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Mecklenburg OKs Budget That Withholds Some CMS Money; County Cuts Ties With Cardinal Innovations

Nick de la Canal

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said last night it would initiate a dispute resolution process with Mecklenburg County after commissioners approved a roughly $2 billion budget that, for now, withholds $56 million from the school system.

Under that state statute, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board and county commissioners will meet within seven days. If no resolution is reached, then the two sides will begin mediation.

The county says CMS can receive the $56 million money once it presents a detailed plan for how it will close achievement gaps between Black and Hispanic students and white and Asian students. CMS has said it’s already presented the county with its strategic plan and that withholding the money will “indisputably harm students, teachers and schools.”

The district also said the county’s move to set aside the funds would “eliminate” the school system’s ability to give pay raises to all teachers.

All nine school board members issued statements condemning the county’s vote.

“There has never been an instance of less money improving student performance, here in North Carolina or anywhere else,” said at-large CMS board member Jennifer De La Jara.

County commissioners approved the budget in a 7-2 vote. Commissioners Laura Meier and Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, who represent south Charlotte, tried to remove the plan to withhold the money from CMS from the budget, but their effort failed.

County Manager Dena Diorio has 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.

The $56 million represents 11% of CMS’ allocation from the county.

Separately, commissioners voted to cut ties with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. The company coordinates mental health care for the county’s Medicaid recipients. Diorio says Cardinal has provided poor care and the county is looking to partner with Alliance Health.

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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.