Jan. 27, 2011
… treat every child in the community like they were your own child.”
– Supt. Peter Gorman in Jan. 27, 2011 interview with qcitymetro.com
The quote above was taken from an interview by Glenn Burkins in QCityMetro. The original article has dropped off that website, but the text below was retrieved from a page at the mecked.org site (http://www.mecked.org/were-doing-bad-things-to-kids-now/)
Headline: We’re doing bad things to kids now
By Glenn Burkins
January 27, 2011
In a recent interview, CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman talked about the ongoing budget cuts, the district’s priorities, his decision-making process and the recent flap over Martin Luther King Day. As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools begins another round of painful budget cuts, Superintendent Peter Gorman finds himself again the subject of second-guessing and oftentimes criticism.
Since the 2007-2008 school year, the district has been forced to slash or redirect more than $180 million. Now, because of less funding from state and county government, Gorman is preparing to cut another $100 million.
Many of his recent cuts have fallen hard on schools that serve poor and minority students.
Qcitymetro.com recently met with Gorman to discuss CMS priorities, his decision-making process and the recent flap over Martin Luther King Day. An edited version of that interview is below.
Q. Tell me about this current round of cuts. Each round appears to get more difficult.
This has been terrible. What we are doing, we’re doing bad things to kids now. We’re depriving kids of opportunities now. And this is just awful. We are making choices that, if you looked at them lined up next to each other three years ago, I never thought we would have made. I never thought we would look at weighted student staffing or Bright Beginnings. Class size up by two more students. I can’t believe what we are looking at. I think part of our problem is that there is nothing easy left to do because we have just whacked at it for so many years now.
Q. As you make recommendations for cuts, what are your guiding principles?
What we try to do first is stay far away from the classroom. The second piece is follow though with what we are doing with our strategic plan, focus on teacher effectiveness, graduation rate. The third thing is that we’re trying to do some things about opportunities and access. For example, one of the things some people are mad about is magnet transportation. But if we cut magnet transportation (magnet schools won’t be an option for some families). Others ask about weighted student staffing and why we are still putting $40 million towards it, even after the cuts. It’s good for kids, but the other piece is access. Shelton Jefferies is the principal at West Charlotte High. He told me that if he didn’t have weighted student staffing, he would have to cut his AP classes so dramatically that he wouldn’t be able to offer that.
Q. The vote late last year to close some inner-city schools affected minorities and poor families disproportionately. So do these current cuts. Why go back to that well so quickly?
It’s a hard one to explain. We already cut or redirected $180 million in the last two years, and we never touched those (low-income) schools. We did other things. West Charlotte High has no academic classes with 35 kids in it. Myers Park has 173 academic class sections with 35. For years we’ve not touched those (low-income) areas, but now the cuts are so severe, we can’t help but touch those areas.
We are increasing class size by two across the board next year in 4th grade through 12th grade. My estimate is that next year, Myers Park High will have 200 class sections with 35 kids. My estimate is that West Charlotte will have 10 to 15 class sections with 35 or more.
We are still giving more resources to children who need it, but you get to a point where you run out of the ability to do some of these things. We’ve done cuts in other areas.
I think it’s absolutely appropriate that we spend $10,300 (per student) at Thomasboro Elementary. But at the same time, we spend about $4,200 (per student) at Ballantyne Elementary. We just can’t keep exempting some of the areas from cuts. We spend a larger part of our budget educating our children who live in poverty, African Americans and Hispanics. It’s the right thing to do, but now we have to cut those areas. We’ve run out of options.
Q. So was there similar acrimony and public outcry when the wealthier schools were being cut?
It was surprisingly quiet. When we were making moves that ended up with 173 classes at 35 or more at Myers Park, we didn’t talk about it a lot, and it flew under the radar. I don’t think we did that in a way to deceive anyone, but when we made these (latest) moves, they’ve not flown under the radar. That’s understandably because we’re talking about two different situations.
When you raise class size at a school that has a proficiency level that many people are satisfied with, you might not like it but you’re more likely to accept it. But when you raise class size at a school that has a proficiency level that you’re not pleased with, you say, “Is that right?”
