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Letter shows internal strife between CMS board, ex-superintendent dates back to last year

A letter from the attorney for former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston complains of actions the CMS board had taken that he says undermined Winston. The letter to the general counsel for the board reveals that Winston was asked to leave before he was fired April 19 and reveals there were tensions dating back to at least late last year.

(The board's attorney responded Monday afternoon, and you can read both letters below.)

The letter from Winston's attorney, Glenn Brock, is dated March 30. It outlines two key points Brock says show the board wrongly interfered with administrative responsibilities that he says are assigned solely to the superintendent.

The first, Brock writes, is that the board told Winston to hold meetings with the district’s general counsel and chief compliance officer for one hour every two weeks. According to Brock’s letter, Winston was informed the board could reevaluated the frequency of the meeting near the end of March.

The second interference, Brock wrote, is when the board directed Winston to fire or reassign his chief of staff.

He quoted from the same Dec. 3 memo: “You need a different chief of staff with strong skill sets that are different from yours and that complement yours, specifically coming from school house experience and/or experience supporting the management of a large organization.”

Brock also wrote, “Tecently three board members met with Mr. Winston and suggested that he think about a 'mutual' parting of ways.”

Brock wrote this was after Winston tried to “accommodate what he thought was the desire of the chair to make an offer to resign so as to save the board the need to terminate him.”

Brock said if the board was ready for Winston to leave, they needed to exercise the termination clause in this contract, which called for him to get two years' salary, which the board approved when it fired him.

Neither Brock nor Winston could be reached for comment. Board members Sean Strain and Jennifer De La Jara declined comment. Ruby Jones was the only school board member could be reached. She mailed the letter to WFAE. Jones said she “wanted a wider knowledge of what occurred and some perspective of how underserving the process of firing superintendent Winston was.”

The board called an emergency meeting Monday to release the board’s response to Brock’s Dec. 3 letter.

"Although you referred to the general counsel and chief compliance officer as staff, we do not report to the superintendent," CMS board attorney André Mayes wrote in a letter to Brock released Monday afternoon. "The three of us, as direct reports to the board, are required to 'perform all duties ... vested by the board.” The superintendent’s contract states that he shall work collaboratively with the general counsel and my contract states that I shall work collaboratively with the superintendent."

This is a developing story. 

READ THE LETTER FROM EARNEST WINSTON'S ATTORNEY

READ THE RESPONSE FROM THE CMS BOARD

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.
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.