Leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are gearing up to launch a new round of school construction and renovation, even as they work to complete the projects promised when voters approved $517 million in bonds six years ago.
I think its appropriate to begin by looking back, Superintendent Heath Morrison said as he introduced a report on Promises Made, Promises Kept.
After voters approve a bond package, county officials borrow that money over the course of several years. That borrowing slowed dramatically during the recession, as the county tried to restrict its debt. Associate Superintendent Guy Chamberlain told the board that borrowing for CMS projects dropped from $210 million in 2008 to a $10 million in 2012.
That means some of the 2007 bond projects have not begun. CMS recently learned that a new school to pull students from the crowded Highland Creek Elementary wont be launched for another year.
But Chamberlain and Morrison said CMS has done everything in its power to honor bond promises, with many projects coming in under budget.
Every project that we have promised to deliver, we delivered, Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain and his staff have begun ranking projects for the coming 10 years, based on such factors as crowding, safety issues and need to replace or renovate aging buildings. That list will be presented at the boards March 26 meeting, along with a revised plan for improving school safety.
CMS leaders have talked about putting a new bond referendum before voters in November.
Board members noted some of the challenges of past bonds campaigns.
We have always struggled with (calculating) building capacity, said member Rhonda Lennon, who led a parent group fighting for new schools in northern Mecklenburg County before she was elected to the board. In past years, CMS faced questions about capacity formulas that created inconsistent results.
Chamberlain said the latest formula will look at the ratio of core space in school buildings such as cafeterias, libraries, hallways and restrooms to the number of students, who are sometimes housed in mobile classrooms.
What can we do to assure the public of equity across the community? asked member Ericka Ellis-Stewart.
Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said the ranking formulas dont assure geographic balance but should assure people that priorities are based on school needs.
Morrison and board members voiced concern about losing control over construction priorities. In 2011, Mecklenburg County commissioners set aside the CMS rankings and used their own system to decide which CMS projects would come up for borrowing, ranking them alongside parks, libraries and other county projects.
And a bill recently introduced to the N.C. Senate would let county commissioners assume control of school buildings. Morrison said he hopes CMS can convince county and state officials that CMS has a good record and should retain control of decisions that affect education.