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Education

City, Municipal Leaders Hold First Meeting To Collaborate On Student Needs

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Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE
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CMS board members pore over data presented at first MEAC meeting.

Charlotte school officials and representatives from the district’s municipalities met for the first time to discuss differences that have led to tension between the two sides.

They met under the umbrella of the Municipal Education Advisory Committee, or MEAC. The committee was formed as a way for municipal and city leaders to collaborate on solutions to issues such as overcrowded schools and the future of charters.

The first MEAC meeting was used mainly for data gathering. Reports were given on the spending of bond money, the amount of property taxes collected by the county from the various jurisdictions, and population and growth trends. Over the past year — as tensions between Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools officials and municipal leaders intensified over whether suburban schools were overcrowded and should resort to building their own charter schools — the need for accurate data was a point all sides agreed on.

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE
MEAC members Jeff Miler of Matthews, left, and Michael Miltich of Cornelius.

According to statistics presented by Rebecca Hefner of the city’s data and analytics office, by 2035 CMS’ enrollment will increase by nearly 71,000 students.

“In Cornelius for example, currently Cornelius is twice as dense as Huntersville," Hefner said. "Cornelius has a slower growth rate, whereas Huntersville will continue with a strong growth rate."

Hefner said Huntersville’s expected growth will be 11 percent by 2035, an addition of more than 8,100 students. Cornelius and Davidson have an expected growth rate of only about 700 students over that time frame.

Eighty percent of the total growth will occur in Charlotte. Last year, Huntersville had the highest percentage of school-age children. They make up more than 20 percent of its population — another reason municipal leaders are pushing for more schools.  Charlotte’s stands at 17.4 percent.

According to county tax officials, of property taxes collected, 76 percent came from Charlotte residents and 5 percent or less came from municipalities. In pushing for more new schools, municipal leaders say they are considering their own charters because they feel their tax dollars are not going to build the new schools they want in the suburbs. CMS officials say this is why the data they are requesting is needed — so they can make decisions based on facts and not speculation.

House Bill 514, the bill that gave four municipalities the green light to operate charter schools, was not discussed. School board member Ericka Ellis Stewart, who sits on the MEAC committee, said this first meeting was about getting new data and listening to different perspectives as they move forward.

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE
County and city officials presented data to MEAC members on population growth trends, tax collection and bond spending

“As we delve deeper in those conversations — particularly budget and funding — we’ll talk about the more than $50 million out of our operating budget that is going to charter schools and what impact that is having on the community and we will likely hear some talk about the impact of HB 514," Ellis-Stewart said. "But today was about information and creating a context for us to work together effectively."

Huntersville Mayor Pro Tem Melinda Bales called the meeting a success and said she is not sure the charter school issue will be hammered out by MEAC members.

“I don’t know if that’s a topic this committee will discuss anytime soon but in Huntersville, our education committee is still moving forward and as they do their work, they will bring recommendations for the board no later than April,” Bales said. “A lot of data needs to be dug into and a lot of people need to be heard from, that’s our expectations at this point.”

Matthews representative on the committee Jeff Miller said they are forming their own education committee as well, but said at this point they're "here to collaborate now and do what’s best for the children and not threaten each other."

MEAC chair Elyse Dashew said her goal for the committee is for members to find a way to collaborate effectively on the issues they face that are important to all CMS students.

“We have huge capital needs and the important outcome is for us to see how we can best address those needs,” Dashew said. “Equally important is this relationship building that we are working on that will be ongoing.”

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE
MEAC members meet for the first time in an effort to collaborate better on school needs

Better relations between city and municipal leaders is a committee goal, members say, along with meeting the district’s building needs and realizing budgetary limitations. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 15 in Cornelius, where school funding and building utilization will be discussed.