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The CMS debate: What they say vs. what they mean

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg is in the middle of a school-funding firestorm, as a result of possible major cuts. All of a sudden, everyone seems to be talking about the schools, which presents two problems. First, you can't hear very much when everyone is talking at once. Second, and more to the point, many of the comments and arguments we're hearing are weighed down by some pretty heavy subtext. In other words, some folks seem to be saying one thing while meaning, or revealing, another. In order to help, we offer this handy guide to some recent arguments, and what they really mean.

1.) What They Say: The Bright Beginnings preschool program should be first on the chopping block because it's not mandated by the government.

What They Mean: 1. I am willing to ignore the solid evidence that Bright Beginnings really does help underprivileged kids learn more easily and quickly once they enter kindergarten. 2. I am unaware that some of the things benefiting my own children are not mandated either, such as high school sports, which I certainly would not want to cut.

2.) What They Say: Cut out funding for high school sports.

What They Mean: 1. My kids don't play, so why should I care? Or, 2. My kids' high school teams always suck, so what's the point?

3.) What They Say: A tax increase to help pay for schools would only slow down the economy even more, no matter how small the amount.

What They Mean: I'm not willing to pay even a small amount more in taxes in order to ensure that one of the pillars of society, the public school system, doesn't deteriorate and push us even farther behind other countries' educational systems.

4.) What They Say: "Targeted" or "temporary" taxes will not work, since they will just be renewed and will be spent on whatever the state or county wants to spend the money on.

What They Mean: Despite the fact that some taxes have been successfully targeted, like the hotel tax which pays for some stuff Uptown, I'd rather stick to my knee-jerk reaction to any mention of taxes rather than admit that targeting taxes, and making their temporary nature ironclad, is quite feasible.

5.) What They Say: Do away with magnet schools; they're just for snobs and show-offs, anyhow.

What They Mean: 1. I don't understand what magnet schools are. 2. If any of my children show serious talent for a specific academic area that's covered by a local magnet, I wouldn't care if there isn't a CMS school that would suit their needs.

6.) What They Say: If all kids went to the school nearest their homes, we wouldn't need all those expensive school buses.

What They Mean: 1. It doesn't matter to me if other people's kids have to walk a mile or more in the rain to their "neighborhood" school since I can drive my own children. 2. I am living in an idealized small town inside my head.

7.) What They Say: My kids are finished with school, so why should I pay for other folks' kids to be educated?

What They Mean: I am unconscionably selfish and have no sense of community responsibility. Really — that's what it means.

8.) What They Say: My kids go to private school, so why should I have to pay for public schools, even if they are in trouble?

What They Mean: I'm so shortsighted, I would probably say that if a friend's house is on fire, I shouldn't have to pay taxes to fund a fire department, since my house is paid for and in good shape.

9.) What They Say: Why can't they just go back to teaching the "three R" brand of subject matter like when I was in school, and forget all this fancy arts and computers and sports and stuff?

What They Mean: Why am I still alive here in the 21st century? Why can't we jump into a time machine and go back about 100 years?

10.) What They Say: Why is CMS laying off teachers and recruiting new teachers at the same time?

What They Mean: I don't keep up with the news enough to know that CMS is specifically recruiting new, hard-to-find, effective teachers of math, science and exceptional children, and that existing teachers will not lose their jobs because of the new recruits. (The new positions, according to CMS, will be paid for by the federal Race to the Top program.)

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