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Charlotte Mayor Lyles Won't Take A Side In CMS-County Funding Battle

City of Charlotte
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles declined to say whether she supports Mecklenburg County's decision to withhold $56 million from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles declined to take sides Thursday in the escalating fight between Mecklenburg County Commissioners and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board over the county’s decision to withhold $56 million from the school system.

The city of Charlotte doesn’t fund the school system. But most CMS students are from the city, and the vast majority of its low-income students are from Charlotte.

The county is keeping the $56 million until CMS presents a detailed plan to close achievement gaps between white and Asian students and Black and Hispanic students.

“You know, I think the process that the state put in place for mediation or arbitration - however you define it - is because people do have disagreements and this is a way to have a collaborative discussion and make a difference and I believe the process needs to play out,” Lyles said while touring a vaccine clinic off Freedom Drive with Gov. Roy Cooper.

Lyles is referring to mediation between the county and CMS that is scheduled to start Monday. CMS announced Tuesday it would seek mediation that is allowed under state law.

When Lyles was asked whether she thinks the county is doing the right thing, she said: “I think that public education is number one in our recruiting area in economic development and good-paying jobs. Everybody wants their kids to be successful. I just want the best urban school district in the country.”

Though the CMS Board is officially non-partisan, most members are registered Democrats. All nine members of the Mecklenburg Commission are Democrats. Two Democratic commissioners – Laura Meier and Susan Rodriguez-McDowell – voted against the county budget because it holds money back from CMS. Lyles is also a Democrat.

Cooper also declined to take sides in the dispute.

“I expect local government officials to work together,” Cooper said. “I believe they will work together at the end of the day. I think it just shows the great passion for education and how important it is for this area and our state’s future and I hope they can work something out.”

Cooper then shifted the focus to Republican legislators, saying he’s trying to get them to spend more on education.

Mecklenburg 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 by 2024, 75% of students in all racial and ethnic groups graduate.

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.

CMS officials have said they already have a strategic plan in place. And they have said the county is acting as an unofficial school board.

Mecklenburg Commissioners are concerned about the achievement gaps between white and minority students. But that problem is not unique to CMS.

Michael Casserly is executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban school districts. “I don’t know that any school district in the country has successfully, completely, and permanently closed the achievement gap,” he said to WFAE.

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