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School busing: Rhonda Lennon tells it like it is


By Dave Vieser. Will your child be guaranteed a seat in a nearby public school? Rhonda Lennon, CMS board member, says yes, and she aims to keep it that way, despite discussion to the contrary on the Charlotte Mecklenburg  Schools Board of Education. The Cornelius resident has been a member of the board since 2009, and is known for speaking out.

Indeed, she spoke candidly during a question-and-answer session at the Cornelius Today-Business Today Newsmakers Breakfast at The Peninsula Club March 24.

“Since when did it become the school system’s responsibility to solve poverty?”

– Rhonda Lennon

She was the lone dissenter at a CMS board meeting in February that saw the board approve establishing broad new goals for student assignment—the politically correct way of saying busing—7-1.

The board’s new goals include providing choice, reducing concentrations of poverty, easing overcrowding and protecting successful schools. Noble as they may be, some goals, without context, may be divisive in a district that includes poor of all colors and broad stretches of distant suburbia.

“Since when did it become the school system’s responsibility to solve poverty?” said Lennon, 54, one of the region’s most influential elected officials. She comes to the school board with the sensibilities of a hard-working single parent, a businesswoman and an activist. Her clout is recognized by her peers as she was just named to head up CMS board interviews in their search for a new superintdent.

One of only two Republicans on the school board, she said fixing generational poverty “will take a village, if I may quote Hillary Clinton: a combined effort of civic, church, community and government leaders working together.”

As a city, Charlotte is not known for its collective ability to provide upward mobility across the lower income levels.

The notion of busing, however, throws a wrench in real estate and economic development, according to at least one notable planning consultant in Mecklenburg County.

The Cornelius Town Board has taken note as well as Huntersville and Davidson leaers. In Cornelius a resolution stating that the town believes that every student should be guaranteed an opportunity to attend a home school within proximity to where he or she lives was approved unanimously in March. “I have lived through the busing era that our county experienced in the past and it simply does not work,” said Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam.

However Lennon does not support exploratory efforts by other towns, such as Matthews, to break away from CMS and form their own school district. “We looked at this a few years back and what it would mean is a 400 to 500 percent property tax increase. I doubt their taxpayers will go for that.”

Lennon does think there will be some reassignment of students when all is said and done. More than likely, she said, the challenge will be around adjusting boundaries for new schools.

“One move I suspect we’ll see is the reassignment of students living in Antiquity from JV Washam to Cornelius Elementary. Other than that, nothing much.”

She also revealed that she’s not in favor of a CMS $805 million bond issue. “I just don’t believe we should be talking about capital improvements until we know where we’re going with school assignments. Furthermore, from what I’ve seen, there’s not enough in the proposed bond issue for our area up in the northern part of the county.”

Members of the business community are behind Lennon as well. Jim Engel, CEO of Aquesta Bank, who attended the breakfast, has five children in CMS or who have graduated from CMS. “I feel that busing will only accelerate the demise of the CMS system as more parents choose private schools or a short move to Iredell County to avoid an ill advised CMS social engineering program,” he said.

Lennon has high praise for the Lake Norman Chamber and its efforts to bring business leaders into schools, through the Lake Norman Education Collaborative. “I believe one of the great equalizers is having an engaged parent in each child’s life. That’s vital.”

The Newsmakers Breakfast was sponsored by Aquesta Bank, Helen Adams Realty, Master Title Agency, Davidson Wealth Management, Allen Tate Realtor Dixie Dean, and Donna Moffett Accountants and Consultants.