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County commissioners, school district headed to funding mediation
CMS demands $81M from Mecklenburg
Published Wednesday, June 2, 2021
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has signaled its intent to use a state statute to bring Mecklenburg County commissioners to mediation over funding.

The school funding spat between Mecklenburg County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is headed to mediation.

The school board announced Tuesday it will initiate North Carolina’s dispute resolution statute to reach agreement with the county on 2021-22 funding for the district. County commissioners approved Mecklenburg’s fiscal year 2022 budget today on a 7-2 vote,  which school leaders say underfunds CMS by $81 million.

That figure includes $56 million in contingency funds previously approved by the county for campus administrators and another $25 million in requested funds that haven’t been ratified.

“We are dismayed that this funding dispute has reached the point where we must seek statutory resolution – but we will not stand by while the County impedes our efforts to educate students,” school board chair Elyse Dashew said. “The misinformation campaign, political theater, and grandstanding by the County has only served to distract CMS from our core work. The county has claimed we have no strategic plan; we do, and they have seen it many times. They claim we can use federal COVID funds to cover non-COVID needs; we cannot. They even claim we have 166 schools; we have 176 schools.

“Our students would be better served if our two boards could collaborate as good-faith partners – respectfully, truthfully, and strategically, each in accordance with the roles assigned to us by statute.”

CMS will seek resolution on the budget via NCGS 115C-431, a statute that forces the two sides to meet with a mediator to reach agreement. If that fails, the school district can take the dispute to Superior Court, where either side can demand a jury trial.

At issue is Mecklenburg’s demand that CMS produce a plan to address lingering – and growing – student achievement gaps between Blacks and whites. The school district insists its strategy has been made public and the county is in no position to hold another elected body accountable.

Commissioners approved withholding of $56 million in contingency funds until CMS develops a plan, which was suggested by County Manager Dena Diorio. Black parents, the Black Political Caucus and Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP joined forced to demand action by the school district. CMS insists holding back money for school administrators and teachers will harm students.

Citing to the 2020 Local School Finance Study by the North Carolina Public School Forum, CMS officials say the district ranks 83rd out of 100 counties in Relative Effort Funding, which is defined as spending as percentage of revenue per student.

“Cutting funds for political reasons is unacceptable under any circumstances, but it is particularly offensive now,” said school board member Thelma Byers-Bailey. “We know that many of our students lost ground when we had to shift to remote learning. It makes no sense to hold back money that is needed to support students. COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on our students, especially those who were already struggling before the pandemic. Now is not the time to play politics with school funding.”

District 3 school board member Ruby Jones specifically criticized commissioners George Dunlap and Vilma Leake – both former school board members – for “spreading misinformation and making false claims” about the impasse.

“The actions the commissioners are taking will have the greatest negative effect on the very children they claim to care about most: Black and brown students,” she said. “To see public officials behave so badly – taking actions against the public interest and against our students – is an embarrassment and a shamefully bad role model for our children.”

The first step to resolving the dispute is a meeting of the school board and commissioners, which is required within a week of the county’s budget vote. If no resolution is reached during that conference, mediation will begin.

“I know from my years as a principal that county funding is key to providing students with the academic experience they need and deserve,” said at-large school board member Lenora Shipp. “State dollars alone will not do it. County dollars allow CMS to provide critically needed additional staff to high-needs schools. We cannot defund our way to equity.”


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