ASC board endorses sales tax referendum as campaign mounts

The Arts & Science Council board has overwhelmingly endorsed Mecklenburg County’s sales tax proposal, joining a gradually growing list of organizations that will be campaigning to win voter approval to raise the rate by a quarter percent for education.

The ASC board’s endorsement on Wednesday was expected because the organization is one of four recipients for the extra sales tax revenues and stands to gain millions for education programs if voters pass the proposal in November. But the board went a step further, approving a resolution to join the campaign to muster support for the measure, ASC President Robert Bush said Thursday.

“We are all ready to step up for this effort,” Bush said. “This is an incredible opportunity for this community.”

He said ASC hopes to use many of its 1,500 volunteers and people in the arts and culture sector to educate voters on how ASC and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are connected in the mission to teach students.

The referendum’s co-sponsors, county commission Chairman Trevor Fuller and Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke, projected that $35 million could be raised from the additional quarter-percent tax. Of that, 80 percent would go to raise pay of CMS employees and 7.5 percent would be used for the same purpose at Central Piedmont Community College. ASC would get 7.5 percent and the remainder would go to the public library.

The question on the ballot won’t include that information – it can’t by state law. But supporters hope that voters will go to polls knowing that after an effective campaign.

In addition to the ASC board, the proposal has won support from the CMS school board, the library’s board, local teachers organizations, MeckED and the local Black Political Caucus.

Bush said his organization would receive more than $2.6 million annually from the sales tax. Tentatively it would use $1.5 million for education initiatives such as field trips for students, in-school and out-of-school programs and Studio 345, the free after-school program that uses digital photography and media arts and multimedia design to inspire students to stay in school and graduate. About $850,000 would be used to stabilize grants and arts and culture programs in county parks and the public library.

The rest would be used to support training and marketing for the organization, Bush said.

The money, he said, would restore some funding cut by Mecklenburg the past 10 years.

“The referendum is about this community’s love and support of education, and all of the recipients ... are very much a part of learning and education from the cradle to the grave,” he said.

He is the first leader of the four recipients to detail, even preliminarily, how the money might be used.

Yet representatives from “the four partners” have met several times in recent weeks to discuss strategies to win voter approval, Bush said. He said a campaign will begin soon after Labor Day.

“Most political campaigns gear up after Labor Day,” he said. “We are in agreement that we have time to do what we need to do to educate this community about the benefits” of the proposal.