Charlotte’s Vote Yes school bond campaign has big money left for final push

Volunteers in Halloween costumes displayed Vote Yes for School Bonds signs on Tuesday.
Volunteers in Halloween costumes displayed Vote Yes for School Bonds signs on Tuesday. Courtesy of Vote Yes campaign

With big donations in hand from a state Realtors group, major corporations and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the Vote Yes for School Bonds campaign was ready to bombard voters with mailers, ads and calls urging them to vote Tuesday.

A campaign finance report filed Oct. 30 shows the campaign had raised $370,000 and spent less than half of it as of Oct. 23, which left $195,000 for the final three weeks of the campaign. Vote Yes co-chair Debra Plousha Moore said Friday the group has another $9,000 pledged, and “we are committed to spending all of that.”

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to authorize $922 million in bonds for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the largest bond referendum ever put before Mecklenburg voters and the second largest in North Carolina. If approved, the money will pay for 10 new schools, replacement buildings for seven existing ones and renovations and additions at 12 more.

School bonds generally pass in Mecklenburg County, and a September Elon University/Charlotte Observer/WBTV poll of registered voters found strong support. Moore said the campaign’s polling has also indicated a majority favors this bond.

But there are challenges, including formal opposition from the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and town boards in Huntersville and Cornelius. Many north suburban residents say the list of projects does too little for their rapidly growing area.

The Vote Yes campaign report shows the Greensboro-based North Carolina Association of Realtors is the biggest donor, writing a check for $25,000 and contributing another $30,000 worth of campaign mailers and digital ads.

Bank of America and Duke Energy gave $40,000 each and Carolinas HealthCare System gave $30,000. Other big donors were Foundation for the Carolinas ($25,000), Richardson ($25,000), Ingersoll Rand Co. ($20,000), Spangler Companies ($20,000), Novant Health ($15,000), Coca-Cola Bottling ($10,000) and Steelfab Inc. ($10,000).

“We were very, very pleased with the community response,” said Moore, one of five co-chairs. The initial fund-raising goal had been $300,000, she said.

The biggest expense in the early part of the bond campaign was almost $66,000 to Chernoff Newman, a communication company with a Charlotte office that’s handling campaign public relations. The campaign also reports spending almost $32,000 for mailers from a Jacksonville, Fla., company; about $25,600 for campaign management from the Charlotte-based Francis Consulting Services and $15,500 for polling by Campaign Research + Strategy in Columbia, S.C.

That means plenty is left for mailers, robocalls, radio and digital advertising and material for volunteers who will canvass neighborhoods, Moore said. With off-year turnout traditionally low, the goal isn’t just making the case for the bond package but getting people to the polls.

“We really want people motivated and inspired to vote,” Moore said. “We’re going to work right up until the polls close.”

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