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Cornelius News

School options: Committees lay out choices for local towns

In order to break off from CMS, the General Assembly would have to enact new legislation

By Dave Yochum. The Cornelius Educational Options Study Commission was created to evaluate options related to HB514 and the ability of local jurisdictions to establish charter schools.

HB 514 gives four Charlotte suburbs—Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews and Mint Hill—the authority to create and operate their own charter schools.

The suburbs can limit enrollment in the new schools to local residents.

Cornelius is about 85 percent white, while Huntersville is three-quarters white.

White students comprise less than a third of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools enrollment.

The implications around integration and segregation as well as haves and have-nots are enormous. The purely practical aspect is that CMS has said it will not build any new facilities in North Mecklenburg for the next 15 years—in spite of overwhelming growth rates in Cornelius and Huntersville—unless we opt out of HB514.

Indeed, the student population is expected to rise 10,000 by 2030.

Cornelius resident David Mancuso said he volunteered for the Cornelius


Education Options Study Committee as a concerned parent and frustrated taxpayer. The Mancusos moved here five years ago from Pittsburgh, Pa.

The father of a two- and four-year-old, he said the current CMS bond package and capital plan—with virtually no projects in the Cornelius area—will have a significant impact when his children get to middle school and high school.

Cornelius residents paid 4.3 percent of Mecklenburg County property taxes in 2018 but only make up 2.7 percent of the population, one of the highest per capita ratios in the county.

“As a Cornelius taxpayer, it’s frustrating to feel that we don’t get a full return on that investment,” he said.

Thousands of CMS students are on wait lists to get into charter schools that are independent of CMS.

Citizen-driven educational option study groups were empaneled in Cornelius and Huntersville.

The Cornelius commission presented their research to the Town Board Monday, but did not make a recommendation.

In Huntersville, the group has already made recommendations to the Town Board.

Karen Bentley, chairwoman of the Huntersville education group and a former Mecklenburg County Commissioner, said their options included doing nothing; operating a stand-alone municipal charter school; establishing a municipal sponsored charter by partnering with a new or existing charter school; partnering with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for a new school or expansion of an existing school; and dividing CMS into smaller Local Education Agencies, or LEAs.

The best long-term approach for Huntersville would be the creation of a smaller, more efficient and more locally controlled Lake Norman-area school district, she said.

Doing so would require not just legislation, but a governor who is an advocate of the plan, Bentley said.

The educational options commission recommended that Huntersville pursue its own municipal charter school, or partner with an established charter, to address shorter-term needs for classrooms.

Charles Jeter, a former NC legislator who now works for CMS, said the notion


of “partnering with an existing charter” is wishful thinking. “State law doesn’t allow them to actually do that,” he said.

“And nowhere does either committee disclose the fact that they cannot purchase any tangible item—build schools, buy land, purchase computers, furniture, etc.—unless they pay in full and cash up front,” Jeter explained.

Unlike traditional charter schools that can build a school and pay over time a municipal charter cannot do so, he said. “So to build a $30 million school, Cornelius would have to pay for the school in total,” Jeter said.