CMS goes to Raleigh to highlight issues with HB 514

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) leaders went to Raleigh Monday to reveal a report detailing issues of House Bill 514. CMS paid a third party $200 an hour to examine the bill to see if there were any issues.

Gerry Cohen has nearly 40 years of experience dealing with the General Assembly. He has handled legislation and knows North Carolina law. He found seven major findings with HB514 in the Cohen Report.

HB514 allows the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to create their own charter school districts. The towns of Huntersville and Cornelius also want to join in on the bill. The bill has already passed the House and now just needs to pass the Senate.

The Cohen Report shows, if passed and the towns decide to open up a charter school, it is against the law for towns to go into debt to pay for the schools.

"If they want to purchase any real property - land, mobiles, or buildings - they would have to pay cash up front and pay in full," CMS Vice Chairperson Rhonda Cheek said.

CMS says a new elementary school costs about $30 million to build. Towns also can't use state funds to build a school. CMS and Cohen wonder where the towns will get the money to build the schools or renovate an old building.

"It was clear to me that there were a lot of unanswered questions or questions that have not been asked," The Cohen Report Author Gerry Cohen said.

House bill also states that teachers of the charter school would have the benefits of the towns and be considered town employees.

"That would mean these public school teachers in the municipal charters would not be eligible for any retirement pension in North Carolina," Cheek said.

The bill does allow towns to raise taxes to help pay for the charter schools but Cohen says first a referendum must be done so taxpayers can approve the tax increase. CMS wants people to know the full impact of HB 514.

"The scope of government would expand greatly," Cohen said. "The school would be part of the government - probably be a big change for the town."

CMS leaders hand-delivered The Cohen Report to the offices of the lawmakers and said they would also email the report to all state lawmakers.

"We think this is a message that they need to hear and read through and take it seriously," CMS Board Chairperson Mary McCray said.

Representative Bill Brawley is the sole sponsor of House Bill 514. He says he agrees with The Cohen Report and admits lawmakers were already dealing with the issues of the bill before the report was revealed. Brawley wanted to thank CMS for vetting the bill and pointing things out.

"This is the most cooperation I have gotten from CMS in a year and a half," Representative Bill Brawley said.

Brawley says there will be statewide legislation introduced soon that will address towns financing charter schools. If those bills are passed it will give towns more flexibility to build and financially support charter schools.

CMS officials say they have not finished fighting and believe the bill is still flawed and should concern taxpayers.

"That should cause everyone to stop and consider what they are doing," Cheek said, "before we allow our students to be used as guinea pigs for an educational policy that has never been tried or studied."

To read the full Cohen Report, click here.

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