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Matthews Is Back In Line For CMS School Construction Money

Matthews Mayor John Higdon (left) and Mayor Pro Tem Renee Garner speak to the CMS board after Tuesday's vote.

For the past two years, tension between the town of Matthews and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has threatened to upend the way new schools are built in Mecklenburg County. Those tensions were laid to rest this week with back-to-back votes in Matthews and Charlotte.

"I’m just so encouraged at the journey that we’ve been on with our colleagues in Matthews and I hope that that is kind of a model for what we can do across the community," school board Chair Elyse Dashew said. 

Her board voted unanimously to put Matthews back in good standing for future construction projects. Moments later, Matthews Mayor John Higdon told the school board that his town commissioners "came to the Captiain Obvious consensus opinion that the children in Matthews and all of our towns are better served when our boards work together as partners and not as adversaries."

The clash dates back to a CMS student assignment review, which brought complaints from Matthews town officials. Then-state Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews introduced House Bill 514 to give his constituents an alternative to CMS: Town charter schools, which would be funded with municipal taxes and offer priority to students who live inside town limits.

By the time that bill passed in 2018 it included three other Mecklenburg suburbs as well: Huntersville, Cornelius and Mint Hill.

Supporters said it empowered small towns and offered families options. Critics said it reinforced segregation by letting richer, whiter suburbs create their own schools without actually leaving the countywide district.

In response to HB 514, the CMS school board issued an ultimatum to the four towns: Renounce any plans to open municipal charter schools or go to the back of the line for future school construction money.

Higdon was elected mayor in November after campaigning against the idea of a town charter school. On Monday his board unanimously approved a resolution saying "the town of Matthews has no intention of pursuing the development of a municipal charter school system any time in the foreseeable future."

Huntersville continues to explore the possibility of launching a municipal charter school. In Mint Hill, Brad Simmons, who was elected mayor in November, says he plans to meet with CMS officials and figure out his town’s next steps.