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County Chair To CMS: 'If I Throw A Rock And I Don’t Hit You, Some More Are Coming'

Mecklenburg Commission chair George Dunlap (upper left) criticized CMS during a virtual forum Sunday. County manager Dena Diorio (bottom) has proposed withholding $56 million from the school district until it produced a detailed plan to close racial achievement gaps.
Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Mecklenburg County Commission Chair George Dunlap, upper left, criticized CMS during a virtual forum Sunday. County Manager Dena Diorio, bottom, has proposed withholding $56 million from the school district until it produces a detailed plan to close racial achievement gaps.

The feud between Mecklenburg County officials and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools intensified Sunday during a forum hosted by the local Black Political Caucus, when Commission Chair George Dunlap questioned the ability of Superintendent Earnest Winston and said he would continue to criticize the district.

County Manager Dena Diorio has proposed withholding $56 million from CMS until the district provides a detailed plan about closing achievement gaps between white and minority students by 2024. That’s a little more than 10% of the money CMS receives from the county.

The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg hosted the forum so both sides could discuss the budget impasse.

School board member Thelma Byers-Bailey opened the discussion by reading from a prepared statement. She said the district is “disappointed” the county is considering withholding the $56 million. She said that if the county doesn’t restore the money, CMS will “pursue the avenues available for us to obtain our sufficient funding.”

Dunlap then said CMS “dissed” the group by not answering questions. And he showed no signs of backing down in the fight over the money.

“I encourage CMS to take us to court because I’m sure that’s what they’re talking about,” Dunlap said in reference to Byers-Bailey’s statement. “Because what they’ll find is, No. 1, they will use all of those dollars that they say they don’t have to educate children to pay for the lawsuit.”

Dunlap also questioned Winston's credentials in an unusually personal attack. He said Winston lacked experience, saying he had been a reporter at the Charlotte Observer until 2004 before being hired as a teacher.

“And he worked his way around,” Dunlap said. “He drove for (former superintendent) Peter Gorman, he became the chief of staff for the former superintendent. And when nobody else would come to CMS, they made him superintendent.”

Winston was named superintendent in August 2019.

When contacted by WFAE Sunday, a CMS spokesperson said Byers-Bailey’s statement would be the district's only comment about the controversy.

Dunlap said he’s not finished.

“What I say, I will say publicly,” he said at the end of the forum. “And one thing you need to know about me: If I throw a rock and I don’t hit you, some more are coming.”

In response to Dunlap's statements, CMS Board chair Elyse Dashew said on Monday that he engaged in “character assassination."

Dashew said board members are “appalled” by Dunlap’s remarks. and that “this kind of personal vindictiveness has no place in the public discussion…”

Commissioners must still approve the idea of withholding the money. While several support the plan, including Vilma Leake and Mark Jerrell, Susan Rodriguez-McDowell is against it.

Diorio has said she’s trying to hold CMS accountable. She also wants a detailed plan from the district about closing achievement gaps.

She said CMS must present a plan to improve the performance of 42 low-performing schools in the district. Other requirements include making sure that 75% of students in all racial and ethnic subgroups graduate by 2024.

Diorio said CMS must also “limit the achievement gap disparity of college and career readiness to no more than 10% for each demographic subgroup by 2024.”

The metrics to determine college readiness include performance on end-of-course tests, as well as Advanced Placement tests, among other metrics.

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Updated: May 17, 2021 at 4:10 PM EDT
This story was updated to include a response from the chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.
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.