Education

CMS plays hardball with suburbs: Vote could change assignments, construction plans

CMS Board of Education passes “Municipal Concerns Act of 2018” 7 to 1

CMS board members voted to block school construction in Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Huntersville. Members also directed the Superintendent to explore reassigning students in their town.
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CMS board members voted to block school construction in Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Huntersville. Members also directed the Superintendent to explore reassigning students in their town.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board passed an act Tuesday that could dramatically change school construction and boundaries in suburban towns, a move members said was a response to the passage of a controversial town charter school bill this summer.

The charter school bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews, authorizes all North Carolina towns to spend tax money for public education and allows four Mecklenburg towns to create charter schools that provide priority seating for town residents.

The CMS “Municipal Concerns Act of 2018,” posted for the public less than an hour before Tuesday’s meeting began, would effectively block future school construction in Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius, four towns that were authorized to create municipal charter bills. Those towns could get back onto the CMS construction priority list by approving a binding 15-year moratorium on launching town charter schools.

Construction projects already approved by school bond votes would not be affected.

The act also directs the superintendent to consider reassigning students in Huntersville, Matthews and Mint Hill to schools located within town boundaries, and to identify unused land owned by CMS and approach municipalities about building schools there.

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For instance, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox must report on the feasibility of assigning all Matthews residents to Butler High, which would pull hundreds of students out of nearby Providence High. It’s a move board leaders hinted at in April during tense negotiations with the Matthews town board.

It’s the kind of move that would have ripple effects on schools across Mecklenburg County. Wilcox is required to present a report on these options at the board’s Oct 30 meeting.

Starting Aug. 27, K-2 students will attend Dilworth/Sedgefield and grades 3-5 will attend Dilworth/Latta.

Regardless of final decisions on boundaries and construction, Tuesday’s vote is likely to inflame tensions between the Democrat-dominated school board and the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, which approved the town charter bill.

Supporters on the CMS board said the action is a reasonable response to legislation that reshaped public education in North Carolina. CMS doesn’t have enough money to build schools that could end up under-filled if towns decide to build competing charter schools, member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said.

“We can’t invest in a community if we don’t know what the school landscape will be,” agreed board member Carol Sawyer.

Ellis-Stewart and Elyse Dashew said the act was a thoughtful response to a changing landscape. It includes creating an advisory board that would include representatives of Charlotte and all six suburban towns.

“To me, this represents an opportunity to have buy-in across the county for public education,” Ellis-Stewart said. “It’s an opportunity to do joint problem solving.”

The vote was 7-1. Sean Strain, the only Republican present, cast the “no” vote, saying he had only seen the motion Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s not the type of partnership that I think we see to create,” Strain said.

Vice Chair Rhonda Cheek, the only other Republican on the board, was absent with a migraine, but she tweeted that she would have voted no.

Chairman Mary McCray said all members got at least seven emails inviting them to discuss the proposal, presumably in small groups that aren’t subject to North Carolina’s open meetings law.

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Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms
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