The rift between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the town of Matthews widened dramatically Thursday after the Matthews mayor texted the school board chair saying "no thanks" to a CMS overture.
The school board had hoped the south suburb's governing board would withdraw its support for a bill allowing the town to create its own charter schools, instead working with CMS to craft solutions to school crowding and other worries.
CMS Board Chair Mary McCray, who had demanded a decision by the close of business Thursday, said she got a text from Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey saying the vote was 6-1 in favor of continuing support for House Bill 514. The bill was introduced last year by state Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican.
The school board immediately sent out an anti-HB 514 statement saying the bill could force students out of high-performing schools they currently attend, raise taxes and increase segregation.
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McCray elaborated: Because Matthews officials have talked about the importance of having Matthews students in Matthews schools, she said, the board could reassign hundreds of Matthews teens who attend Providence High in Charlotte to Butler High in Matthews.
"Sometimes you've got to be careful what you're asking for," McCray said. "Sometimes when you give people what they want there are unintended consequences."
The reassignment threat is unlikely to materialize anytime soon, if at all. McCray acknowledged that reassigning at least 1,000 Matthews students to Butler would create massive crowding at that school while depleting almost half of Providence's enrollment.
The school board recently concluded a two-year student assignment review — in fact, Matthews residents' fear of massive reassignment at that time is what led Brawley to introduce the municipal charter bill.
Matthews officials agree the boundaries approved last fall didn't disrupt their schools, and actually brought more town residents into schools located there. But several town commissioners have said that while they love their CMS schools, they want the charter bill kept alive to give them options and make sure the countywide school board doesn't neglect their interests.
Brawley has said repeatedly he's only pushing the charter bill because his constituents want it. It passed the House last year and could go to the Senate for a vote after the General Assembly convenes May 16.
In joint CMS/Matthews meetings held this month and last, school district leaders urged the town to tell Brawley they don't want authority to create town charter schools. Instead, they tried to persuade town leaders they'd best serve their constituents by working with CMS. On Tuesday night, the CMS board offered to create a special task force to work on Matthews concerns.
Bailey could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. But the 6-1 vote likely indicates that the four people who said they were undecided Tuesday flipped toward rejecting the CMS compromise and sticking with Brawley's bill. Mayor Pro Tem John Higdon was the only member who said Tuesday he supported the CMS plan.
While HB 514 applies only to Matthews and nearby Mint Hill, school board members have said it could set a precedent that could disrupt public education across North Carolina.
"This is the tipping point for something that could very much change the landscape of public education in the state," CMS board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said Tuesday.
The CMS statement on HB 514 continues to hold out a joint task force as a better alternative for Matthews, saying the two groups could work together to lobby for more support from the county and state.
McCray said the school board will hold a public discussion of HB 514 at its next meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"We're going to openly fight it," McCray said.