Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Letter to Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners about the old Villa Heights Elementary School building

Dear Dumont Clarke,

I’m a homeowner in a neighborhood 2.5 miles from the old Villa Heights Elementary School and 2.5 miles from Garinger High School. I’ve paid property taxes supporting CMS, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County since 1986. I prefer Villa Heights remaining in CMS control as a short-term spot for a special academy connected with Garinger High, with a long-term goal of returning it to being a neighborhood elementary school. I do not favor another charter school at that location.

My concerns are these:
  • I'm not convinced that charter schools have strong enough state oversight of their financing and performance, and therefore I'm not interested in my long-term tax investment in the building being diverted to private lenders or organizations investing in charter schools.
  • I'm not convinced that another charter school in the area will serve all students, including the large population of ESL students stuffed into overcrowded schools elsewhere in CMS.
  • I'm concerned about precedent being set that will force small, neighborhood schools to be turned over to charter organizations. That includes the school in my neighborhood, Merry Oaks, which has a large ESL population.
  • I'm concerned about Veritas' move away from its original planned location on Shamrock Drive, a location that would have had the potential to serve more diverse students in neighborhoods further out on the Eastside. I'd like to know more about why the organization moved away from that location.
  • I'm concerned that Veritas is an organization run by people with their own children invested in south Charlotte schools, not one that grew organically out of local neighborhood parents.
  • I’m concerned that some comments from Veritas supporters indicate a mindset that would appear aimed at siphoning off the children of gentrifying parts of central Charlotte while not supporting existing students at existing schools. Excerpting from an earlier letter I wrote to school board members: Comments from some Veritas supporters about the LIFT plan for Garinger are troubling. One example: "However, the program doesn't need to operate in a facility that is nestled within a neighborhood that is gentrifying. This will negatively impact property values.” As a longtime neighbor of Garinger, I know its students have been stereotyped and falsely blamed for trouble in nearby neighborhoods. I also know the school is working hard to improve its reputation and results, and I'm proud to have donated books to one classroom in the past through Donors Choose. Characterizing students who need the LIFT program as being a danger to a "gentrifying" neighborhood and young children perhaps indicates that Veritas supporters have a lack of understanding about a unique part of Charlotte, grappling with historical segregation, rising rents and property values, and also pockets of lack of opportunity.

At minimum, I'd like for the county commission to put a pause on any decision for one year - Veritas is at 100 students, I've read, rather than the 200 students that it estimated in its charter application to the state. Another year of discussion and community involvement, bringing in all nearby neighborhoods affected by the move and not just Villa Heights, would be more appropriate.

At maximum, I'd like for the county commission to support CMS plans for a Garinger learning center at the school short term, and then explore with CMS ways to return the school to a neighborhood elementary.

Thanks for your time.
Andria Krewson,
Merry Oaks resident

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