MATTHEWS – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox had a prickly exchange with Matthews Commissioner Kress Query regarding the safety of mobile classrooms at Elizabeth Lane Elementary School.
Query sought a commitment from Wilcox during the July 8 town board meeting to install cameras at the mobile units with video screens that would allow teachers to see who is outside.
Wilcox explained the school already has camera systems with a view of every door. Teachers also have access to video feeds that they can view before releasing children into main passage areas.
Query told Wilcox the last time they talked about this, the cameras showed a line of trailers and that teachers are able to access it on their computers if they want to.
“As a commissioner,” Query started, “I have asked for this for three years–”
“As a superintendent,” Wilcox interjected, “I have said we are not going to do it that way, commissioner, but we are going to provide safety and security to all of the kids.”
Query countered his idea would be an added benefit that wouldn’t take anything away from CMS.
“If the Town of Matthews wants to purchase cameras for every classroom, pay for them to put in as a part of our system, we can certainly allow them to be installed,” Wilcox said. “But quite frankly, I think it would be a waste of your resources.”
Query reiterated that he wants teachers to be able to see who is outside before they open the door to the classroom. “The teachers already have that access but if you want it redundant, sir, we’ll work on it,” Wilcox said.
Query didn’t like the idea of teachers only having the option of looking at the video feeds from their computer, while Wilcox doesn’t like the idea of a video monitor prominently on the wall distracting children.
Query countered the only distractions would be when children naturally go in and out of the mobile classroom.
“I want you to think about that before we come to vote,” Query said. “We’re beating around the bush about which is better. That’s something that our chief and your chief at one time said would be an asset and you denied it last time.”
“I think what we have is a solution that works for our kids,” Wilcox replied. “I think what you’re asking for is something that is redundant and quite frankly something that even your chief, our principal and our chief have said we have handled already. But again, I’ll defer to the wisdom of the commissioner and your colleagues on the board.”
Mayor Paul Bailey asked Wilcox if he’d be willing to meet with the police chief and commissioners so they could better understand the security system in place.
“I believe a number in the community have done just that, but we’ll do it again,” Wilcox replied.
CMS has been coming to town meetings annually since 2016 to discuss mobile classrooms at Elizabeth Lane.
The school’s original rezoning in 1995 had space allotted for mobile classrooms. CMS sought to extend the boundary in 2001 to fit more units. Matthews agreed but added a sunset provision requiring them to be removed by July 2002.
The issue resurfaced in 2016 after town staff realized CMS still had mobile classrooms outside the original boundary. Town leaders have tried to use the extension of the sunset provision as leverage to get CMS to come up with a long-range plan to reduce mobile units and build more brick-and-mortar structures in Matthews.
Leaders got CMS to agree last year to a queuing study to prevent drop-off and pick-up of students to spill over into town roadways.
This year, CMS is asking for a two-year extension to the sunset provision. After meeting with Wilcox, Interim Planning Director Jay Camp told commissioners that a three- or four-year extension would be appropriate to allow time for the construction and opening of a new Lansdowne Elementary School.
“I was concerned that doing student reassignment and trying to deal with this situation simultaneously would not be a real benefit for our citizens,” Bailey said. “It seems like it would be better to go ahead and do the student reassignment in ’21 and then come back and revisit in ’22 once we understand what the area looks like and the demographics.”
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the sunset provision at their Aug. 5 meeting. They may be more likely to agree to extend the sunset provision a few years if CMS complies with recommendations from the queuing study.
The study, conducted by Design Resource Group, recommends the following:
• In the afternoons, once the queue in Lot B (staff lot) reaches Elizabeth Lane, parents enter Lot A (bus lot) to begin stacking as they currently do in the morning peak. Once dismissal begins, the vehicles queued in Lot A can begin moving to Lot B for student pick-up.
• An off-duty officer direct traffic at each lot access location for 30 minutes in the mornings and afternoons.
“This queuing plan will cause us some distress but not anything we can’t get over,” Wilcox told commissioners. “We absolutely will do our very best to make it work.”