Support and criticism voiced on county’s proposal to withhold $56M from CMS

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County commissioners have discussed the idea in length, and the public is now weighing in on the most controversial part of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

County leaders are considering withholding $56 million from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools until the district produces an acceptable plan aimed at improving educational outcomes and college and career readiness.

For more than three hours on Wednesday, members of the public weighed in on the budget. Several of the speakers who addressed commissioners were teachers.

[PAST COVERAGE: ‘I did what you told me to do’: County manager defends holding $56M from CMS]

“It is shocking to see the county commission stoop to this level of gaslighting,” teacher Rae LeGrone said. “Anyone claiming that withholding funds from CMS budget as a tool would not affect teachers and students is either lying or completely misunderstands community leadership and classroom interconnection.”

Teacher Liz Martinez told commissioners the decision would hold funds hostage.

“Withholding money from CMS does not make anyone accountable,” Martinez said. “Instead, it will hold our money hostage.”

[PAST COVERAGE: ‘Stop failing our kids’: Charlotte leaders rally as county aims to withhold $56M from CMS]

Numerous community members questioned the county’s strategy and whether it will impact students. County Manager Dena Diorio and CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston disagree on whether the funds being placed into restricted contingency would translate into a direct impact on the classroom.

“You cannot withhold this amount of money and think that there will not be impact on students,” resident Ray McKinnon said.

“It’s patently ridiculous to think that defunding public schools is going to close racial inequity gaps,” Kate Murphy said. “That’s ludicrous.”

The plan had no shortage of supporters. Former CMS Board Chair Arthur Griffin addressed county leaders and was cut off due to the 3-minute time limit. But Griffin emailed the board to say he supports their efforts to bring change in the school district.

“As an active CMS public school grandparent, former chair of the CMS School Board, member of this school board for 17 years, former CMS parent and former CMS student, current school volunteer and school advocate, I wholeheartedly support County Manager Diorio,” Griffin wrote. “It’s not about trust but capacity and willingness to do the right thing.”

Pastors with the African American Faith Alliance for Educational Advancement voiced support for the plan, saying a message needs to be sent that having so many low-performing schools is unacceptable.

“We cannot keep doing the same thing and believe we will get a different result,” the Rev. Cornelius Atkinson said. “There has to be a change, and this change comes with this budget.”

“We are in support of your proposal because it is the only leverage that people will listen to,” Rev. Jordan Boyd said. “Bring CMS to the table to take actionable, measurable steps to turning the tides of failure.”

Bonnie Chavda of Chavda Ministries said the situation in CMS is more of a crisis than the gas shortage.

“This gas crisis is nothing compared to the empty educational tanks we’re assuming these kids will run on toward a productive future,” she said.

Forum planned:

The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg is hosting a Q&A information session entitled “Budget in Black: What County/CMS Budgets Mean to Black Families and Students” on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Diorio and Chair George Dunlap accepted invites to attend. According to the BPC, Winston and CMS Board members declined invites.

“Needless to say, the BPC is highly disappointed this stance has been taken in that these are issues that are critical to Black children and families and more importantly, the constituents that they were elected to serve,” the BPC said in a news release. “The Black Political Caucus has a vested interest in protecting the values and ideals of our community, which is why we have a history of hosting balanced events to ensure that everyone is informed of what is taking place especially when it comes to the welfare of our children.”

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The CMS Board sent a letter to the BPC to say the county’s proposal would “adversely affect our students and staff.” The letter also included a vague hint at what may come next.

“The budget is now in the hands of the Board of Commissioners,” the letter stated. “If their vote June 1 does not allocate what our students need to succeed, the Board of Education will pursue the avenues available to us to obtain sufficient funding.”

Community members can register for this event and submit questions here or watch live on the BPC Facebook page at Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.