Matthews commissioners have approved a new education committee, making it the third town to do so as the debate about municipal charter schools continues.
The General Assembly gave a green light to four towns in Mecklenburg County to operate their own charters. Not long afterwards, Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members passed a rule that gives higher priority for new schools to towns that agree not to operate charters.
Elected officials in Cornelius, Huntersville and now Matthews say their new education committees will study various school options, including charters. Mint Hill is the only municipality that has not gone that route. It was also given the authority to operate a charter school.
Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey downplayed the charter debate being the reason behind their newly approved nine-member education committee, but admits there is a connection.
“They are an advisory committee and will address education issues as they come up and will be there for parents and students who need assistance,” Bailey said. “It’s formed to some extent in response to the committee that CMS formed.”
The debate between CMS and municipalities over the charter school issue has been heated at times. To ease tensions, CMS officials formed a committee consisting of representatives from the school district and towns, so they can work together in finding solutions to overcrowded schools and charters.
Matthews was the last town to name a representative to that joint committee. Bailey said although he continues to be disappointed by some positions CMS officials are taking on the issues of charters and school construction, he thinks they can continue to work together.
“I think we can work with them in a positive manner, but we need to ensure that people understand that we’re elected by the people of Matthews to do Matthews business and not Charlotte’s." Bailey said. "We will move forward to ensure that students here have the best education that they can."
Municipal leaders have argued that their schools are overcrowded and that more new schools are needed. CMS officials point out that the towns were not left out of bond projects, and that other district schools are much more crowded and run down.
CMS board member Elyse Dashew chairs the joint education committee. She said she does not see the newly-formed municipal committees as a threat to the process.
“As long as these committees are doing work that is fact-based and including the voices of constituents who have real connections to traditional public schools and CMS, I think the more attention paid, the more study being done, the better,” Dashew said.
CMS’s committee will not have an official meeting with town representatives until after school board members receive a report on charters and overcrowding from the superintendent at the end of the month.
The new advisory education committees in Cornelius and Huntersville have meetings scheduled for November. Residents in Matthews still have to apply for a seat on that town’s education committee.