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CMS assignment changes will cost $12.6 million plus busing

Proposed student assignment changes for 2018 will cost $12.6 million over the next two years, Superintendent Ann Clark reported this week.

And that’s not a complete tab, because additional busing costs are still unknown. The proposal, which is scheduled for a vote on May 24, uses a combination of boundary changes and new magnet programs to offer schools close to home with additional options for those who want them.

Busing large groups of students to nearby schools is relatively cost effective. Sending buses across wider zones to collect small clusters of magnet students can be much more expensive. CMS has yet to release the transportation cost of the first phase of the ongoing student assignment review, which will add about 1,500 magnet students next year.

On Tuesday, Clark outlined costs for the second phase of that plan, which would take effect in 2018-19. She said the proposed changes shouldn’t put CMS in a financial bind.

The biggest expense, a $5.4 million upgrade of the closed Wilson Middle School, will be covered by proceeds from selling the district’s old Education Center in uptown Charlotte and the Ada Jenkins facility in Davidson, Clark said. Wilson, which would reopen in 2018 with middle school students now assigned to Westerly Hills and Reid Park preK-8 schools, is also slated for more than $900,000 in other improvements to prepare for a computer science magnet program.

Wilson Middle School

Wilson Middle School, which closed in 2011 and was briefly leased to a charter school, is slated for a $5.4 million upgrade.

David T. Foster, III

Villa Heights, which closed as a magnet elementary school in 2011, is slated for almost $2.3 million in improvements to reopen in 2018 as a 200-student neighborhood elementary school. CMS briefly leased Villa Heights to a charter school, reimbursed the operator for some building improvements, then quickly reclaimed the building and turned it into a high school academy.

Villa Heights

Villa Heights, which was briefly leased to a charter school and then converted to a CMS high school academy, is slated for $2.3 million in improvements to return to its 2010 status as an elementary school.

David T. Foster III

Board member Ruby Jones blasted that plan Tuesday, noting that CMS was spending the money to create a new school that’s expected to have a poverty level of about 85 percent. “That’s just a nonstarter,” she said, noting that the board had agreed to reduce concentrations of poverty as part of the student assignment review that has been going on for two years.

Instead of breaking up poverty, Jones said, Clark’s proposals “merely shuffle poor students among poor schools.”

Other expenses associated with Clark’s plan include buying technology and equipment and training teachers for new academic themes, as well as buying furniture and upgrading buildings that will see change. Most of that spending, about $6.4 million, will come in 2017-18 as the district prepares for the changes. Clark said that money “can be covered within the existing budget,” which has not yet been approved.

CMS has asked Mecklenburg County commissioners for $440.5 million, a $27 million increase over the current year. Commissioners will vote on that request next month. The state budget, which provides about 60 percent of the district’s money, is still working its way through the General Assembly.

In 2018-19, Clark’s plan would require about $786,000 for additional magnet materials and training. That’s also when transportation costs from the latest round of changes would kick in.

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