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CMS School Board leaders, lawmakers, come out against town charter bill

The chair and the vice chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) System’s Board of Education joined Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, for a press conference yesterday where they denounced House Bill 514, which would allow two towns served by CMS to run their own charter schools.

CMS Board Chair Mary T. McCray and Vice Chair Rhonda Cheek were joined by Jackson and two other CMS legislators for the presentation of a report from longtime General Assembly staffer Gerry Cohen, looking at the bill which Jackson said has significant issues.

“I don’t think proponents of this bill have leveled with people in Matthews about the fiscal realities,” he said. 

House Bill 514 would permit two towns, Matthews and Mint Hill, to run their own charter schools. The towns’ governing bodies would act as the board of directors and town residents would receive preference for enrollment — a contrast to the normal procedure for charter school enrollment.

The possibility presented by House Bill 514 has also attracted interest from two additional CMS towns: Huntersville and Cornelius.

The bill is a local bill that passed the House, but not the Senate, last year and is eligible for consideration this session. 

Cohen’s report says that creating a charter school district run by these towns is going to be problematic. In his seven findings, he lays out some of the fiscal issues. He said that under general statute, towns are not allowed to incur debt, which means the towns will have to foot the bill for the schools up front and by themselves. Jackson pointed out that Matthews has a budget of $23 million and that a new elementary school would cost $30 million. He said it is not plausible for the town to raise taxes high enough to afford that.

Furthermore, capital expenses cannot be paid for by state funds, so the towns would have to find that funding elsewhere, as well. The report also argues that teachers in these charter schools would not be eligible for the typical state retirement given teachers and, in fact, may not be eligible for any kind of state-funded retirement at all.

McKay said that the financial challenges mean that the towns would either have to fundraise or increase taxes.

Rep. John Autry, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill is just an attempt by Republicans to further undermine and dismantle public education.

 “This just seems like another in a long line of bad ideas, especially when it comes to public education,” he said.

Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, said that she, Autry and Jackson cannot support the bill.

“We must consider the students and their needs and we cannot put an undue burden on those municipalities,” she said.

When asked whether or not the bill would actually get any consideration this session, Jackson said it was a possibility.

“I think there have been some remarks and some activity over the past few weeks that have given some indication that it is not dead,” he said.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.