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CMS Officials Reach Out To Towns On Charter School Issue

Gwendolyn Glenn
CMS officials, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and other state, local and municipal officials attend meeting on school construction plans

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members held a breakfast meeting Wednesday with municipal officials to dispel what they call "misunderstandings" about their future plans for school construction in the townships.

Last month, board members passed a rule that would give more priority for new schools to townships that will not operate their own charter schools.

The meeting attracted a large crowd of CMS top school leaders and municipal, state and local officials. Both sides say they want to work together, but they still disagree on some points.

CMS officials’ message was one of collaboration with municipalities on future school construction needs.

School board Chair Mary McCray said some municipal leaders misinterpreted their plans on prioritizing new school buildings to mean that the board would not approve construction in the townships that were given the green light to operate charters. Those townships include Huntersville, Cornelius, Matthews and Mint Hill. McCray said the charter issue is just one factor in the rubric they use in determining where to build new schools.

“Nobody is going to come off of prioritization,” McCray said. “We’re just giving a little bit more point spread to those towns who were not part of this because they don’t have capability to levy taxes to build municipal charters. We’re just saying to those three towns, Charlotte, Pineville and Davidson that if there is data that shows that there is a need, we’re going to give you three extra points on prioritization list.

School board member Elyse Dashew chairs the new committee of school and municipal representatives that the board authorized so district and municipality officials can work closer together. Dashew said there is a way for the four municipalities approved to operate a charter to get around the extra point issue.

“So what we’re looking for is an assurance that you will hold off for 15 years, and then we’ll go ahead and look at you in the same light as a municipality that cannot build their own charters,” Dashew said. “Once we get that, you will receive the same prioritization ranking.”

CMS officials say it takes about that long to conceive and construct schools, but some municipal officials say 15 years is too long to wait considering growth in their areas.

Most of those approved for a charter school have said they have no concrete plans to operate one but this week, Cornelius and Huntersville officials voted to form commissions to look at the viability of charters and other options to relieve overcrowding.

Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said he hopes the committee the board formed will lessen the tension that has always existed between CMS and the municipalities. But he said he still has misgivings about new schools being built in the townships.   

"They say we want you at the table to understand where schools will be built but if you still have this capability to build this municipal charter, we won’t build a school there anytime soon," Anarella said. "So it's contradictory, but we will be at the table trying to work things out."

Cornelius Commissioner Denis Bildeau called the meeting a good start, but said they have a lot of work ahead to come to a consensus on how school construction funding should be spread around.

“There is a huge need in Charlotte and they need to be addressed,” Bildeau said. “There’s got to be a way to address the most critical needs but by the same token, we could be paying taxes for 30 years and not get to all the needs if we keep in the direction we’re going. We don’t necessarily want municipal charters but if there are no other options, we’d like to have that available rather than see a ramp up of trailers.

No one from Mint Hill attended the meeting today. Mayor Ted Biggers said they were not trying to shun CMS officials but had prior commitments. He said he will represent the town on the CMS committee and thinks the talks can be productive.

McCray said they hope to have a report from the superintendent’s office by the end of October on overcrowding and school needs, so they can have real data to share with town officials when the committee holds its first meeting.