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A Look At CMS's Construction List And The Political Challenges

Charlotte Mecklenburg School leaders hope to get a bond referendum on the ballot soon.  This week they laid out about $2 billion worth of building, renovation and maintenance projects on their to-do list. It’s up to county commissioners to decide on the timing of a bond package and what fraction of that is pressing enough to put before voters. 

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins Weekend Morning Edition host Duncan McFadyen.

DM: What kind of case has the CMS board made to county commissioners? 

LW: The board hasn’t made a specific request yet and so the case has been pretty general.  Earlier this month, the CMS board and county commissioners had a rare meeting. They hit on capital projects and the CMS board basically said, "We’re going to need a bond referendum soon, possibly this year. We have a lot of need." Eighty percent of our schools, they consider overcrowded, and they have 1,100 mobile units throughout the district.

DM: And how did that go over with commissioners?

LW: There was certainly some frustration. You can hear it in Republican Commissioner Jim Pucket’s voice. He’s fed up with the amount of money CMS asks the county for each year. And he sees the bond requests as part of the problem.  Here he is talking to the CMS board. 

PUCKETT: You come in and ask for way more than you have. You never tell us what you’re going to do with it. You cannot justify it. I have a billion dollars worth of capital spent and you’re telling me I don’t have enough. We closed schools down and, yet, I hear that I have overcrowded schools and I need to build more. 

LW: Superintendent Ann Clark was quick to point out CMS reopened four of those schools this year. One was opened as a Project LIFT expansion of West Mecklenburg High School. Garringer High school will use another closed school for a similar expansion in August. Now, Commissioner Dumont Clarke, a Democrat, told CMS leaders you need to match your request with the level of debt the county can safely take on and until you do that there will be a clash. 

DM: So what would a realistic request look like?

LW: It’s hard to say. In 2013, voters passed $290 million in bonds. In 2007, the package was $516 million. Part of the reason it was so big was because voters did not approve the 2005 bond referendum.

DM: How does that fare with other counties?

LW: The comparison you hear lot is with Wake County. In 2013, voters there approved an $810 million school bond package. 

DM: You said CMS came out with a list of construction priorities this week. What’s at the top of their list?

LW:  A new school for Collinswood Language Academy.  arents have long complained about overcrowding there. Then there’s a whole new elementary school planned for East Charlotte, renovations at Harding and Marie G Davis, and a whole new high school for South Mecklenburg County. But one of the reasons that South Mecklenburg High School is crowded is because a few years ago, the district closed down Waddell High School as the new home for a language magnet.  Many of those Waddell students ended up at South Meck.  Now, those four projects add up to about $480 million.