Commissioners chairman slams CMS, superintendent

Plus: Retailers start dropping mask requirements; Delta announces nonstops to Boston; Sistine Chapel exhibit in Charlotte; Debate on 2040 Plan today; Mysterious lake creature at Quail Hollow?

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Amid funding dispute, Dunlap unloads on CMS leadership: encourages CMS to sue, calls leaders unaccountable, says Winston ‘drove for Peter Gorman’; Dashew decries ‘attempted character assassination’

George Dunlap, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, told an online meeting of the Black Political Caucus that “at no time has the CMS board been held accountable. … It’s time for CMS staff and their board to look inwardly and look where their problems and concerns really are.”

by Tony Mecia and Cristina Bolling

The funding dispute between county commissioners and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools escalated on Sunday, with the chairman of the county commissioners blasting CMS leadership for being unaccountable and secretive.

Speaking to the Black Political Caucus on Sunday evening, commissioners Chairman George Dunlap said the school system lacks an adequate plan to improve student achievement, which he said justifies the county’s proposal to withhold $56M in CMS funding for next year until the school board devises a measurable strategy.

But Dunlap didn’t stop there. He continued: “The question — and nobody wants to face this — is do we have the right people in leadership in CMS?”

Then, speaking in unusually personal terms, Dunlap criticized CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston as an inexperienced educator and former newspaper reporter who was named to the top job after the school board had a revolving door of leaders and couldn’t attract national candidates.

Speaking about Winston, Dunlap said:

Anybody who knows Earnest will tell you, Earnest is a nice guy. But what do you know about Earnest? Prior to 2004, Earnest was a reporter with the Charlotte Observer. That’s what he did!

In 2004, CMS hired him to be an English teacher and teach journalism. And he worked his way around. He drove for Peter Gorman. He became the chief of staff for the former superintendent. And when nobody else would come to CMS, they made him superintendent.

How many CMS employees that can talk to you about pedagogy and other things have more experience and have never even had the opportunity to be principal?

Winston is CMS’ fourth superintendent since 2014. He was hired away from the Observer to teach English at Vance High School in 2004, joined the CMS communications department in 2006 and served as CMS chief of staff from 2011-2017, under superintendents Heath Morrison and Ann Clark. His official bio suggests he was in the communications department when Gorman was superintendent, from 2006 to 2011. Winston was named superintendent in 2019 on a unanimous vote.

CMS and the county have been trading sharp words over funding in the last two weeks. County Manager Dena Diorio has said the county funds CMS more than adequately, especially given CMS enrollment estimates that have turned out to be high. CMS leaders say they need the full amount they requested to improve student performance. The county is scheduled to vote on its budget June 1.

CMS response: In a statement provided to The Ledger on Monday morning, after the initial version of this article was published, CMS board chair Elyse Dashew said she is “appalled by the personal attack on Superintendent Earnest Winston by George Dunlap.” She said that “this kind of personal vindictiveness and vitriol has no place in the public discussion” and that Dunlap’s “attempted character assassination” should not distract from the school system’s important work. [ADDED 5/17/21, 11:20 a.m., to incorporate CMS response]

Money needed: CMS declined to make any of its leaders available to answer questions at the Black Political Caucus forum on Sunday, organizers said. But CMS vice-chair Thelma Byers-Bailey read a short prepared statement at the beginning of the event and said the funding request “represents what we know our students need as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.”

She said she was “disappointed” with the county’s position because denying the money “would adversely affect our students and staff.”

And she added, without elaborating:

The budget is now in the hands of the Board of County Commissioners. 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.

So sue us: In a reply later in the meeting, Dunlap said he interpreted Byers-Bailey’s remarks as a threat to sue the county.

“I don’t take threats lightly,” he said. “I encourage CMS to take us to court — I’m sure that’s what they are talking about.”

He said that suing the county would use “all those dollars that they say they don’t have to educate children to pay for the lawsuit,” and that it would reveal that the county pays more for education than is required. CMS has a budget of about $1.7B. About 57% comes from the state and 32% from the county. This year, the county is recommending giving CMS $527M, or $6.1M more than last year, but withholding $56M of that amount until CMS presents a plan to improve student achievement and reduce gaps in racial academic disparities.

Dunlap also said CMS leadership “dissed the Black Political Caucus” and the media by not answering questions at the meeting.

“That ought to raise concerns when people who are entrusted with the education of our children refuse to respond and answer questions,” he said.

Dunlap and Diorio answered questions about the county budget and CMS funding. At the end of the meeting, Dunlap said he was just being honest rather than working behind the scenes.

“Unlike some of those on the other side who will throw rocks and then hide their hand — I’m not going to be that kind of person,” he said. “What I say I will say publicly. One thing you need to know about me: If I throw a rock and I don’t hit you, some more are coming.”

Want to watch? The meeting is available online at the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Facebook page. Dunlap’s remarks start at around the 30:00 mark.

Related Ledger article:

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At retailers, the masks begin to drop

Have you ever seen a sign like this in your lifetime? This was on the door at HairColorXperts in Parktowne Village on Woodlawn Road on Sunday afternoon.

New federal health guidance and Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement Friday that the state would no longer require masks in most settings sent companies scrambling to assess if they would drop mask mandates, too. Businesses are still allowed to require customers and workers to wear masks. The results are mixed:

  • Must still wear masks: Harris Teeter, Walgreens, Whole Foods, CVS, Target, Macy’s, The Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, The Gap, Dollar General, Ulta, Spectrum Center (Charlotte Hornets), Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Simon Property Group (SouthPark mall, Concord Mills)

  • Masks not required: Starbucks, Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Publix, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Truist Field (Charlotte Knights)

(Sources: Insider, WSOC, WCNC)

Expect to see more retailers move into the “masks not required” camp in the next week, as companies evaluate their policies and the competitive landscape. —TM

Sistine Chapel exhibit brings a touch of life to Charlotte

“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Exhibition” opened this month at the Savona Mill off Rozzelles Ferry Road in west Charlotte. The company behind it says it’s “true to size, hands free and perfect for our socially distant yet innovative world” and presents “a never-before-seen perspective” of Michelangelo’s masterpieces. It runs Thursdays to Sundays through July 31. Adult tickets start at $19.40. (Photos courtesy of Sistine Chapel Exhibition and Amy Peacock.)

