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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

CMS, Legislators Consider Referendum On Charter School Bill

Gwendolyn Glenn
CMS Legislative Breakfast

Legislation that would allow Matthews and Mint Hill to create charter schools dominated discussions Thursday between school officials and state lawmakers. The bill, HB 514, still needs the approval of the senate. During the breakfast meeting, the only Republican legislator in attendance offered a possible alternative to the legislation.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
CMS legislative liaison Charles Jeter tells legislators that taxes could increase by 47 percent in Matthews to pay for charter school.

Republican state Senator Jeff Tarte recommended that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials let the voters of Matthews and Mint Hill decide the issue in a referendum. Tarte, a north Mecklenburg County representative, said he’s heard officials and lawmakers on both sides of the issue say they have the support of Matthews and Mint Hill residents - which he finds confusing.

“The question is, how do we actually find out what the real answer is? That is a compelling component of whatever we do,” Tarte said. “What does the town want? What do the residents want? What do the parents want, and more importantly, what do the students want? Maybe the easiest way to find that out is to put it to a vote of the people and let them decide.”

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox (left), Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte (center) and CMS board Chair Mary McCray (right) discuss HB 514 at legislative breakfast

CMS board Chair Mary McCray said district officials urged Matthews officials to hold town hall meetings on the bill, but were rebuffed. Town commissioners, who said a charter would allow more Matthews students to attend school closer to home, instead voted 4-3 to endorse the legislation. Matthews officials said if HB 514 passes, they would not necessarily apply for a charter school and would seek public input before doing so. They also see it as leverage to keep their issues on the district’s radar.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
CMS board Chair Mary McCray (left) and CMS CFO Sheilah Shirley

The Town of Matthews is predominately white and CMS officials said HB 514 will make schools more segregated. They said the town’s students would also miss out on the varied magnet, arts and athletics programs offered by CMS.

Under the legislation, the towns would be allowed to use property taxes to build and operate a charter. Charles Jeter, the district’s legislative liaison, told legislators that would mean a tax increase for residents that - at the extreme end of the spectrum - could cost a lot.

“They would have to increase their taxes by 47 percent to serve only about 10 percent of their students,” Jeter said, referring to property taxes.

Jeter said the bill would allow the towns to bring in a for-profit partner for funding, something current law prohibits. For-profit organizations can only manage a charter school.

Senator Tarte said HB 514 is currently assigned to the education committee. He said he won’t bring up letting voters decide the bill’s fate in a referendum unless the committee puts it on the General Assembly’s May short session agenda.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Mecklenburg Dist. 102 state Rep. Becky Carney (l), CMS board member Rhonda Lennon (center) and CMS board member Elyse Dashew

“The interesting thing is that I have not heard one peep about it from leadership of whether it will be on the agenda. There will be little potentially controversial items brought up in the session,” Tarte said. “Our intent is - and primary responsibility is - to ensure that the budget is balanced, that we have the revenues, that the expenses are in line and go home.”

CMS officials said in the meantime, they will hold a town hall meeting on the legislation in Matthews next week so they can hear from residents.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.