinion of elected leadership remember the easiest vote any politician will ever make is to support school bonds. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Chamber will laud you, media will praise your progressiveness and inclusivity, and both ends of the political swamp will praise your selflessness in reaching across the aisle in the name of education and spending other people’s money.
Liberals will join conservatives to claim fiscal responsibility saying bonds don’t raise taxes (but they don’t tell you they might). Lost among the glitz, glamour and kumbaya of building schools is the reality that buildings don’t teach children. But doing something, even if it is wasteful and mismanaged eases the guilt of failing the most at risk, for those familiar with the term, a classic example of “bread and circuses.”
There are real needs in our schools and I and others stand ready to make immediate investments where immediate needs reside while we develop a reality based plan with clear cut objectives. CMS has allowed valuable assets to rot and fall into disrepair yet seek to replace them with no change in the method of maintaining them. They blur reality using an ill-conceived rubric that scores half empty schools as full. Most sad of all is the idea of spending/wasting nearly $150 million in magnet schools to allow parents to “escape” from failing schools with no plan on how to fix those failures and no plan for the kids whose disengaged parents leave them on the sinking ships.
This bond denies new capacity to high growth communities for a decade in what I fear is a clear sign of future paired schools and controlled choice as the method to handle the unavoidable overcrowding as a result. And once committed the nearly billion dollars and the hundreds of millions wasted will relegate any real reforms to second place.
For over two decades we have tried very new fad to come down the pike pouring billions into forced and voluntary bussing, controlled choice, midpoint, K-8, magnet, paired, high tech, low tech, voc tech schools yet the most vulnerable continue to get lost in the shuffle. While many parents are placated with shiny and new, kids still can’t read, and the board of education still can’t articulate a long-term assignment plan that offers stability and a chance to focus on core challenges. Perhaps the reason we are at the bottom in upward mobility is because mobility is all we focus on when it comes to education. We continue to find new ways to move kids around without really figuring out how to teach them where they are.
So let the BOE know YOU are paying attention by getting THEIR attention the only way they will notice, at the ballot box. When they finally decide on a long term assignment plan that the community can bank on, when they get the teachers with the needed talent into the places where it is needed, when they have a maintenance program that will keep your investment from rotting out from under them, when they build schools where people live not where they wish they would live, when they seriously deal with failing schools rather than try to redistribute failing kids Then you will open your pockets and fund those plans.
Or you can keep handing over the money and kidding yourselves into believing something will change. As both a politician and a businessman I know this to be fact: Once you hand over the money your leverage is gone. I beg you not to join those willing to do the easy thing. Say no and then demand we do the right thing.
Jim Puckett is a Mecklenburg County commissioner.