Education

Memo describes mismanagement of CMS building project

A memo sent to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board this week describes mismanagement of a building project at UNC Charlotte that later contributed to former Superintendent Heath Morrison’s departure from the district.

The document, sent by Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark on Wednesday, outlines an “ambitious” timeline for a project that was not given the level of attention it merited.

The memo also says Morrison did not disclose the full costs of the project to the school board. That allegation was also made in the investigative report compiled by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools general counsel George Battle III days before Morrison offered his resignation.

Last December, the school board was told of plans for an early college high school program focused on engineering to be housed in a mobile classroom building on the campus of UNCC. At the time, the projected cost of the project was $2.2 million. The school board, however, was only informed about $35,000 in costs expected for janitorial services at the school, according to the memo and meeting minutes.

Costs ultimately ballooned to $3.4 million after CMS was required to build a retaining wall and put a brick veneer on the building to match UNCC’s architectural style. Clark says in the memo that the district’s mobile unit budget was large enough to cover all the costs.

“There was lot that we just didn’t know,” CMS board Chairwoman Mary McCray said Thursday.

What went wrong

Clark’s memo gives several ways the project was mishandled.

First, CMS treated the project the same way it handles moving any of its mobile classroom units, which typically happens over the summer as the district shifts trailers between campuses.

Doing it that way “enabled the early college high school to be ready to open in a tight time period,” the memo says. Instead, Clark writes that it should have been done as a separate project that would take 12 to 18 months and include more oversight.

Clark also writes that CMS found work began on the project before contracts were executed. The district has added training to make sure that doesn’t happen again, the memo states.

McCray said she thinks the project was rushed, and said the board wants to make sure future projects take the proper time even if a school opening is delayed a year.

“I think most of the board is just glad that there’s been some learning from this,” she said.

Battle’s report accused Morrison of misleading the school board on the project’s costs. Combined with allegations that Morrison bullied staff members, the information was enough to convince a majority of board members that they should pursue Morrison’s dismissal. Morrison offered to resign before that could happen.

Morrison has said that the UNCC project had “challenges,” but that was expected for a new type of program. He also has said he kept the board fully informed on the costs of the project.

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