There is a shared sacrifice, I just don’t know if we’ve done a good job at communicating that.
Q. Is there a place where you draw the line in terms of cuts?
I want to say yes, but I’ve got to do a balanced budget. If we have to draw a line, I’d say my line is that we always have to have weighted student staffing, and we’ll differentiate how we give resources.
I am convinced that Sally Smith and Billy Jones need different amounts of support because they have different experiences. The problem is, how do we give all children all of the things they need to be successful? I don’t think right now that the pie we’ve been given to cut up is big enough to have every child get to the level they need to be successful.
Q. Do you think individuals and families who have more are willing to see a bigger slice of that pie go to those who have less?
First of all, we have not done a good enough job explaining to folks that we differentiate resources and spend different amounts on children. I think a majority of this community does have a view that, “It’s not just about my child. It’s our community. It’s our children.” A majority does.
Q. Why do you believe that?
I believe that for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because I’ve seen it when I’m out in the community and what people do to support their schools. Another reason is, and maybe I’m a dreamer, but I believe in the goodness of man.
For a good number of years now we’ve spent different amounts educating other kids, and we’ve been able to do that without a call to equalize funding. I don’t know if that’s just the passive nature of people, but we haven’t had an outcry against it. I take that as a positive sign.
Q. How much do you worry about white flight?
When I first got here, one of our board members, Larry Gauvreau, talked about it all the time. And I’ll admit it crossed my mind when I was first here. But I haven’t spent a great deal of time worrying about it in recent times. If we do our job well, families will come with us. And we have been getting kids back from private schools. We have had kids return to the system. I think some board members might worry about it more because of the communities they represent.
Q. Some people in the community have said some pretty unflattering things about you. The NAACP president, for example. Does that bother you?
I can’t control how people think of me or view me. But I can control how I think about people and what I do. That’s what I focus on. We’re raising the bar for all kids and closing the achievement gap. We’re doing the job that needs to be done, but not fast enough, and we’ve got to double down on that.
I can’t control how he feels or how he perceives. I can just do my job focusing on kids, and that’s all I can do and try to prove to this community that I’m doing the best things.
Q. Does it bother you?
I am not immune to things. I’m not. I want to know why my nose is getting bigger in every Kevin Siers cartoon (in the Charlotte Observer). He’s making me heavier, and I’ve actually been losing weight over the past couple of months. (Laughs)
It doesn’t define who I am what someone else thinks of me. I just make sure that, when I get home at night, that my wife and daughter love me and I can look in the mirror when I shave in the morning and say, “I’m doing what’s best for the kids of CMS.” That’s what I use as my barometer. I can’t control what Kojo Nantambu thinks.
Q. You have been called all but a racist…
Oh, no, he called me a racist.
Q. Well, are you a racist?
No. I look out for all kids.
Q. The MLK holiday. Would you do anything different?
I would do a lot of things different. First thing is, I wish we hadn’t scheduled school on that day. Second piece is, I wish we had been more vocal about the calendar challenges we face.
I have personally gone to members of our (legislative) delegation from Mecklenburg County and asked for support on the calendar changes that would solve that and not gotten support from some individuals. That’s disconcerting.
Q. Do you think MLK Day should be sacrosanct, off the calendar as a snow makeup day?
Yeah, I do.
I believe Memorial Day should be. I believe President’s Day should be. Certain days when we are honoring certain individuals or events, I think we should make them sacrosanct. But we’ve got to put a structure in that allows us to do it.
Editor’s Note: The Charlotte Observer later reported that Gorman did ask the school board to reconsider opening schools on King Day.
Q. When you’re making decisions that affect the African American community, who’s whispering advice into your ear?
I talk to a variety of people. I talk with our staff. I talk with our elected officials, our board. I go out and I talk with community folks. And a piece I really count on, I talk with our principals. I go out and talk with folks who are having to make it work for the kids, because I’m holding them responsible for results.
Q. And what do you need from the African American community?
Same thing I want from every person, all folks: Support your child at school. Pay attention to what goes on with the school district. Vote in school board elections and make sure we are moving in the right direction. And treat every child in the community like they were your own child.