Meck County leaders upset with CMS after virtual meeting to discuss budget

CHARLOTTE — Leaders in Charlotte’s Black community discussed what the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and county budget mean for Black families during a virtual forum on Sunday.

The county said it is withholding $56 million from CMS until it creates better education plans for minority students.

CMS Vice-Chairperson Thelma Byers-Bailey read a district statement at the beginning of the meeting and then logged off -- which did not sit well with county leaders.

>> CLICK HERE for a FAQ: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Budget May 2021]

“It ought to raise concern when people who are entrusted with the education of our system refuse to respond to answer questions,” said George Dunlap, chairman of the board of county commissioners. “We are not denying them the funds, we’re simply asking for a plan.”

Superintendent Earnest Winston and CMS board members declined to join Sunday’s forum.

Dunlap then criticized Winston for his lack of experience, questioning his credentials. He said Winston used to be a newspaper reporter until he was hired as a teacher in 2004. He also said Winston drove for a former superintendent and that Winston only got the job as superintendent because CMS had no one else interested in it.

Winston was named superintendent in 2019.

Earlier on Sunday, Commissioner Leigh Altman released a statement about withholding the funds from CMS.

“CMS disparities routinely show achievement gaps of 30 to 40% between white students and students of color, and outcomes are even worse since the onset of COVID,” she said. “Asking CMS for a current plan that creates metrics, goals and timelines to address academic disparities is a necessary and reasonable request.”

CMS Board Chair Elyse Dashew issued the following statement in defense of Superintendent Earnest Winston:

“We are appalled by the personal attack on Superintendent Earnest Winston by George Dunlap, the chair of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, at the May 16 meeting of the Black Political Caucus. The Board of County Commissioners does not -- by North Carolina statutes -- function as an oversight board for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Thus, Mr. Dunlap’s remarks are not relevant. However, this kind of personal vindictiveness and vitriol has no place in the public discussion for two important reasons.

“First, it is important that we as adults in public service model behavior that our children can aspire to match. Personal attacks of the kind Mr. Dunlap made do not in any way meet that standard. Nor do such personal attacks move us forward on our goal of improving student outcomes in our schools -- a shared goal of the members of the Board of Education, Superintendent Winston, and CMS staff.

“Secondly, these comments by Commissioner Dunlap are yet another political distraction by the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. We owe our children more than political jabs and personal vitriol. The racist systems we are working to change have been in place for more than a century, and students have paid the price for that. We are committed to changing those systems and giving all students the opportunity to succeed. It will happen sooner if the county commission works with us, rather than against us.

“Although we are disappointed by Mr. Dunlap’s attempted character assassination of our superintendent, we are not disheartened. The work we are doing is too important for us to lose focus on the goal of successful student outcomes and we will continue the work that will bring equity to our schools and to our students.”

The district also released a list of frequently asked questions about the district’s budget and the process behind it. You can find that here.

(WATCH: County manager defends holding money from CMS after commissioner blasts plan)