Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools fires superintendent

Winston’s amended contract has a severance payout of two years full salary totaling $576,000

FILE — A student participates in her virtual classes as her mother assists at their residence. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar, File)

RALEIGH — On April 19, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (CMS) board of education voted to fire Superintendent Earnest Winston. The vote was 7-2 and the district also released his personnel records. 

Reasons brought up for terminating him included issues with low evaluation scores, sexual assault reports at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, student performance issues, and the controversial $25,000 Critical Race Theory event by Ibram X. Kendi which the district implied Earnest had ‘obstructed’ initial requests for release of the video. 

One of the ongoing issues in the district not listed in the board’s documentation are the over 20 guns which have been found on various campuses as well as student-involved fights. 

Until the board finds a replacement, Hugh Hattabaugh will lead the district. He’s a former administrator and reportedly signed a 14-month contract. 

The documents released by the board cite the two-year contract with Winston in August of 2019. The documents say Winston received “good performance ratings at part of his 2019-2020 evaluation,” and Winston’s contract being amended in February 2021 that included an extension through June 30, 2025. 

As part of the amended contract, a provision was included allowing the board to terminate Winston’s contract “for convenience.”  

State law only allows termination of a superintendent for cause if they consistently fail to perform the duties imposed on him by state law or the Board, or for allegations of immoral or disreputable conduct. 

The amended contract provision included a severance “in an amount equal to the Superintendent’s base salary for a period of 24 months or through the remaining contract term, whichever is less.”

“Because the severance payment associated with the termination for convenience is a large sum, the Board finds it necessary to release the Superintendent’s 2020-2021 performance evaluation and the investigation report prepared by the independent investigator (both of which are attached) to explain the reason why public funds are being used for this purpose,” according to the documents released by the board.  

The large severance sum referred to by the CMS board is a total amount of around $576,000 which is equal to two years’ salary or $24,000 per month for the next two years. 

Other concerns in the documents released by the board included the process and time it took to hire a Chief Operating Officer and a Chief Technology Officer, despite advance knowledge by Winston of the openings and the slow implementation of safety measures in schools like safety wands and clear backpacks.  

Additionally, there were “questions in judgment related to media statements about Title IX issues,” and a specific mention of a public press conference announcing, “significant changes in the way Title IX investigations are handled.” 

Also among the complaints was that Winston “has alienated many of his senior level officials” and that he had “delayed the implementation of key decisions.” 

Winston issued a short statement following the vote that in part praised the “resilience” of the students and staff in the district.  

“It has been my honor to lead Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) the past two and a half years,” wrote Winston. “When the Board of Education asked me to serve as superintendent of CMS in July of 2019, I considered it the ultimate call to service. I accepted the call and made it my commitment to prioritize students and their needs above all else in every decision that I would make.” 

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators (CMAE) pushed back on the firing. 

“We are troubled by the CMS Board of Education’s decision to fire Superintendent Winston without cause,” the CMAE said in a statement.  

“Earnest Winston led us through some of this district’s greatest challenges; from keeping our kids and educators safe through the pandemic to stepping up and leaning in when our community demanded a reckoning on systemic racism,” wrote the CMAE. “Superintendent Winston has been a transparent, cooperative leader through it all.” 

About A.P. Dillon 656 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_