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County Commissioner: CMS Board Is Reneging On Bond Promises

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ANN DOSS HELMS
/
WFAE
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake speaks at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake gave the school board a scolding Tuedsay over the prospect of changes to the bond projects Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools promised in 2017.

"You’re saying now you’re going to renege on the plans you gave to the public," she said during the school board's public comment period. "You don’t need to lose the public trust. We value what you say and we want to trust you."

Leake's words carry more weight than the average opinion because CMS is about to ask the county for more money to deliver on the 29 projects it promised in 2017. Earlier this week, Commissioner Chair George Dunlap said he's receptive to hearing the CMS pitch, saying a new superintendent and a new board chair need a chance to fix problems that occurred under their predecessors.

School board Chair Elyse Dashew and Deputy Superintendent Carol Stamper say construction costs have risen faster than expected. They acknowledge that CMS staff has been reporting a smaller size for two high school for months, but say those decisions aren't final.

Leake, a former school board member, cited those two high school projects in her comments: A new building for West Charlotte High and a totally new school located next to Palisades Park Elementary, which could drop from the 125-classroom size listed during the bond campaign to 100 classrooms each.

Leake noted a decades-long history of school boards breaking promises to the black community.

"Here we go again," Leake said, her voice quavering, "with a board we thought that cared about and could keep their word and be honest and fair with the people of this county."

Colette Forrest, a politically active CMS parent, emailed county commissioner Mark Jerrell, all CMS leaders and several members of the media saying CMS should not get amother dime from the county. She asked why "the bond shortage" wasn't disclosed during last year's school board campaign, when Dashew was seeking reelection.

"To not reveal the bond shortage during the 2019 election cycle would almost appear to be dishonest and an attempt to cover up and hide the truth from both taxpayers and voters," Forrest wrote.

Dashew said last week that the board "handled this in a confusing manner," and noted that CMS has hired consultant Dennis LaCaria, a former facilities planner for CMS and the county, to handle community engagement on the bond projects.

CMS plans to hold a public discussion of bond projects on Feb. 25 and ask county commissioners for more money sometime after that. 

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