Is there a lake creature at Quail Hollow?

Sea creatures and mysterious animals aren’t our stock-in-trade, so we’re a little late to this one — but there was apparently something in the water at the Wells Fargo Championship last weekend.

Take a look for yourself:

Shark? A cousin of the Loch Ness monster?

WCNC got to the bottom of it last week, reporting:

The director of Communications for the Wells Fargo Championship told WCNC Charlotte that the creature that popped out of the water Sunday afternoon was most likely a catfish with a fin, and by the looks of the video... a large one. 


2040 Plan set for debate this afternoon

The Charlotte City Council seems headed for a showdown this afternoon on the proposed 2040 Comprehensive Plan — and whether one of its most controversial provisions should stay in or be ditched.

The plan, you might recall, is a 320-page document that outlines a vision for Charlotte’s growth over the next two decades and proposes ideas of how to get there. The most contentious part is the suggestion that duplexes and triplexes be allowed in every single-family neighborhood: Some neighborhood leaders worry that could encourage development and gentrification in fragile areas, while city planners and other advocates say that strategy is needed to provide additional housing and more housing choices.

Last week, a slim majority of council members — four Democrats and two Republicans — signaled that they’re ready to eliminate that provision.

A costly delay? On Friday, city staff said in a memo to council members that removing the duplex/triplex policy — a single sentence in the 320-page document — could “create a 6-9 months delay in plan process, adoption, place time type and regulation adoption” because the city would need to “recalibrate our growth model and projections, re-engage the community [and] push back the schedule.” Removing that sentence would also require “additional funding to extend consultant contracts,” the memo said.

Separately, a group of developers and builders want the city to slow down the process. Many oppose provisions that encourage impact fees, affordable housing requirements and bargaining with neighborhood groups.

The fun starts this afternoon at 3 p.m., followed by a City Council zoning meeting. Double fun. —TM

Coming tomorrow: Debut of The Ledger’s ‘Ways of Life’ newsletter

Tomorrow, The Ledger’s paying members will receive the debut issue of “Ways of Life,” our new obituaries newsletter that shares the inspiring, thought-provoking and often-heartwarming stories of people who have died recently in Charlotte.

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In brief:

  • Delta to fly Charlotte to Boston: Delta Air Lines is starting nonstop flights between Charlotte and Boston, with three flights a day beginning Oct. 5. American Airlines flies nine daily nonstops between the two cities, and JetBlue flies two a day. Increased competition could lower fares between the two cities and shows Delta is taking on American in one of its biggest hubs. It’s part of a bigger move by Delta to bulk up service in the Northeast. (The Points Guy)

  • Penguin revival? The owner of Charlotte restaurants Leroy Fox and RuRu’s Tacos and Tequila has plans to restart The Penguin restaurant, a beloved fixture in Plaza-Midwood that closed in 2014. The new spot would be in the old Mayobird and Summit Room spot on East Boulevard in Dilworth. The menu would include burgers, fried pickles, chopped salads, shrimp po’ boys, “as well Asian offerings such as ramen.” (Biz Journal)

  • Westside townhouses: A developer is proposing up to 115 townhomes off Ashley Road, near Harding High School in west Charlotte. Drakeford Communities filed plans with the city to rezone 7.1 acres on 9 parcels between Alleghany Street and Bullard Street.

  • Normal pipeline operations: The owner of the Colonial Pipeline said that it had resumed normal operations on Saturday. It will take a few days for supply hiccups to end, but getting gas this weekend was much less of a problem than it was in the middle of last week. (AP/WFAE)

  • Spectrum Center seating limits raised: The Charlotte Hornets plan to raise the seating capacity for postseason games at the Spectrum Center to 60%, or about 12,000 fans, up from 25%. Masks would still be required. It might not matter, though, because the Hornets are not guaranteed a home game. They play Tuesday at the Indiana Pacers in the NBA’s play-in tournament, and if they lose, they are out. (WBTV)

  • Book drop: Charlotte Mecklenburg Library said it’s reopening after-hours book drops and eliminating the requirement that books be quarantined for 24 hours after being returned.

  • Excelsior Club plans: The developer who bought the historic Excelsior Club in west Charlotte hopes for the site to have a “boutique hotel, an upscale restaurant and an indoor/outdoor performance area,” QCity Metro reported. The CEO of Kenwood Investments said it would be “very difficult” to save the original structure because of extensive rain damage. (QCity Metro)

  • Productivity spreadsheet: Thomas Montag, the #2 executive at Bank of America, had subordinates devise “a spreadsheet, distributed to team managers daily, that pitted the productivity of people working from home against those who were still showing up at the office,” according to a profile of Montag in The New York Times. “Workers of his who showed up at the office called themselves ‘warriors,’” while “those who stayed home were referred to as ‘tapped out,’” the paper said. The Times concluded that Montag’s “hard-driving approach has been increasingly out of step with the contemporary world of finance.” (New York Times)


An article in Friday’s Ledger about possible changes to CMS student assignment in south Charlotte (🔒) incorrectly described Myers Park’s International Baccalaureate program. At Myers Park, IB is not a magnet program.

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory