NC lawmakers say don't rush to break up large school districts

More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School in Cary on Feb. 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre.
More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School in Cary on Feb. 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre.

State lawmakers who are looking into how to break up North Carolina's school districts agreed Wednesday that additional study is needed before legislation is considered to split up any school systems.

Leaders of a state legislative committee said Wednesday they didn't have enough time to address all the issues that would come up if any of North Carolina's 115 school districts were split into smaller ones. The committee adopted a report that says additional study is needed before the General Assembly creates a process for the public to try to break up large school districts.

"It did not seem that we could do a responsible procedure to break up a school system within the time frame we had," said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican and committee co-chairman.

The committee started meeting in February and has to present a final report to the legislature by May 1.

The report comes at a time when some suburban residents in the state's two largest school systems, Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have voiced support for splitting the districts up. These transplants are used to smaller municipal-based school systems, compared to the larger mostly county-based systems in North Carolina.

There were 174 school districts in North Carolina in 1957. But the number has shrunk over the past 60 years, in part because of efforts to save money and to integrate districts after the 1954 Brown v. board of Education decision by the U..S. Supreme Court that struck down racial segregation in schools.

Sen. Joyce Waddell, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said she was glad that the committee concluded its work without recommending how to break up school districts. Waddell, a former member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, said splitting up school districts would lead to school segregation and haves and have nots.

"We cannot go back to pre-Brown vs. the Board," Waddell said in an interview after the committee meeting. "We don't want separatism at all."

At the committee's meetings, it heard from speakers about how breaking up districts would likely lead to lawsuits and a variety of other challenges.

Last month, a pair of researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill told the committee that there's not much research on school district size, so there are concerns about using the "mixed bag" of data to make major decisions.

"There was not a clear connection between the size of the LEA (local education agency) and the performance of the schools," Brawley said. "The data was really all over the map."

The various presentations were reflected in the findings in the committee's report, including;

Existing studies don't document a relationship between school district size and student educational performance. But there's a strong inference that smaller school size contributes to improved student performance;

Several issues were identified that would arise if districts were divided into smaller ones;

Any division of districts should take care to ensure equality among the districts created.

Even though the report was unanimously approved by the committee, Kimberly Reynolds, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party, attacked it as "a racist plan to resegregate our schools."

"Our school districts are national models of successful racial integration and economic stability, just like our public education system is a source of pride for every North Carolinian," Reynolds said in a written statement. "Now, both are under attack from far-right ideologues in the General Assembly.

"Allowing rich, often white suburbs to secede will leave communities of color and low income North Carolinians worse off and will hurt future generations, our economy, and the entire state. Republicans should drop this plan immediately.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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