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Dueling legal letters bring insight into the end of Winston's time as CMS superintendent

CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston speaks at a news conference Friday.
Sarah Delia
Then-CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston speaks at a news conference.

This is a tale of two letters. The first is from attorney Glenn Brock, who represents former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston, who was fired by the district Board of Education on April 19. This letter is dated March 30 and outlines two key points Brock says show the school board wrongly interfered with administrative responsibilities that he says are assigned solely to the superintendent.

The first example is that Winston was told how often and how long to meet with the district’s general counsel and chief compliance officer. The second is that he must terminate or reassign his chief of staff. Brock cited a Dec. 3 memo from the board that he says proves these two points.

Another part of the letter was Brock’s position that Winston was asked to leave before he was fired.

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

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

Neither Brock nor Winston could be reached for comment.

This letter from Brock was released to WFAE by board member Ruby Jones, a strong supporter of Winston. It triggered an emergency CMS board meeting Monday afternoon that was held virtually.

The point of the meeting, board Chair Elyse Dashew said, was to vote to release the second letter in this story — the response to Winston’s claims.

"Because the March 30 letter incorrectly states that the board acted improperly, the board finds it necessary to release the letter from the board's general counsel dated April 4, 2022, from Mr. Winston’s personnel file to correct the inaccurate statements and assumptions in the March 30 letter."

"Fifty-two years I’ve been in the education business; this has been one of the low points."
CMS board member Ruby Jones

Each member of the board had 60 seconds to speak on the matter. The first member to talk was Jones . She made no qualms about leaking it; she said she did share the letter with Winston’s permission, with the intention of showing the public how she thought his firing was undeserved.

"Fifty-two years I’ve been in the education business; this has been one of the low points," Jones said.

At the end of 60 seconds, Dashew cut off Jones, eventually having to utilize the mute button.

Before the vote to release the board’s response letter, Dashew offered her own thoughts.

"I will just say that this going back and forth with personnel files serves absolutely nobody, and if it wasn’t for the board having to correct the record, we would not be here today," Dashew said. "So, I am disappointed, but here we are."

In an 8-1 vote, the board voted to release the response to Brock’s letter. The lone dissenting vote came from Jones.

"I am disappointed, but here we are."
CMS board Chair Elyse Dashew

The April 4 response letter is fairly straightforward, written by one of the two people the board directed Winston to meet with — CMS board general counsel André Mayes. It goes into detail on how the board acted within its authority.

Mayes said that the chief of staff’s contract, like all executive contracts, can only be terminated by the board .

The one thing the two letters have in common is an admission that talks of Winston’s departure were in the works before April. And it’s clear from Monday’s emergency board meeting that members still have strong — and differing — feelings about how Winston’s firing played out.

The letter from Earnest Winston's attorney

The letter from the school board's attorney

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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.