News: Charlotte Exclusives

Civil War at CMS

The Ed Center's hostility toward its teachers is exposed

“So disappointing.” “A joke.” “Bleep.”

Those are the reviews of Charlotte-Mecklenburg School superintendent James Pughsley’s testimony in a Raleigh courtroom last week, and not from critics outside CMS. Pughsley’s low marks come from CMS’ own teachers.

Anyone who caught even a few minutes from the appearance of Pughsley and his hand-picked subordinates before Judge Howard Manning Jr. saw the gameplan: Blame the teachers. This at least exposed CMS’ standard operational procedure for all to see, but still explains little and solves even less.

Imagine for a second that Pughsley were a top executive at a private company, perhaps on a conference call with market analysts. Almost three years into his tenure, what might be the problem with some low performing parts of his operation?

“It is the salesmen. They do not do what we tell them to do,” CEO Pughsley might say. Well, if that is true, then go get a new sales force.

“Can’t. Tried that, no one worth a hoot will work for us.” Oh. So there is nothing you can do to make things better?

“Not a thing.” Wouldn’t that pretty much be the end of CEO Pughsley’s stint at the top?

But this is not really a joking matter, not with teachers in Mecklenburg convinced that they have few allies above the grade of principal in the system. CMS teachers talk to their peers in surrounding counties and know that the Ed Center’s hostility toward them is not the natural order of things. They know that teachers in Lincoln or Union County are treated with greater respect and not constantly second-guessed or “daily berated.”

Frankly, Judge Manning simply beat on Pughsley to produce better results the same way CMS administrators beat on teachers. Manning is in a box because his working Leandro formula is that more spending per pupil should produce better results. CMS’ poor, yet expensive, performance at several high schools blows up that formula, forcing Manning to conclude that it must be the CMS administration that is lacking. Yet Pughsley simply ducked and pointed further down the chain of command for the source of the trouble.

And with all due respect to Judge Manning, CMS is not, in fact, thinking “outside the box.” If CMS were truly thinking out of the box Pughsley and crew would not have tromped back home from Raleigh and promptly demanded a $90 million budget hike for CMS. That idea is so far inside the box as to be unreachable. Can CMS find any problems that cannot be solved by more money? Seems doubtful.

Here’s a radical and truly outside-the-box idea: Put principals, teachers, and interested parents in charge of their schools rather than buck-passing administrators. CMS can do this or watch be done for them. The deconsolidation movement that continues to percolate along in North Mecklenburg despite its supposed impossibility is one such approach. Another is an increase in the number of charter school alternatives for dissatisfied students, parents, and, yes, teachers eager to escape stubborn CMS dogma.

State Senator Eddie Goodall has recently introduced legislation that would lift the cap on charter schools in North Carolina. Goodall notes that many charter schools are turning away students and that they offer a real alternative to entrenched bureaucracies that refuse to accept any responsibility for their actions.

Instead the bureaucrats fire on their own quite heedless of anyone or anything in the crossfire. Such is the state of CMS today.