Education

Battle between CMS and Veritas ends with agreement on new home

Tryon Hills school, currently used by Bethlehem Head Start, will be the home of Veritas charter school for the next five years.
Tryon Hills school, currently used by Bethlehem Head Start, will be the home of Veritas charter school for the next five years. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Veritas Community School announced Thursday that they’ve reached an agreement that will serve struggling Garinger High students and the startup charter school.

CMS has agreed to give Veritas a five-year lease on Tryon Hills school, formerly used as an elementary school and a pre-kindergarten center. The accord seems to resolve a dispute that arose when CMS agreed to lease the vacant Villa Heights building to Veritas, then served the charter board with an eviction notice before students could move in.

The legal wrangling over Villa Heights, which began last summer, involved two sets of taxpayer-funded lawyers, a long and emotional school board meeting, an untested state law and a special meeting of Mecklenburg County commissioners.

The law, which gives county commissioners authority to settle lease disputes between school districts and charter boards, will remain untested for now. Veritas founder Katy Ridnouer withdrew her request for a trial-like hearing after CMS offered an alternate home for the school she opened in August.

The law provides no details about how county officials are expected to resolve disagreements. Commissioners’ Chairman Trevor Fuller voiced frustration last week after convening and preparing for a special meeting only to have both parties ask for a delay.

Charter schools get state, federal and local money to educate students, but unlike school districts they get no additional public money to build or lease facilities.

We should not be in the position of mediating disputes between lawyers.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller

Under pressure from Veritas attorneys, CMS agreed last summer to give the charter school a rent-free lease on the Villa Heights building. In November, the district exercised its option to reclaim the building this summer. CMS officials said they need it to create an academy for Garinger students who have fallen behind.

Veritas is located in temporary classrooms at Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church.

CMS is leasing Tryon Hills to Bethlehem Head Start, but said Bethlehem had talked about ending that arrangement because of high maintenance costs. “The parties intend in the coming weeks to flesh out an arrangement where the Bethlehem Head Start Program can remain at Tryon Hills and continue occupying a part of the Tryon Hills facility at a considerably reduced cost,” the CMS news release said.

“This is a win-win solution, and we hope to make it a win-win-win solution,” Ridnouer said in a news release. “While we loved the Villa Heights location, the Tryon Hills location is nearby and will serve our needs.”

Details of the Tryon Hills lease are still being worked out.

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

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