Mecklenburg County board takes new step to withhold $56M+ from CMS

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 9:38 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County officials took a straw vote Wednesday morning and passed to withhold more than $56 million in funding until Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools delivers a plan for student success.

County leaders held an unofficial vote on the 2022 proposed county budget Wednesday after clashing with CMS over withholding over $56 from the district over an education gap that impacts students of color. The vote passed 6 to 2.

The board says it’s withholding about 3-percent and that the money will still exists. The board says they’ll release it to the school if and when a success plan report comes out.

Tuesday’s closed-door meeting between three CMS leaders and three county leaders lasted 50 minutes and was respectful, according to CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston. Although no deal was accomplished.

WBTV News obtained an audio recording of the meeting showing the back and forth about who’s job is it to hold CMS accountable.

“We don’t want to tell you how to do your strategic plan,” said County Manager, Dena Diorio.

“You want to approve our plan,” asked CMS board member, Elyse Dashew.

“No, it’s not about approving it. It’s about understand how the dollars that the county gives you are going to be used to improve outcomes for kids,” said Diorio.

The CMS chair, vice chair and Winston left the meeting determined to still educate all students no matter the potential funding gap. The school district said if the county withholds the money, it will be hard to keep cuts from happening in classrooms.

Mecklenburg County leaders asked CMS to provide a plan for success for students in struggling schools. After that’s done, county leaders say they will release the funding.

CMS leaders argue that they’ve already shown that plan and posted it on the district’s website. They did acknowledge they’ll be making revisions to the plan. Some were critical the plan was only four pages long and doesn’t address how CMS will improve the achievement gap and instead just lists the goals.

“If they will develop a plan that has metrics, that tells us specifically where they’re going, how they plan to get there and what steps they plan to take to get there. And we want statistical data,” County Commissioner George Dunlap said.

Here’s the back and forth between Commissioner Dunlap and Superintendent Earnest Winston from Tuesday’s private meeting.

Commissioner George Dunlap: “You won’t develop a plan that has metrics in it with data that you currently have simply because you don’t think it’s our right to ask?”

Superintendent Earnest Winston: “Well, we believe we have a plan and we believe we have a solid plan.”

Commissioner George Dunlap: “Do you believe there are metrics attached to your plan?”

Superintendent Earnest Winston: “We do have metrics attached to our plan.”

Commissioner George Dunlap: “Are they published?”

County Manager Dena Diorio: “They’re not on your website.”

The county says as soon as they get a detailed action plan, they’d release the money. But the board of education is saying not so fast, they say it’s not the county’s role to police them.

“We do not fundamentally believe that you have the right to attach conditions to the budget. And I understand you disagree and that’s okay. Statute lays out a very clear process for dispute resolutions in this sort of a situation,” said Dashew.

Time will tell if CMS will resort to that option.

Just one day after this private meeting, commissioners gathered to take an informal straw vote. Although many commissioners agreed they would vote to withhold the money from CMS, many say it will affect the classroom.

”Every dime allocated to the school system affects the classroom. Don’t be fooled when they say the money that they’re withholding does not affect the classroom, it does,” said commissioner, Laura Meier.

And other groups are weighing in on the battle of the budgets. Just hours after the straw vote, the Black Political Caucus held a press conference in support of the county withholding the money. They say CMS is not preparing black students for college and careers, which is leading to other issues within the community.

The B.P.C says CMS gets a large budget every year without any outcomes, they say withholding the money is the only way things will finally change.

“The house is on fire and CMS is attempting to solve it with a trickling water hose,” said chair of the Black Political Caucus, Stephanie Sneed. ”Lots of money has been put forth into CMS and we are just asking for outcomes. We’re asking for a plan.”

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