By John Higdon
Sean Strain’s recent editorial in this newspaper left out many key considerations in an attempt to undermine those candidates that do not support HB 514.
To recap, the bill allows four towns, namely Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Huntersville to operate municipal charter schools.
Mr. Strain’s remarks blur the lines between public charter schools and municipal charter schools. HB 514 gives municipalities the right to own and operate their own charter schools, something previously reserved only for nonprofit corporations.
To be absolutely clear, I am not against public charter schools, I just do not believe Matthews should enter the school business.
As I commented prior to the bill’s endorsement by our board in a highly contested 4-3 vote last year, HB 514 is a bad idea for many reasons:
1. Just as I predicted, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has prioritized new school funding for those towns that did not endorse HB 514 because those municipalities have not indicated a desire to build their own autonomous schools.
2. By law, Matthews cannot incur debt to set up and run a municipal charter school. Let that sink in. Even though county and state funding follow the student, it would be impossible for the town to lease or build and maintain school infrastructure without a significant tax increase to pay for everything required up front. Cornelius recently came to this realization and has pulled back the town’s endorsement of HB 514. Do you favor getting taxed for CMS and municipal charter schools? How do other public charters make up for this shortfall? They highly encourage and in many cases mandate donations from parents. At one Lake Norman charter school, the amount is $2,400 per family. I suspect there is an expectation that the town would pick up any funding deficit. If not then only students of means could attend.
3. Students that would hypothetically leave CMS for a Matthews charter would be immediately replaced by CMS to relieve overcrowding elsewhere. The net result? No overcrowding relief at Matthews Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
4. Charters are not required to have buses, so all students would be driven to school resulting in more traffic.
5. Matthews children would be given placement priority at a municipal charter, leaving few if any seats for children from other communities. This means a Matthews’ charter school would be far less diversely populated than a comparable Charlotte-Mecklenburg school or even public charter school. Having our children attend diverse schools teaches them understanding during their most impressionable age. Fair criticism or not, but the establishment of municipal charter schools will paint the town in segregationist light. Is this the publicity we want for Matthews?
6. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the municipal charter concept has not been vetted by important stakeholders and especially those that live here. Few here had ever heard of HB 514 before it came up for a town board vote. Do Matthews residents want the town to own and operate schools? Comments at an April 28, 2018, Vision Statement Workshop at Matthews Town Hall were overwhelmingly against the idea. Although certainly not perfect, multiple surveys attest to parents’ general satisfaction with CMS.
HB 514 needs to be discussed openly and honestly with those with differing viewpoints so that all the facts are laid on the table. As of today, HB 514 has had absolutely zero benefit to our children and has greatly strained our relationship with the CMS board. CMS and the town should work as partners for the benefit of our children, not as adversaries.
John Higdon serves as mayor pro-tem on the Matthews Board of Commissioners. He is running for mayor in the Nov. 5 municipal election.