Education

Superintendent Ann Clark proposes $805 million CMS bond package

Language magnets feature prominently in the CMS construction plan. Here, students at Waddell Language Academy demonstrate Chinese calligraphy.
Language magnets feature prominently in the CMS construction plan. Here, students at Waddell Language Academy demonstrate Chinese calligraphy. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Superintendent Ann Clark urged an enthusiastic school board Tuesday to ask Mecklenburg County commissioners for an $805 million bond referendum that would cover 29 projects.

The board will vote on a request in April, but the only dissent raised Tuesday came from member Paul Bailey, who wanted a longer project list. “I’d like to see a billion dollars,” he said.

Board Chair Mary McCray predicted resistance from county officials, who have voiced preference for a 2017 bond and tend to balk at big requests. Because Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools doesn’t have taxing authority, it falls to the county to borrow and repay money for school construction and renovation.

The proposed total is more than 2  1/2 times the size of the $290 million bond referendum that voters approved in 2013, after the recession froze construction for years.

“I know we’re going to be ready for a fight,” McCray said. “One, two – bring it on. Why not fight for the kids we serve?”

A month ago Clark and her staff gave the board a $2 billion list of prioritized projects, including new schools, land purchases, renovations and expansions. Tuesday’s proposal includes the 29 top-ranked items.

The west/southwestern District 2 would get the largest share, with 10 projects totaling $275 million (see accompanying box). Several of the projects involve magnet schools, which could serve students from a wider area regardless of where they’re located.

Tuesday’s discussion opened with video of comments from Mark Elgart of AdvanceED, part of an accreditation team that recently reviewed CMS. He talked about how far behind CMS has fallen on its facilities, saying that “forces you to make decisions that are not in the best interest of kids.” He said the 1,100 mobile classrooms used in overfilled schools are “an area of deep concern.”

Board members Tom Tate and Eric Davis questioned how a bond package would mesh with an ongoing student assignment review. Clark said the needs are there regardless of any changes the board makes, and will help CMS offer offer families options.

“I believe we owe our students and families and employees the ask,” Clark said.

Bailey warned the bond vote could fail unless the board pledges support for neighborhood schools, a hot-button topic in his south suburban district.

But Elyse Dashew, elected in a countywide race in November, said she heard widespread concern about school crowding during her campaign. She noted that commissioners face the same voters: “Ultimately I have to hope that they’re hearing from their constituents what we’re hearing.”

Member Ruby Jones agreed with pushing the $805 million package: “I don’t think we need to be meager or shy or tempered in our request.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

Proposed CMS bond package

Superintendent Ann Clark presented this breakdown to the school board, listing projects and costs by school board voting districts. A new southern high school could land in District 5 or 6, and some projects don’t have one clear location.

Location

Projects

Cost

District 1

2

$54 million

District 2

10

$275 million

District 3

4

$81 million

District 4

4

$101 million

District 5

4

$97 million

District 6

2

$59 million

Dist. 5 or 6

1

$111 million

No district

2

$27 million

TOTAL

29

$805 million

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