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Mecklenburg Commissioners Vote 6-2 To Withhold Money From CMS

Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake voted in favor of withholding $56 million from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools until the district presents a detailed plan to close achievement gaps.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners on Wednesday stood by their plan to withhold $56 million from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools until the district releases a detailed plan on how to close achievement gaps among students.

During straw votes on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, commissioners voted 6-2 in favor of withholding the money.

George Dunlap, Pat Cotham, Leigh Altman, Vilma Leake, Mark Jerrell and Elaine Powell all voted in favor of keeping the money back. Susan Rodriguez-McDowell and Laura Meier voted no. Ella Scarborough didn’t attend.

During the vote, Dunlap, the board chair, said CMS’s strategic plan for closing achievement gaps between minority and white students isn’t good enough. He called it “dead on arrival.”

He and County Manager Dena Diorio met with CMS officials Tuesday. He said the school district isn’t willing to present a more detailed plan.

“And so they were firm from minute one that they were not going to change anything that they were doing and they were not going to entertain our requests that they produce this document,” Dunlap said.

The CMS 2024 strategic plan says it will make progress in a number of areas, such as having 75% of students in all racial and ethnic subgroups graduate by 2024. The plan also calls for improving college readiness of students in all demographic groups.

Altman said the district is already falling behind its goals.

“It appears to me that that plan is essentially a dead letter, in so far as the deadlines, the benchmarks and metrics have been missed,” Altman said.

Commissioner Vilma Leake said the county must intervene.

“Because the same children we are not educating today, you will be complaining about them being on DSS (Department of Social Services) and receiving aid from the county and the numbers are growing,” Leake said.

No school system in the nation has been able to make significant progress in closing achievement gaps for Black and Latino students, including CMS.

Commissioner Laura Meier opposed withholding the money, saying it will hurt schools with low-income students.

“Guess which schools will be affected the most?" Meier said. "The very schools that we are fighting for, because CMS uses our funds to hire extra resources for high-needs schools,”

Mecklenburg County Commissioners will take a final vote on the budget next month.

The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg said Wednesday during a news conference that it supports the Mecklenburg County Commissioners' plan to withhold the money.

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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.