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

New CMS Office Could Investigate The Superintendent

Superintendent Earnest Winston (left) poses with the school board after his August swearing-in. He stepped in after Clayton Wilcox was suspended, then resigned.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, which has ousted two superintendents in the last five years, is preparing to create an independent office that could investigate reports of misconduct against top officials.

The board will hold a public hearing Tuesday on a policy to create a new Office of Compliance and Transparency, with a vote expected in November.

The chief of that office would report directly to the board, like the superintendent and general counsel. The office would be charged with monitoring legal compliance, doing periodic audits and advising the board on compliance and transparency.

One specific duty is to "investigate any credible allegations of serious misconduct alleged against the Superintendent, General Counsel, or any Associate Superintendent."

CMS Policy Administrator Charles Jeter said costs haven't been calculated. "Certainly cost will be a significant factor and consideration in making decisions regarding the size and scope of the office should the Board move forward with this policy," he said.

In 2014, Superintendent Heath Morrison resigned after an investigation conducted by General Counsel George Battle III, which concluded that Morrison had mistreated employees and misled the board about the cost of a construction project. His report was intended to be confidential but was leaked to reporters.

In July of this year, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox was suspended, then resigned. The board gave no explanation and has not responded to questions about what type of investigation led to the suspension or who conducted it.

Three at-large seats on the nine-member board are up for election Nov. 5. Vice Chair Elyse Dashew and 12 challengers are vying for those seats, and several of those candidates have criticized the board for lack of transparency and poor communication.

The new position would become part of a fresh CMS  leadership team going into 2020. Earnest Winston, who was chief of staff to several superintendents, took over the superintendency in August. Battle, the general counsel, announced last week that he'll leave CMS at the end of the year to take a job with UNC Chapel Hill.

And Mary McCray, who has chaired the board for seven years, isn't running for re-election.

To speak at the hearing on the proposed policy, call 980-343-5139, option 4, by noon Tuesday or sign up at the meeting before it begins.

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.