CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will put a lower priority on construction projects in Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius unless the towns vow not to create or operate any charter schools within the next 15 years.
The school board solidified its stance against town-run charter schools by passing The Municipal Concerns Act of 2018 during its Aug. 28 meeting.
Sean Strain, who represents Matthews and Mint Hill, was the only board member to oppose the act. Rhonda Cheek, who represents Huntersville and Cornelius, wasn’t at the meeting.
Strain said he didn’t understand how threatening to pull capital investment from the towns that participate in the new state legislation was in the best interest of children or the partnerships CMS has with those towns.
“I know for a fact this isn’t the way I go about building partnerships by, for example, threatening to remove them from any capital expenditure in the future, which is the way I read this,” Strain said.
The act directs the superintendent to prioritize future capital funding to projects within Charlotte, Pineville and Davidson, which are not legally able to create and operate their own municipal charter schools. This would not affect any of the bond projects already approved by voters in 2017, as well as repairs and maintenance at existing schools.
Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius would have to agree to a 15-year moratorium on enacting any section of State Law 2018-3, a N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley bill approved in June. This would have to come in the form of a resolution.
“We can not invest in a community if we don’t know what the school landscape will be,” board member Carol Sawyer said. “We will certainly invest in the communities if we are not put in a position in which we are essentially competing with them.”
School board member Margaret Marshall said taxpayers in those towns are going to want their children to attend those charter schools. Marshall also expressed concern that charter schools would open faster than district schools.
“The possibility does exist that we put significant capital dollars on a school and right next door or a quarter mile down the road, something else comes out of the ground,” Marshall said.
The act also creates a Municipal Education Advisory Committee that includes one member from the seven municipalities, as well as three school board members. The group would meet at least quarterly to discuss growth patterns, school bond initiatives, safety and coordination of police departments, among other topics.
The act calls for the superintendent to look into other issues brought up by town leaders and legislators, which includes identifying overcrowded schools in Matthews and Mint Hill, as well as CMS-owned property not identified for school construction.
CMS will also look at the feasibility of all Matthews residents attending high school at Butler; middle school at Crestdale; and elementary school at Matthews, Crown Point and Elizabeth Lane.
The district will duplicate this exercise with Mint Hill. It will determine the feasibility of all Mint Hill students attending high school at Rocky River; middle school at Mint Hill and Northeast; and elementary school at Bain.
The superintendent will provide a report on these items during the Oct. 30 school board meeting.
“We did not want to be knee-jerk in our reaction, but thoughtful and proactive,” school board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said. “This is an opportunity to create a level of partnership that we have not seen in our community.”
While CMS had identified about $2 billion in capital needs leading up to last year’s bond referendum, the school district doesn’t have the ability to levy taxes and needs to be creative in approaching construction with limited dollars, Ellis-Stewart said.