Education, News

Report: Matthews leaders say municipal charter bill gives them leverage

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, filed a controversial bill last year to clear municipal charters.

Leaders in the Charlotte suburb of Matthews say a pending municipal charter bill in the N.C. General Assembly gives them leverage in their ongoing bickering with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), according to a Charlotte Observer report Wednesday.

Policy Watch reported last month on the brewing battle over schools near North Carolina’s largest city, with leaders in Matthews at times pushing for assurances that the district won’t force busing to ameliorate segregation concerns.

Meanwhile, calls for Matthews to splinter off from CMS to form their own district have been met with stiff warnings that they would be creating a racially isolated school district. The suburban town is predominantly white.

Charlotte leaders seem highly unlikely to approve any large-scale busing in the coming years, but there remains obvious tension between Matthews officials and CMS officials, even after a state study committee approved a report this month with no clear directive for dividing school districts.

Much of that tension centers today around House Bill 514, a measure that would allow Matthews and nearby Mint Hill to form their own publicly-funded charters apart from CMS.

It’s a proposal with potentially enormous, precedent-setting implications for North Carolina school districts.

From The Charlotte Observer:

The prospect of towns launching their own charter schools has altered the balance of power in Mecklenburg County’s public education scene, as a Tuesday night meeting between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the town of Matthews illustrates.

The joint meeting — the second such session inspired by a controversial municipal charter school bill — ended with an unusual two-day deadline.

The school board wants town officials to decide by Thursday evening whether they’ll pull the plug on House Bill 514, which would authorize Matthews to create its own independent public schools. In return, CMS would enter a three-month joint study with town leaders about ways to address their concerns, which include school crowding and the fear of massive busing.

Most members of the Matthews Board of Commissioners said they want to work with CMS. But some say that without what one commissioner called “a safety valve,” the south suburban town has little leverage with the countywide district.

“If not House Bill 514, what would have brought us to this table?” asked Matthews Commissioner Christopher Melton.

School board members say the bill, introduced by state Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews, could upend public education across North Carolina, similar to the way the lifting of the state’s charter school cap

CMS leaders say Brawley’s local bill, which has passed the House and could go to the Senate when the General Assembly convenes in May, creates the opportunity for suburbs to carve off their own public schools, weakening the countywide systems that serve larger numbers of black, Hispanic and low-income students. The bill affects only Matthews and nearby Mint Hill, but they say it would set a precedent.

But some town commissioners said asking Brawley to kill the charter bill would not only reduce the town’s leverage with CMS but with county commissioners. “I think that the House bill is our strongest negotiating tool,” said Jeff Miller.

During a break in the joint meeting, the six CMS board members who attended huddled with Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and other district staff. They came back and proposed a joint task force with a three-month deadline for bringing back solutions to the town’s concerns — contingent on the town withdrawing support for HB 514.

“I think it is the slippery slope that begins to separate our school system into a have and have-not system,” Ellis-Stewart said.

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