CMS, Matthews leaders weigh options as charter school fight drags on

MATTHEWS, NC (WBTV) - Leaders in both the Town of Matthews and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools continued to publicly weight their options on Tuesday as the town and school board battle over a proposal in the North Carolina General Assembly that would give the town the ability to create its own charter school.

Last week, the Matthews Town Commission voted to reaffirm its support for House Bill 514, which would allow Matthews to create and operate its own charter school. Under the bill, the town's commissioners would oversee the school and students who live within Matthews town limits would be afforded priority to attend.

"I'm trying to put kids in seats in a school building. I want kids eating lunch at 11:30, not 10:00 in the morning," Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey, who previously served on the CMS board, said. "And I think I'm just standing up after leaving CMS and I'm saying 'hey, we've got to find solutions to the problems we have.'"

In an interview with WBTV on Tuesday, Bailey acknowledged that students who currently live in Matthews and attend CMS schools get a quality education. But he stressed concern at what he and his fellow commissioners who support HB514 say is the possibility of the town growing faster than CMS can build new schools.

"I think the parents out here are happy with the schools. But we have nothing in the bond package that was just approved. My speculation is it's going to be five to seven years before we have another bond package," Bailey said, estimating that it could be 15 to 20 years before CMS has enough money to build more schools that would serve Matthews students.

But CMS leaders dispute Bailey's explanation and say they have attempted to take actions that they think should alleviate the concerns of the Matthews commissioners.

"We offered up several things for them," CMS board chairwoman Mary McCray said. "They've brought nothing to the table."

McCray and vice chairwoman Rhonda Lennon said the board has attempted to hold meetings with Bailey and other interested leaders but to no avail. Instead, they said, they would continue pointing out the positive aspects of CMS schools in the area, pointing out that the schools that serve Matthews are some of the best-performing in the county and consistently get rated high in parent surveys.

"We have the best schools down here, we've got the shortest rides; nobody, even if they are transporting their kids, it's no more than five miles. You've got parents who are satisfied with their schools. What is prompting this?" McCray asked.

McCray stood by suggestions from other school board members that a town-run charter school in Matthews could mean budget cuts and delayed construction for schools already in the area and work that has already been financed by bonds approved last year.

"We're responsible to the commissioners on how we use the funding they provide to us and we're also responsible to the state on how we use the funding that's provided to us," McCray explained as reasons why CMS would have to re-evaluate how it spends money for schools in the Matthews area if student enrollment dropped due to a town-run charter school.

On Tuesday afternoon, CMS board member Sean Strain and Matthews commissioner John Urban announced what they called a compromise proposal in which CMS would pledge to build additional classroom space in the Matthews area and the town would drop its support for HB514.

Bailey, the Matthews mayor, said he supported the compromise and acknowledged there was some room for the town to cede more of the proposal to the demands of CMS.

But CMS leaders said they had not been made aware of the proposal ahead of time and were unsure whether some of the proposal's specific points were even allowed by state law.

Bailey said he will continue to press the issue until a resolution is reached that, he and his commissioners feel, will benefit students in his town.

"The only way you make change is to make some waves," Bailey said. "Here's an opportunity for us to at least, in Matthews, move forward and hopefully that model can be looked at if we ever get something implemented that other towns can use within Mecklenburg County."

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