Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools needs another infusion of construction and renovation cash.
On that, most members of the school board and many on the board of county commissioners seem to agree. When should CMS get the cash? That’s where the agreement ends.
School board members say they want an $805 million bond package placed on the ballot this fall. County commissioners – who would have to place it there – say wait till 2017.
The commissioners are right.
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When school board members first floated the idea of a bond referendum for this November’s ballot, we said they needed to recognize that public trust in them isn’t high, and that rebuilding such trust would be critical to passing a major bond package.
Now, both Republican and Democratic commissioners are expressing strong resistance to a 2016 bond package. If school board members can’t convince other politicians that the referendum can’t wait until 2017, it doesn’t bode well for their ability to woo voters nursing deep-seated mistrust over the ongoing student assignment review and the search for a new superintendent.
Suburban parents are already signaling that they won’t support a bond referendum unless the school board reaffirms its support for neighborhood schools. Some inner-city parents remain unhappy over 2010 school closures, and with Superintendent Ann Clark. Both perspectives, though short-sighted, could hinder a bond effort.
If the commissioners put a bond package on the ballot this fall, the vote could come at around the same time the school board is slated to finish its student assignment plan. School board chair Mary McCray suggests that’s no problem because the board will steer clear of the kind of aggressive forced busing that upsets suburban areas. It would expand magnet offerings and explore other ways to boost diversity.
Still, no matter how carefully the board handles it, lots of people will come away angry. They always do when school attendance lines get redrawn. Does CMS really want to risk a bond vote in that environment, not knowing what fresh wounds the new assignment plan might open?
We don’t doubt that there’s a need for new construction money. When voters here passed their last school board measure – $290 million in 2013 – Wake County voters passed an $810 million package for a school system only slightly larger than ours.
We do doubt, however, the board’s ability to steer a major bond package across the finish line even as it wrangles complex, politically sensitive student assignment proposals and a superintendent search.
Better to wait until 2017. Could lower turnout in an off-year election make passing a bond package harder? Perhaps. But given the swirling political headwinds of the moment, 2017 looks like a smarter bet.