MATTHEWS – Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey was blindsided when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools school board passed the Municipal Concerns Act of 2018 at its Aug. 28 meeting.
The act instructs CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox to prioritize future capital funding to Charlotte, Davidson and Pineville.
Earlier this year, the N.C. General Assembly enacted State Law 2018-3, which is better known as HB 514, that allows Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius to operate their own charter schools. The four communities have long had concerns with CMS regarding student placement, overcrowding and the construction of new schools in their communities.
Both Matthews and Mint Hill have stated they have no immediate plans to begin building charter schools and supported HB 514 as another public option if their concerns with CMS were not addressed.
That is why local leaders were caught off guard by the school board’s action. Bailey found out about the board’s decision when he received a breaking news text alert from a local news organization on his cell phone.
“That was about an hour, hour and a half into the meeting,”
Bailey said. “I was a bit shocked and a little bit dismayed is the best way to put it. I was kind of stunned behind the reason why they did that.”
Bailey said he expects the town’s board of commissioners to meet and discuss how to respond to the act in the near future. Bailey also said he was going to reach out to CMS officials.
“All of us are asking the question, ‘What the heck is going on?’ and why would the CMS board go in this direction?” Bailey said. “What I would like to do is reach out to (CMS board chairwomen) Mary McCray and have a one-on-one conversation with her to try and understand the logic behind this.”
What made the board’s decision even more surprising is the fact that Bailey said in his State of the Town address on June 13 that Matthews had no immediate plans to open charter schools and that the town felt a need to work with CMS. He said if the town decided charter schools were best for Matthews that “significant” community input and a complete financial study would be done to see if it would be economically feasible to operate charter schools.
Since HB 514 became law and before the board’s action on Aug. 28, Bailey said he had conversations with several school board members and Wilcox at different events and the recently passed act was never mentioned.
“I thought that the we could at least talk as two boards, but evidently that might not be a possibility at this point,” Bailey said. “I never got any indication (from CMS) that something like this was going to occur. I will work together with the Matthews board, the mayors of Huntersville, Cornelius and Mint Hill, our county commission and our state legislators to determine the next course of action.”
N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley, of Matthews, introduced HB 514. Brawley said Aug. 30 that he did not know in advance the school board was planning to take action on putting a lower priority on construction projects in the four towns. Brawley also said he has not seen a hard copy of the act.
“I heard about it when the general public did,” Brawley said.
Brawley said he introduced HB 514 after hearing concerns from his constituents in Matthews and Mint Hill who expressed frustration that they were not being properly served by CMS.
“I ran a bill that my towns asked me to run,” Brawley said. “The school board objected to it and I told them, ‘work it out with the towns.’ This isn’t about me, this is about the towns and you work it out with the towns where the citizens are happy and we are in good position.”
Even if Matthews and Mint Hill begin going down the long road of building charter schools, not every student in those two towns would probably opt to enroll in one. Brawley said the school district would be punishing students in Matthews and Mint Hill that opt to stay in CMS schools.
“Here is where we are, and I am going to be blunt,” Brawley said. “I’m really disappointed that CMS seems to believe that punishing the children of the parents who want to stay in CMS is the way they should address the concerns of the people that are looking for a real educational alternative. At the end day, I represent the parents and children in Matthews and Mint Hill. That is who I am fighting for and that is who I am listening to on this. Those towns are trying to respond to the parents in those towns that want a reasonable opportunity to improve their child’s education. This is all about the kids.”
N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte currently represents all four towns in the General Assembly and he called on CMS to rescind the act.
“After speaking with many elected officials on this matter, I believe this is perhaps the least thought through and most harmful decision I have seen made by a CMS Board of Education in my 26 years of involvement with CMS,” Tarte said. “The CMS school board made an egregious mistake in passing the new capital funding policy. When a group of elected officials such as this board makes a carte blanche decision to exclude the needs of entire geographic groups of students, we should all be taken aback by such callous disservice to our parents and students. We must all ask how we are going to ensure every student in Mecklenburg County will have an outstanding educational experience.”
In a statement following the vote, Wilcox said individuals and communities must work together to solve problems and “do what is best for our kids.”
“As elected leaders in our Mecklenburg community continue frank discussions at the policy level to address school overcrowding, assignment plans and allocating community resources, CMS district leadership, staff, principals and teachers remain focused on what matters most – every student in our schools,” Wilcox said in the statement. Their achievements, their futures, will stay at the center of our efforts today and every day.”