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CMS Requests Construction Money, County Seeks Accountability

County commissioners Chair George Dunlap (left) talks to CMS board Chair Elyse Dashew at a January meeting of both boards.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has formally asked Mecklenburg County commissioners for more money to complete school construction projects.

CMS sent county leaders a letter Monday, after acknowledging last week that the $922 million in school bonds that voters approved in 2017 won’t be enough to cover the 29 new schools and renovations that were promised. The letter says the shortfall is in the millions, but isn’t specific.

Deputy Superintendent Carol Stamper says that’s being tallied as bids come in: "We don't have that bottom-line number just yet."

The letter says CMS needs more money to buy land for a new south Charlotte high school and asks the county to pay for “the Catholic Diocese property” if it becomes available. The letter doesn't give details, but CMS consultant Dennis Lacaria said that's open land near the intersection of I-485 and Johnston Road.

Neighbors and parents have objected to a possible site on CMS land next to Olde Providence Elementary.

County commissioners Chairman George Dunlap says his board is receptive to hearing the CMS pitch but will need more details.

"I’m sure the board members would want some kind of evaluation or at least be able to verify where the funds are and how the current funds have been spent to ensure that there’s accountability," he said Monday.

Dunlap noted that CMS board Chair Elyse Dashew has acknowledged that CMS hasn't communicated well on the issue and plans to revamp the system for better transparenty. He said he's willing to give her and Superintendent Earnest Winston, who took over in August after Clayton Wilcox was forced out, time to sort things out.

"It’s a new administration. There are a lot of things that went on that even she is not aware of that will probably be revealed in time," Dunlap said. He said he isn't aware of any specific things that will be revealed. 

The school board suspended Wilcox, then accepted his resignation, with an agreement that neither the board nor Wilcox would disclose the reasons for his departure.

Dashew says the school board will hold a public discussion of 2017 bond projects on Feb. 25.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.