There are some good reasons to frown at the $922 million Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bond proposal on this year’s ballot.
If you live in the ever-growing northern part of the county, you have legitimate questions about why most of the plan’s new construction is focused on the south, southwest and eastern parts of Mecklenburg. It’s a familiar beef for north Meck residents, who feel that CMS was just catching up in previous bonds from decades of infrastructure neglect.
Even worse, when the CMS Board of Education added two west Charlotte projects late in the bond planning process earlier this year, those projects leapfrogged northern projects that district officials had deemed to be more urgent. The decision smacked of placing politics over protocol, and it reinforced the public perception of a school board that does what it wants without regard to transparency or process.
So we get why voters might want to tell the school board to come back in a year with a different bond package – and do it the right way this time. But that wouldn’t be in the best interests of our schools and students.
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Like the process or not, the $922 million plan is critically important to CMS, its students and families, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg as a whole. The projects in the package address glaring shortcomings and bring necessary relief to overcrowded and deteriorating schools.
Delaying those timelines, even for just a year, means burdening students longer with substandard, cramped and deteriorating facilities that have an impact on their learning experience. That includes schools and communities struggling to close achievement gaps.
The plan includes 17 new CMS schools across the county, plus renovations and additions to 12 of the district’s oldest schools. It’s the second-largest bond plan in N.C. history to Wake County’s $970 million package approved in 2006.
The reality is that despite the big price tag, CMS needs far more money to catch up to population growth patterns and aging facilities. Those needs are especially acute in the booming north, where parents have shown they are equipped and willing to opt for a growing number of private and charter school choices. CMS officials like to talk about the need to stay competitive in a changing educational environment, but they missed an opportunity with this bonds plan.
The district also needs to revisit the process it uses to determine which needs are most urgent. The board voted to add money for projects at West Charlotte High and Bruns Academy in April after Mecklenburg commissioner Vilma Leake and westside advocates indicated they wouldn’t otherwise support the bonds package. While the west does have schools that urgently need upgrades, the board’s upending of the process gives the public yet another reason to question its transparency and forthrightness.
That, however, is a concern voters can and should express in at-large and district school board elections. Delaying bonds for critical school projects, which meet education needs throughout Mecklenburg County, would only punish the children and educators who would benefit most.