In a 7-2 vote, county commissioners on Tuesday passed a $2 billion budget for next fiscal year but withheld $56 million in funding for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Commissioners say the school board has not done enough to address the county’s failing schools, which are attended mainly by Black and brown students.
Hours later, the school board pushed back, announcing plans to recover the money using a dispute-resolution provision written into N.C. law. (State law requires counties to provide adequate funding for public schools.)
Under the county’s latest budget, the money withheld from CMS represents about 11% of the $532 million allocated in the next fiscal year for schools.
Before releasing the money, commissioners are demanding to see a detailed plan to address failing schools and a variety of other race-based disparities in educational outcomes.
Commissioners say the funds being withheld from the school district would cover administrative salaries and would not impact classroom learning.
Late Tuesday, school board Chair Elyse Dashew pushed back, calling the move “political theater, and grandstanding.”
In a statement emailed to local media, Dashew said commissioners have seen the school board’s plan “many times.”
The school board has insisted that county commissioners have no legal authority to act as an oversight body for schools. The school also has insisted that the withheld funds will harm students and teachers.
That’s where NCGS 115C-431 comes in.
When funding disputes arise between North Carolina counties and school boards, state law requires the two sides to meet and make a “good-faith attempt” to resolve the impasse. The meeting must be held within seven days of the budget being passed.
If negotiations fail, a mediator must be appointed, with each side paying half the costs.
If mediation fails, the two sides would use a set of complicated calculations to determine school funding.
The statute also leaves open the option for a lawsuit.
In her statement on Tuesday, Dashew said the board was “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.”
She added: “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. We hope this sort of relationship will be possible in our future. The stakes could not be higher.”
Dashew accused commissioners of running a “misinformation campaign”
As of early Wednesday, the county had not released a statement in response to the CMS move.
Commissioners Susan Rodriguez-McDowell and Laura Meier, who opposed the conditional funding for CMS, voted against passing the budget.
Reading from a prepared statement after the commissioners meeting, Rodriguez-McDowell called on the two sides to work out their differences, the Charlotte Observer reported.
“The shame of this whole fiasco is that we could be doing so much better…” the Observer quoted her as saying. “Sign me up for the part where we start to work with other elected bodies to bring real efforts on behalf of the children.”