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CMS Board Members Vow To Defeat Charter School Bill

Gwendolyn Glenn
CMS board members express opposition to legislation that would allow Matthews and Mint Hill to create charter schools

Several members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board vowed to do whatever they can to defeat any legislation that would allow officials in the town of Matthews to create a charter school. House Bill 514 would do just that. School board members say the bill will lead to higher taxes in Matthews and increased segregation in CMS.

One by one, CMS board members gave statements on their displeasure over the Matthews Town Commission’s 4-3 vote to endorse House Bill 514. Board member Thelma Byers-Bailey says she feels the concerns they brought up to Matthews officials about the legislation before the vote fell on deaf ears.

“I’m sorry that they’ve chosen the path they have chosen, but because of the vote they have taken, we now have to be aggressively for what is best for Charlotte, for CMS and all the students we serve. I intend to participate in that aggressively and do whatever I can to help defeat 514,” Byers-Bailer said.

The legislation, which still needs a Senate vote, would not only allow the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to create and operate their own charters but it would give preference to students in those areas. It would also authorize the towns to use local property taxes to support the schools.

School board chair Mary McCray says, over the past year, they met 16 times with Matthews officials about the legislation. She says they proposed additional academic offerings and placing an area superintendent and staff in the Matthews town hall, plus a joint task force to come up with solutions to the commissioners’ concerns and continued joint meetings.

“Matthews has offered not one thing in these compromise discussions,” McCray said. “They simply want all or nothing.”

McCray also criticized Matthews’ commissioners for not holding public meetings with residents before taking a vote. CMS board member Ruby Jones accused Matthews’ commissioners of negotiating in bad faith.

“There never has been a willingness to compromise in Matthews,” Jones said. “They have been about ensuring that they remain separate and that is at the crux of HB 514. That’s unfortunate for Matthews’ youths who must live in a diverse world.”

Jones was joined by some other board members who said HB 514 would lead to a more segregated school system. Matthews is 80 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. Elyse Dashew says the legislation comes at a time when a goal of the district’s new student assignment plan is to make schools more diverse.

HB 514 would make all of that worse,” Dashew said. “HB 514 goes against all that work and will deepen segregation in our schools. But we need to shine a light on segregation and what causes it and what it does to a community. We must not sweep it under a rug.”

CMS board member Sean Strain, who represents Matthews, stood out as the only board member who did not take a position either way on HB 514.

“I have great faith that the town of Matthews will not find it necessary to provide alternative educational opportunities, even if given the legal means to do so,” Strain said.

In the meantime, since Matthews officials are willing to spend local money for a charter school, some board members suggest that CMS rethink funding school buildings in the Matthews area.

Some Matthews officials say the legislation is an insurance policy to keep their concerns on CMS’s radar. That did not sit well with CMS board member Rhonda Cheek.

“I can reach in my back pocket if you ever do anything that pisses me off CMS and I’ll do something about that charter bill, CMS,” Cheek said. “When the back pocket threat of this charter bill is hanging out there I’d ask my colleagues for us to reconsider any money being spent in the Matthews town limit from our previous bonds to be put on hold and for us to reconsider spending any money down there.”

CMS board members say they are still willing to work with Matthews officials but their patience is wearing thin. Matthews will hold a town hall meeting on Saturday. CMS Chair Mary McCray says they may still hold their own public hearings to hear from residents.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.