CMS School Board Chair Mary McCray Mark Hames mhames@charlotteobserver.com
CMS School Board Chair Mary McCray Mark Hames mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Inside County Government

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Inside County Government

CMS board, Mecklenburg commissioners to have ‘meeting of the minds’ next month

January 21, 2016 4:59 PM

Billed as a “meeting of the minds,” Mecklenburg County commissioners and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board will gather in two weeks to talk about their relationship and student assignment.

The meeting, which commissioners have wanted for weeks now, will happen at 3 p.m. Feb. 1 in Room 267 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center uptown.

It’s coming at an interesting (and busy) time for both boards: The school board is crafting a new student assignment plan and searching for a new superintendent. Commissioners are gearing for primaries and budget season, and want to change how they fund CMS.

Perhaps that’s even more reason for the boards to move past their issues. This won’t be the first time they’ve tried.

...There was a lot of speechifying.

Commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller

A meeting in 2014 went smoothly. Another, a year earlier, didn’t because “there was a lot of speechifying,” Commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller said.

With strong-willed politicians on both boards, it’s unclear whether the public should expect a mild-mannered summit or a verbal sparring this go-around. These are some of the issues they may raise:

Funding student assignment

Fuller expects a new student assignment policy to affect how the county funds schools. He’s not ruling out the prospect of requests for more money.

That would be a tough sell: The county’s given CMS over $1.5 billion in thepast three years, and commissioners are weary of public scorn when certain programs go underfunded.

But with a new student assignment plan looming, Fuller said now’s the time to start having that conversation before the school board unveils a policy with “budgetary implications on the backend.”

Funding accountability

So what exactly does CMS do with all the money it gets from the county? Some commissioners are clamoring to know.

Vilma Leake told the Observer this month she’s interested in the efficacy of education programs the county funds: Are they working, and are they worth the money? Other commissioners have entertained the idea of asking CMS to present a breakdown of how many county dollars go to certain initiatives.

Those topics could fold into “high-level budget talks” that gauge whether CMS is truly unsatisfied with the amount of money the county doles out each year, Fuller said.

I don’t see a purpose in it. I thought the whole situation was very premature.

CMS board member Rhonda Lennon

A little premature?

Not everyone agrees a joint meeting is necessary, especially if student assignment is in the mix. School board member Rhonda Lennon said there’s nothing solid with the plan to warrant a meeting with the county.

“We don’t need to spend our time or their time to talk about a process” that’s not finished, she said. If commissioners want more detail, they should attend the school board’s Tuesday policy meeting, she said.

But as for the Feb. 1 meeting, Lennon said, “I don’t see a purpose in it. I thought the whole situation was very premature.”

Want to go?

When: 3 p.m. Feb. 1

Where: Room 267 of the government center, 600 E. Fourth St.

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