Education

County commissioners to hear CMS, Veritas dispute on Dec. 1

Veritas supporters held signs asking the Charlotte Mecklenburg school board to "Honor your Commitment" as founder Katy Ridnouer tried Nov. 10 to fight lease termination.
Veritas supporters held signs asking the Charlotte Mecklenburg school board to "Honor your Commitment" as founder Katy Ridnouer tried Nov. 10 to fight lease termination. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Mecklenburg County commissioners Dec. 1 will referee a legal dispute between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Veritas Community School during a special meeting that will closely resemble a civil trial.

Commissioners will hear testimony from the sparring school district and charter school over the former Villa Heights Elementary School building. The property had been leased to Veritas until last week when, despite signing the lease three months earlier, the CMS school board voted 7-2 to take back the building.

Veritas, a charter school that opened in August, planned to use the building for more than 100 students in kindergarten through third grade who are learning healthy eating, physical fitness and peaceful classroom techniques along with academics.

CMS says it wants the building as an alternative setting for Garinger High students who have fallen behind.

After the school board’s decision, Katy Ridnouer, a CMS parent and Veritas’ founder, turned to a state law that gives county commissioners the final say on these kinds of disputes. In an email last week, she asked the board to hear Veritas’ appeal during Tuesday’s meeting. She said “time is of the essence” because Veritas is renovating Villa Heights and planning to move in by Dec. 19.

County Attorney Marvin Bethune told Ridnouer that the Nov. 17 meeting agenda was already set and County Manager Dena Diorio declined to add the Veritas appeal.

Instead, Bethune worked to create “as orderly a process as possible” for Veritas and CMS to present their version of the facts.

That process will unfold Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. in the meeting chamber at the government center. The board announced the hearing Tuesday after meeting in closed session for over an hour.

It’s the first time commissioners in North Carolina have been asked to settle this kind of dispute, according to the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

The hearing will likely play out like a trial, with CMS and Veritas each getting a chance to make opening statements before presenting evidence. They’ll be able to call on witnesses and cross-examine them, according to hearing procedures provided to the Observer.

Want to go?

When: 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1

Where: Government Center Meeting Chamber, Room 247, 600 E. Fourth St.

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