A proposal to create a town-sponsored charter school campus in Matthews could introduce a new twist into Mecklenburg County’s booming school choice scene.
An education task force, created by Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor to consider alternatives to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, on Monday reviewed a plan from task force Chair Landon Dunn to create a campus that would be home to several charter schools.
“Think of it a like a business park, but it would be for charter schools,” said Dunn, a lawyer. “It’s a bold idea.”
The vision remains a long way from reality. If the task force endorses the approach, it would go before Matthews Town Council. The plan would require a bill from the General Assembly to allow the town additional control over schools using the town campus, and all new charter schools must win state approval.
Even if all of that falls into place, Dunn estimated it would take five years to get the schools open.
The Matthews plan highlights the challenges and uncertainty that are swirling as CMS studies possible boundary changes and prepares for a 2017 bond campaign.
Taylor launched the education task force about a year ago, when CMS was delving into student assignment and many worried that neighborhood schools would be sacrificed for diversity. He said his constituents wanted to explore the possibility of separating from the countywide district – an idea that has been much discussed in Mecklenburg’s northern and southern suburbs but was never brought forward as a concrete proposal.
“My druthers is to break CMS into three groups,” task force member Kress Query said Monday, adding that he doubts that is practical.
Splitting the district would require approval from the North Carolina General Assembly.
Last year the CMS board approved guiding principles for the student assignment review that said students would continue to be assigned to nearby schools, with magnets and other options to choose from. The board spent most of 2016 working on a new magnet lottery system, which was approved in November.
Taylor said at the time that the magnet plan seemed acceptable but that his town would “go on high alert” as the school board scrutinized school boundaries, a process that’s gearing up now. CMS is holding public engagement sessions around the county and expects to make decisions for 2018-19 in May.
“I think everything is in a state of flux until they come up with a plan,” said task force member Ray Eschert, who leads the influential Ballantyne Breakfast Club in the south suburbs. That group plans to meet with CMS leaders later this month.
Dunn said the plan for a town-sponsored charter campus would offer some of the benefits of CMS, such as language immersion and arts-themed schools, “and it’s all within a tighter community.” She proposed a plan in which the town would provide land, possibly in partnership with a developer, and invite existing charter schools and/or a national chain to lease buildings. The campus would include playgrounds, a cafeteria and other common space, she said, and ideally the town would get some control over the schools, with residents getting priority for seats.
She noted that across North Carolina charter enrollment is growing faster than enrollment in traditional public schools.
“We know that people are moving out of the public schools into the charter system. Why not make that available to the town of Matthews?” Dunn said.
No one from CMS attended Monday’s task force meeting. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham came to listen to the discussion.
Discuss the CMS plan
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is holding sessions for people to get an update and weigh in on criteria for possible boundary changes. All are from 7 to 8:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Tuesday, Feb. 7: South Mecklenburg High. Focus is on schools in the South Meck attendance zone.
Wednesday, Feb. 8: Independence High, 1967 Patriot Drive. Focus on schools in the Butler, Independence and Rocky River zones.
Thursday, Feb. 9: Harding High, 2001 Alleghany St. Focus on schools in the Harding, Olympic and West Meck zones.
Monday, Feb. 13: West Charlotte High, 2219 Senior Drive. Focus on Project LIFT schools.