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Mecklenburg commissioners should respect school board’s priorities

By Mary T. McCray and Tim Morgan
Special to the Observer

It is the mission of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to maximize academic achievement of every student in every school. This requires working in the present while planning for the future. In April, the board approved two plans that will help determine our students’ success.

The first is the 10-Year Capital Needs Assessment. It identifies 142 capital projects needed to significantly improve learning environments and better prepare students to graduate career- and college-ready. The plan focuses on relieving major areas of overcrowding, improving older buildings and advancing high-demand programs including Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, middle colleges and Career and Technical Education across the district.

The second is the CMS Capital Improvement Plan, which identifies the 18 highest-priority projects. The plan reflects input from students, families, staff, parents and the community. The priority projects include four new schools, three replacement schools, Pre-K-8 conversions at six elementary schools, CTE program enhancements and numerous renovations and additions.

We look forward to working with Mecklenburg County commissioners to finalize a three- or four-year capital plan that will best support the growing academic needs of our 144,000 students and thousands more over the next 10 years. Ultimately, the BOCC will decide the prioritization of and the final funding for CMS’ capital projects. Success will require a bond referendum that creates broad community support. Our students and our community will be best served by the CMS recommended project prioritization, which includes needs across the entire county.

Our community’s investment in building and renovating schools is critical. Wake County is pursuing plans to invest $939.9 million in their schools’ capital needs. This represents 42 percent of their total $2.2 billion capital need over seven years. CMS’ 18 priority projects will cost $294 million. This represents less than 25 percent of our district’s total 10-year capital need. The Board of County Commissioners has identified a total annual capital expenditure of about $130 million to be shared by CMS and Central Piedmont Community College. Even over four years, that scope does not enable funding of all 18 high priority CMS projects. It would exclude projects in the south part of Mecklenburg and limit projects in the north. School overcrowding is a serious issue in both areas. Any bond will have to be approved by voters. To gain countywide support, the bond must address needs in all parts of the county.

Strong public schools that prepare students for college, career or the military are essential to keep our county and region economically strong and agile. That’s in everyone’s best interest now and in the future. We believe that by working together, school board members and county commissioners can find a way to serve the best interests of our students, their families and the entire county.

Mary T. McCray is the chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Tim Morgan is vice chair.
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