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CMS, Mecklenburg County End Money Dispute, With School District Getting Extra $11M

Mecklenburg County Commission Chair George Dunlap had wanted more transparency from CMS.
Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg County Commission Chair George Dunlap had wanted more transparency from CMS.

Updated 9:50 p.m.

Mecklenburg County commissioners voted 9-0 Wednesday night to approve a settlement with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools stemming from the county’s decision to temporarily withhold $56 million from the district.

In late May, commissioners voted to keep the money from CMS until the district provided detailed plans on improving student performance.

The county wanted a plan to improve 42 low-performing schools. It also wanted CMS to provide a plan to ensure that 75% of students in all racial and ethnic subgroups graduate by 2024.

The county also said that CMS must “limit the achievement gap disparity of college and career readiness to no more than 10% for each demographic subgroup.”

After two meetings in June in mediation, the two sides had a deal.

CMS agreed to provide some information and data but not the plans about college readiness and graduation the county originally demanded. And the county agreed to release the $56 million — but also give the school district another $11 million. And it agreed to give CMS $1 million to improve its website.

Commissioners and County Manager Dena Diorio did not give a detailed explanation as to why CMS got an additional $12 million.

Still, commissioners like Mark Jerrell said they were happy.

“We have to make sure no matter who you are and what ZIP code that you occupy that it’s a ZIP code of excellence, that it's a community of excellence,” he said.

CMS and Mecklenburg County could not agree on a joint statement to summarize their agreement.

The county then only released a summary of its interpretation of what happened. CMS did the same but also released the actual signed agreement.

The county’s summary differed some from what both sides signed.

The county news release noted that CMS has agreed to “place an increased focus” on a "student outcomes focused governance model." Diorio said that governance model calls for having clearly defined goals to improve student performance and to evaluate the superintendent based on those goals.

But the actual signed agreement only requires CMS to have one meeting with the county to discuss the governance model, and there was no mention of how Superintendent Earnest Winston would be evaluated.

Commissioner Susan Rodriguez McDowell voted against withholding the money in May. At Wednesday’s meeting, she said the dispute was a mistake.

“The past few months have been a terrible distraction for our community,” she said. “Many relations have been strained, our reputation has been stained — not by our desire to help students but by our governance and process.”

There were other parts to the agreement.

CMS currently has school improvement plans under the website of each school. The district has agreed to make them available under one place on its website. It also gave the county an updated policy to address having more Black students suspended than white students.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
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.