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CMS leadership will take shape at Tuesday’s school board meeting

CMS board 110922.png
CMS Facebook
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.

Crucial decisions about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership will take shape when the school board meets Tuesday.

Five new members will be sworn in at the start of the meeting. Immediately afterward they’ll join the four returning members in choosing a chair and vice chair. Whoever is tapped must steer their colleagues through a superintendent search, a student assignment review and a bond campaign in 2023.

Thelma Byers-Bailey, the current vice chair and the only incumbent who was reelected, said there’s been a lot of jockeying for the job, with various people saying they have the five votes to get elected.

“Now, all y’all can’t have five,” she said, laughing, last week. “The ring is getting pretty overcrowded with all the hats in it.”

The group must weigh the merits of experienced leadership against the message sent by an election where three incumbents were defeated and two opted not to run. Lenora Shipp, an at-large member who wasn’t on the ballot, puts it this way.

“The community has spoken! Five new board members, right? Out of six. Five. And I think that sent the message for change,” she said last week. Shipp, a retired educator, said she’d be willing to serve but also realizes she may have to step aside if all five newcomers agree that one of them should take the chair.

Elyse Dashew, who also was not on this year’s ballot, has chaired the board for the past three years and was vice chair for a year before that. She didn’t respond to queries about what might happen this week.

The new board faces another pressing task: Deciding who should occupy the superintendent’s office for about six months, until a permanent leader can be hired. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh signed a contract through the end of June, but announced the day after the election that he’s going back to Florida at the end of this month.

Hattabaugh and the board said he’d been talking to them about his early departure before going public. Melissa Easley, newly elected to represent the northern District 1, says the old board had already agreed on someone to do the job when Hattabaugh left, but decided to wait until the election was done and new members could be part of the decision.

“And we all said, well, we just want to slow down for a minute and figure this all out and talk to people,” Easley said.

The members haven’t been able to meet as a group to talk about options. State law allows public bodies to go into closed session to discuss personnel decisions, but that can’t happen until everyone is sworn in. The agenda says there could be a closed session at the end of the meeting. If the board were to agree on a candidate and a contract Tuesday, it could reconvene to vote in public session. Or the board could call a special meeting later this month.

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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.