County Commission To Hear Veritas, CMS Dispute
School districts and charter schools are often in competition for resources and students. A case in Charlotte shows that also extends to space. Veritas charter school wants to lease a building from CMS. The school signed a lease, but now CMS has found another use for it and wants to break it. Under state law, county commissioners have the final say. They’re scheduled to hear the case this week.
Veritas founder Katy Ridnouer long had her eye on the former Villa Heights elementary school building just northeast of uptown.
“It is perfect for our size. It has a gym, a commercial kitchen, cafeteria, and a track,” says Ridnouer.
A building like that is hard to find. But CMS was still using it for offices when Veritas began looking for a place to open the charter. Ridnouer signed a $240,000 lease with the Muslim American Society. But the connection to Islam kept students away. In a pinch the school ended up renting space in a church.
Then, Ridnouer heard Villa Heights was available. CMS had another tenant in mind, but Veritas leaders told district lawyers a state law was on the school’s side. It requires districts to rent available buildings to charters free of cost, since those schools don’t receive capital money.
“For a building we’d get rent-free, we’d just have to maintain the building, it was really hard to beat,” says Ridnouer.
The catch was CMS could terminate the lease, if the district found a use for the building. Two and a half months later before Veritas could even move in, that’s what happened. CMS wants to turn Villa Heights next year into a center to help Garinger students who have either dropped out or are at-risk of doing so.
The school board voted to terminate the lease at its meeting this month and fully reimburse Veritas for the $365,000 it made in improvements. Several school board members agreed with Eric Davis that the board’s primary concern is CMS students.
“As a board of education, it’s pretty clear to me who we’re being held accountable for for their academic performance,” said Davis.
Tom Tate was one of two board members to reluctantly vote against terminating the lease, as Veritas parents applauded.
“Applause doesn’t feel appropriate to me,” Tate told the parents. “It assumes there’s a simple decision to be made, that you all think there is and there isn’t. The applause is simply irritating to me. I love you all being here. I love your passion, but we’re trying to do something that’s serious for two different groups of people.”
Veritas still hopes to begin moving into the school next month. The charter has appealed CMS’s decision to county commissioners. The school can do so under the state law.
County commissioners are scheduled to hear the case tomorrow, but they could decide to delay the case until December 15, in the hopes that CMS and Veritas can come to an agreement.