The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday unanimously approved a $294 million bond request, forcing county commissioners to sort out competing needs for construction in the school district and Central Piedmont Community College.
County staff told both bodies theyre willing to put a total of $300 million in bonds on the November ballot, with that amount divided between CMS and CPCC. But both bodies are seeking virtually the full amount.
The CMS plan, revised slightly from a priority list presented in March, encompasses 18 projects. The package includes three new K-8 schools, in east, west and south Charlotte, and a new small high school on a yet-unspecified CPCC campus. It also includes reopening two closed schools in southeast Charlotte as elementary schools.
While leaders of CPCC and CMS have talked about what a strong partnership the two educational institutions have, they have not come up with a plan for sharing the construction money. Last week CPCC presented a $430 million construction plan to the county.
Obviously, we each have our pressing capital needs, Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said before the board meeting. We will make a compelling case for our need.
Before Tuesdays meeting, CMS staff and board members agreed to some changes in the priority list. For instance, the original plan called for building a $27.2 million K-8 school to relieve Berryhill and Reid Park in west Charlotte (No. 7) and spending another $27.2 million to replace the Berryhill school building (No. 16). The new plan drops the Berryhill replacement from the list for 2013 bonds, allowing an $18 million replacement for Statesville Road Elementary and a $2.4 million renovation of Selwyn Elementary to get in under the $300 million cap.
Next up on the original list was $40 million to turn the old Smith Language Academy into a new math-science magnet high school. Because there wouldnt be enough left for that, CMS moved up a smaller project, a $5.6 million renovation of Northridge Middle School.
Board member Tim Morgan said he wished county commissioners would bump up the limit because the magnet high would prepare students for jobs and increase options for students in the southern part of the county. Id love to get that project on the list, he said//.
The $300 million total is based on a county cap of $100 million a year, with bonds considered again in 2016. County Finance Director Dena Diorio told the school board that commissioners could consider a total of $400 million that would be spread over four years.
County commissioners are scheduled to vote on a bond package in June.
Even before Tuesday nights vote, County Commissioner Bill James reacted with frustration to the push for more money.
Given the limitations on the amount of capital money the county has, I dont know what else anyone could do to get CMS and CPCC to see the financial dilemma the county faces, James said Tuesday in an email to county staff, which he copied to the Observer. Even though we have told CMS and CPCC to revise their plans accordingly, they just ignore the county and proceed with pie-in-the-sky proposals.
Because CMS and CPCC dont have taxing authority, county commissioners control borrowing for their construction, expansion and renovation projects. Before the recession hit, commissioners were putting CMS bonds on the ballot every two or three years, which sometimes led to borrowing more than $200 million a year just for CMS. Commissioners also use bonds to pay for county projects, including parks and recreation, jails and libraries.
In 2007, voters approved $516 million for CMS and $30 million for CPCC. But when the economy slumped, commissioners delayed issuing most of those bonds and went six years without going back to voters for either body.
James, a frequent critic of CMS spending, seemed especially irked by a 10-year plan, with 142 projects totaling about $2 billion, that the school board also approved Tuesday. He noted that the county only expects to release $100 million a year for all county project for the foreseeable future, while CMS would need $200 million a year to complete its list.
After years of debate and discussion CMS appears on the cusp of just ignoring the county once again with another capital plan that has zero chance of being funded, he wrote.
CMS has traditionally kept a 10-year list of needs, revising it every few years. That, too, slowed during the recession, when CMS was closing schools and the county wasnt approving new projects.
Clark told the school board that Morrison expects them to review the long-term plan annually, adjusting priorities as enrollment trends, academic needs or building conditions change.
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