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

Tension Between CMS And Town Leaders Has Cooled, Not Vanished

Superintendent Earnest Winston (right) greets advisory committee members (left-right) Huntersville Commissioner Nick Walsh, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan Rodgiruez-McDowell and Matthews Commissioner Jeff Miller.

Last year four suburban towns and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were locked in a ferocious clash. Today it’s more like a wary truce. 

When the district's Municipal Education Advisory Committee met to talk about school safety Thursday morning, it was almost hard to recall the drama of 2018.

That’s when Republican legislators passed a bill allowing four towns – Matthews, Huntersville, Cornelius and Mint Hill -- to create their own charter schools. Then the school board fired back with a resolution threatening to punish those towns in future construction plans.

It was tense.

Town officials have spent the past year looking at options and alternatives. Sometimes they've worked together, through the CMS advisory panel. Some have also convened their own education advisory boards.

If there’s one lesson, it’s that this is slow, tough work.

A Cornelius education committee reported back this week that dramatic moves like splitting from CMS or creating town charters don’t seem practical. That doesn't mean the issue is closed, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Miltich said before Thursday's meeting.

It just means there are no answers. "It will be in the lap of the (town commissioners) board to study that report and decide what we’re going to do," he said.

Meanwhile, Miltich said he'd like to see the CMS board rescind its threat to push the four towns to the bottom of the priority list for school construction.

“It would be a great show of unity if CMS were to rescind their Municipal Concerns Act, which got us to this position anyway," he said.

The town of Matthews has its own panel looking at education options, but town Commissioner Jeff Miller says he doesn’t see municipal charter schools getting traction. Miller called the legislature's town charter bill "a good negotiating tool," but added that "we don’t see that in the near future."

Education advisory board members meet Nico, CMS' new gun-sniffing dog. He had just found an unloaded gun planted in an empty seat.

On Thursday the CMS advisory board had an amicable discussion of CMS safety measures. The most excitement came when the district's gun- and drug-sniffing dogs snuffled through the meeting chamber to demonstrate their skills finding contraband hidden in empty seats.

But plenty of unresolved concerns remain. Miltich says even if Cornelius doesn’t have answers, CMS needs to be worried about what he called an "exodus from public education."

This year’s enrollment numbers aren’t in, but for the past several years charter school enrollment has grown while most North Carolina school districts, including CMS, have leveled off or shrunk slightly.

At the advisory panel's next meeting, the topic will be how CMS decides where to build schools, said school board Vice Chair Elyse Dashew.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.